Farmer/owner: Lee Coates
Farm location: Garriston, Leyburn, Yorkshire
Farm name: Cox Pasture Farm
Herd: 110 cows
Milking system: Two Fullwood M2erlin robots
Date of installation: May 2015
Lee and his partner, Cynthia, needed to replace the farm’s 20 year old 16:16 herringbone which was getting to the end of its working life and taking two hours to complete each milking.
“We were in the process of pricing up a new conventional parlour when our parlour engineer, James Holding Engineering, suggested that we should think about installing a pair of robots. We hadn’t really considered that as an option before, but in hindsight it was 100% the right path to take,” Lee explains.
Farming 230 acres at Garriston near Leyburn, Lee runs his closed herd on a summer grazing system, with home grown cereals used to keep bought-in feed costs as low as possible. With no external labour to rely on, Lee wanted a system which was not only cost-effective, but which would lighten the daily milking burden.
The price difference between installing two robots compared to a new 20:20 herringbone installation was negligible, especially as Lee has been able to install the M2erlin machines without having to carry out any significant building works.
“Installing a new herringbone parlour would have needed a significant amount of building work, but we’ve been able to house the robots in the old collecting yard simply by building two concrete bases and installing new drains. It was a very cheap way of completely modernising our milking facilities,” Lee explains.
Prior to being commissioned, the two new machines were used as out of parlour feeders so that the herd got used to going in and out of the new milking platforms. “It was a really easy and stress free way of training the cows,” Lee describes. “After 12 days the entire herd was ready to make the switch from conventional to robotic milking. We haven’t looked back since.”
Within a few weeks, the herd was averaging 2.7 milkings per day. “Even during the spring and summer months – when the cows are grazing from 6am until 4pm – the herd is still averaging 2.5 milkings per day,” Lee adds. “That has enabled us to increase milk output by 12-15% with no extra man-hours and no extra feeding costs. It’s a much more efficient and relaxed way of producing extra yield.”
The switch to robots has also enabled Lee to improve the way in which his herd is managed, with the robots’ herd management software – Crystal – enabling him to maintain tighter control of the herd’s fertility status and improve the level of feeding accuracy.
“The robots capture so much yield, performance, health and activity data that we are able to manage each animal more effectively. The cows are happier and less stressed because they are able to milk themselves when they want to, and we are seeing a gradual improvement in the herd’s calving index. It all adds up to a more efficient way of producing milk.
“I’m also feeling the benefits,” Lee continues. “I still have a very busy workload, but I am no longer stuck in the parlour for four hours a day. I’ve got a lot more time to concentrate on other jobs around the farm, such as herd fertility, and feed management, and have enough capacity to increase cow numbers. We’ve got a lot of heifers coming into the system and will hopefully be milking 120 cows in a few months time.”