How to make robotic milking work for you

The Mannion family is milking 200 Holstein Friesian cows outside Birr, Co. Offaly. The system is unique in that cows are housed almost all year round and zero-grazed grass is fed in conjunction with a total mixed ration (TMR).

There are only 26 grazing acres available around the yard. Cows are consuming 1,110kg of concentrate and approximately 1.2 million litres of milk were sold in 2017.

Average protein is 3.35% and butterfat is 3.85%; total bacteria counts (TBC) are 5,000 and somatic cell counts (SCC) are running at 130,000 cells/ml.

New investment

Tim Mannion touched on his previous system and outlined why he went down the route of robotic milking.

He said: “I was milking in an old six-unit herringbone and knew there was significant money to be invested to improve milking facilities.

“After careful research and attending many Lely Open Days and events, we purchased two Lely Astronaut milking robots and started milking in 2014.

“It has been a great success; it takes the work out of milking. We have more time to manage the cows. It was a significant investment for me, but I can now see the true benefits of the system. I would never go back to the parlour again,” he explained.

Only 26 grazing acres around the yard

Tim farms 125ac in total but has only 26 grazing acres available around the yard; it was a no-brainer when he decided to move away from high-concentrate feeding and invest in a zero grazer 11 years ago.

“We were using a lot of meal and it couldn’t last. We decided to invest in a zero grazer and – nowadays – we’re buying all our grass from local farmers for 11 months of the year. This has helped me to increase cow numbers from 130 to 200,” he explained.

Improved milk yields

Tim has almost doubled cow numbers over the last three years. He may only milk 150 cows at any time, but there are over 200 cows on the farm.

He sold just short of 1.2 million litres to the co-op last year and this was only possible due to the low labour requirements around the milking process. Virtually the same volume of milk leaves the farm every day of the year.

Automation

Tim keeps a close eye on the robotic system and carries out general maintenance on regular occasions.

He said: “We have two Lely Robots, a Discovery (mobile barn cleaner), a Calm (calf feeder) and a Luna (cow brush).

“With all this technology, you have to keep on top of machine maintenance. Every machine is checked daily to ensure all calves are fed, cows are milked and yards are scraped. It’s all about reducing labour,” Tim added.

Huge labour savings

The system has freed Tim’s time up considerably and now he is able to focus on other important tasks. On this, he said; “The Lely robotic milking system has given me back five hours in the day that I never had before; we’re now getting to prioritise work.

“It is virtually hassle free and we spend approximately 20 minutes morning and evening carrying out small routine tasks.”

He continued: “Granted we are very busy, but I have great help from my wife Liz (who does all the finance and book work) and my two children – Shane and Lauren – who feed the calves, scrape and lime cubicles and bed the dry cows.

“You have to be on the ball and fully tuned in; this is a busy yard. Automation has given me time to use the head and not the hands.”

More cow information

The farmer also explained how the information obtained by the robotic system allows him to make important decisions when it comes to his herd.

He said: “The information generated is very impressive. Automatic heat detection; rumination; weighing; feed to yield; daily milk protein and fat indications; and automatic cow drafting are common features. This data is critical to help me make necessary daily management decisions.”

Come and see for yourself

Why not come and see Tim’s success for yourself? In conjunction with the Lely Center Mullingar, Tim and Liz Mannion invite you to their open day on Wednesday, April 4.

Niall McGauran of Lely Center Mullingar said: “Tim’s figures are amongst Ireland’s best in addition to his being one of the most automated farms in the country.”

IFAC will also be there on the day to discuss how the farm business’ finances compare to the rest of their clients nationwide.

IFAC’s Head of Agri Farm Support Philip O Connor commented on the upcoming open day, adding: “It’s great to be involved with the open day and to see how Tim Mannion has grown and adapted his business over the years.”

IFAC is involved with all types of dairy farmers as the industry evolves post quota abolition. IFAC has a deep understanding of the dairy sector and offers a range of services to assist farmers to make the best decisions from both a financial and a family perspective.

These services range from bookkeeping, pre-year-end tax reviews, tax planning and tax structures. These structures include: partnerships/companies; succession planning; and life assurance.

IFAC will also tailor the service to the needs of clients at whatever stage of their dairy farm development.

When and where?

Tim and Liz Mannion will host an open day on their farm at Ballinamona Glebe, Killyon, Birr, Co. Offaly (R42 E031), on Wednesday, April 4. The open day will run from 12:00am to 4:00pm.

The farm will be signposted from the main Birr to Tullamore road (N52). For more information, contact Niall McGauran at: 086-4178424 Click here for more information