Are robots a better option for over 300 cows?

Michael and Christine Callan are milking 450 spring-calving Friesian cows outside Dunleer, Co. Louth. They purchased six Lely Astronaut A4 robots in November 2016 and started milking in January 2017.

Average milk yields are 28L, protein is 3.56% and 3.90% butterfat. Total bacterial count (TBC) is 3,000 and somatic cell count (SCC) is running at 60,000 cells per ml. Cows are stocked at 5LU/ha and the farm delivered 556kg milk solids per cow last year.

Background

“We were milking two herds of cows on two farms – 150 at home and 300 on the out farm through a 22 and 30-unit parlour.

“We were having issues with mastitis and labour and needed change. We hadn’t seen any robots milking cows till we set off to an Open Day in Kells, Co. Meath. We looked at it and the system around the grazing, were very impressed and decided it would work for us.

“It didn’t take us long to make up our minds – once the decision was made, the robots were bought and we installed them three months later in January 2017,” stated Michael.

Why robots?

“I believed it was the way forward in terms of cow management and labour saving. It’s the best way to milk a cow and the information is phenomenal to make the daily management decisions for our herd.

So far, SCC has fallen from 300,000 to 60,000, mastitis cases are minimal and milk solids per cow have increased from 485 to 556kg.

“It’s not all attributed to the robot but it has certainly played a huge part,” commented Michael.

Starting up with robots

“We were prepared for the worst. While it was challenging, it wasn’t that bad; a lot of cows settled in 3-4 days. To be fair, the first three months were a write off as we were adjusting to the changeover ourselves.

“You need to work hard at it to ensure it works – year two is easier than year one and we’re improving every year here. Every farm is different, you must take what comes and work through it.

“I’m a great believer in making a decision and then driving on to make it work,” said Michael.

More cow information

“I am not big into IT or computers; I just look at what I need to see. I concentrate on milk yields and SCC to make sure there are no cows falling behind.

“The information is very impressive: mastitis detection; feed to yield; daily milk protein and fat indication; and automatic drafting are very good,” stated Michael.

Farm stats

“Cows are currently stocked at 5LU/ha. They are grazing 1,400kg covers, averaging 28L of milk on 2.2 milkings per day. Proteins are running at 3.56% and fat at 3.97%.

“Cows are very quiet and docile and move about the place at their own free will. My farm manager, Joe Mc Gorman, does most of the robot work and we get help from my two sons – Barry and Conor – at different times of the year when the pressure is on – calving, slurry, silage and reseeding.

“We calf approximately 450 cows in six weeks and calved 520 this year so we always have animals to sell. The reduction in labour has allowed us to get rid of two full-time milkers so we’re happy with the robots,” concluded Michael.

Interesting fact

“Believe this or not, from May 27 of last year, myself and Christine went on two weeks’ holidays and Joe looked after the 450 cows on his own [on a part-time basis – i.e. 5-6 hours per day].

“When I returned, Joe went on holidays and I looked after them myself until September 10 – i.e. the two herds of 450 cows had 0.5LU, managing them for almost three and a half months,” concluded Michael.

Invitation to Lely Open Day – Tuesday, May 28

Come and see the Lely Astronaut A4 milking robot in action on the farm of Michael and Christine Callan, Paughanstown, Dunleer, Co. Louth (A92 AK53). You are welcome from 12:00pm to 4:00pm.

The farm will be signposted from the town of Ardee and surrounding main roads. For more information, call Niall Mc Gauran on: 086-4178424.