Back in focus: Milking 28 cows in a brand new indoor robotic-milking system
Today’s back in focus centres around this brand new robotic-milking system that AgriLand paid a visit to – in November of this year – on the farm of Alfie Byrne, in Kildavin, Co. Carlow.
The build includes a new cubicle shed that can house up to 90 cows, and the concrete work is ready to install a second robot in the future.
Up until now, Alfie was a full-time tillage farmer and agricultural contractor; however, due to poor returns from both operations, he decided to go down the route of milking cows.
“The money was just not there to be made from the tillage enterprise and I am lucky I have the land to grow good-quality grass, that is suited to run a dairy farm.”
The first cows were milked in the new unit in September, with a further 45 heifers due to calve next February.
Currently milking on the farm is a herd of 28 British Friesian cross Norwegian Red cows which are milked through a Lely Astronaut A5 robot – that was installed this summer.
The cows are housed all-year-round; therefore, they are fed a total mixed ration (TMR). The herd’s diet consists of: silage; maize; straw; soybeans; maize meal; and distillers grains.
The calves from these cows were sold at two weeks-of-age. Alfie does not plan to keep any replacement heifers until he installs a proper calf rearing facility on the farm.
Furthermore, the option is there to knock the temporary walls at the back of the cubicle shed and install a second robot and a further 72 cubicles.
“It was a big investment to get this far so, for now, I am going to wait and see how we get on with one robot and, if I am happy, we have the concrete work finished to install a second robot.”
After deciding on a greenfield site, the next task was to begin the build. Alfie’s brother Ray, who is a specialist farm building contractor (Ray Byrne Construction), had a big part to play in the build.
The design of this building was heavily influenced by him from his experience of building sheds and yards over many years for his customers.
Ray moved onto the site in May 2019, where he installed the concrete tanks. The concrete was supplied by a local company called Conway Concrete and the rebar for the tanks was supplied by McDonald Steel.
Once the tanks were completed, the slatted unit was supplied and laid by Drumderry Aggregate.
The next phase of the job involved Ray and his team fabricating and erecting the steel frame. This job was further complicated as there was a few weeks’ delay while electricity poles were being moved.
This resulted in the shed being erected in two halves. Steel AgriPurlins (supplied by Duggan Steel Group) were used for the speed of erection and they suited the varying span widths.
The shed was spaced with 800/32 ProFarm metal sheeting above the cubicles to improve ventilation.
Furthermore, standard 1000/32 ProFarm sheeting was installed in other parts of the shed including the: calving pen; dry cow area; and milking area.
The shed was completed in September in time for the heifers to calve.
The 10-bay shed is 9m high at the apex, and it is 48m long and 21.6m wide. The concrete walls of the shed stand at 2.4m. The shed is 5m to the eve gutters.
The slatted unit is 35m long and 4.4m wide. However, the tank is 22m long and 2.7m deep. Two agitation points are located at either end of the tank.
Also included in the design is space sheeting over the cubicles. There is a 6cm gap between the sheeting to allow for more ventilation and to reduce the amount of rain entering the shed.
Moreover, the spaced sheeting allows for more light to come through the shed, as cows are housed all-year-round.
Lely Astronaut A5
After deciding that a robot was the way forward and the best option for his farm, Alfie made contact with Lely which helped the two brothers in designing the inside of the shed and where the best place to install the robot would be.
The robot has the capacity to milk up to 80 cows, and by next spring it will be milking 73 cows.
“The robot is a super job and the data I get on my phone from it about the performance of each individual cow is great.
“Furthermore, the sensors in the machine can detect a cow that has mastitis two days before a human would and the drafting system then diverts the animal into the dry cow area.
“In there, she can be treated and the machine will divert her milk away from the bulk tank. Moreover, when the cows are calving, the machine dispenses the milk into buckets just beside the robot and this milk can be used to feed the calves.
The reason why I decided to buy heifers, was because I knew they would be easier to train than older cows.
“The cows are relaxed and I never have to go look for a cow and push her towards the robot to get her milked.”
There are two feeding passageways; cows can be fed inside or outside the unit. This allows Alfie to keep the milking cows and the in-calf heifers separate in the shed.
There are 90 cubicles installed that were sourced from EASYFIX. Furthermore, there are 18 cubicles that are designated for the dry cow area, for when cows are ready to calve.
The other 72 are used for the rest of the herd. There are mats fitted into the cubicles and lined with straw shavings on a regular basis to increase cow comfort.
“So far, there have been no signs of lameness and cows seem to be very happy on the mats,” he said.
When cows exit the robot, they walk through a footbath which helps to avoid lameness.
The Hoofcount automatic footbath dispenses the dirty water and refills with clean water and fresh chemicals (with a choice of two as there are two separate pumps) after a preset number of times.
A Lely drafting system is also incorporated into the build. The robot and drafting system work together to ensure any cows that have any health issues are separated from the rest of the milking herd and are diverted into the dry cow area.
Furthermore, the robot can be accessed by cows in the dry cow area if they are being treated for mastitis or any other illness so that they can continue to be milked.
The dry cow area and the calving area are connected by a crush which leads into both sections.
Commenting on the build, Alfie said: “I am happy with how it turned out and so far everything is going well.
“The cows are happy indoors and they are producing good volumes of milk.
“The robotic-milking system is great because it allows me to spend time working on the tillage enterprise while also keeping the agricultural contracting business going.
“If I was to install a herringbone or a rotary parlour my time would be completely taken up with the cows and I would have no time to do anything else.
“Once I get the automatic scraper installed I will save myself even more time. Currently, I am scraping the animal manure down the slats with an old Ford tractor and scraper and it is time consuming,” Alfie concluded.