Agriland has decided to revisit some of the most popular and interesting ‘Dairy Focus’ articles from 2023, in a ‘Dairy Throwback‘ series.

Ireland’s largest robotic grazing farm, which is based on Co. Meath and run by the Mulligan brothers.

Henry and Robert Mulligan are milking around 430 cows on six Lely Astronauts A5 robots on their farm near Castletown.

The farm played host to one of the Lely Center Mullingar and Lely Center Kilkenny farm walks, to showcase the Lely robotic milking systems on different scales.

Robert and Henry Mulligan

The Mulligans farm walk focused on how robotic milking works in a large dairy herd of over 400 cows, with 430 milked this year and around 460 being milked in 2022.

The majority of the cows are calved in the spring, with around 60 cows calved during the autumn to fulfil a liquid contract.

Time for change

For many farms, post-quota resulted in a increase in herd size, with around 470 cows being milked in 2018/2019.

Milking was taking place in a 22-unit milking parlour, which meant that it was over 20 rows/milking.

Options were looked at to increase the efficiency of milking, with rotary units and robotics considered.

A number of factors attributed to the brothers going for robotics over a rotary parlour, but the most significant factor was labour.

Six Lely Astronauts A5 robots were installed in a check-out system, which is a slightly different design to many other robotic installs.


Speaking at the event, Henry Mulligan said that labour was a major problem for the farm and something had to change.

Moving to automated milking has reduced the labour demand on the farm, with the brothers and one full-time labour unit now working on farm.

During the summer months when cows are grazing, around 40 minutes in the morning is all that is required to change the fences, check the robots, change the milk filter and wash down around the robots.

This is a massive time saving on what it had previously been taking to milk cows on the farm before the robots were installed, according to the brothers.

Robot layout

The robot system offers the brothers greater flexibility when it comes to family life and taking time off.

Both Henry and Robert noted that when someone was due in to milk in the parlour and they didn’t show up, they had to ring one another for help.

Whereas now, the system can, for the most part, be managed without the need for calling in help.


A new shed was constructed to house the robots, along with additional slurry storage.

There was also an underpass installed to access 80ac on the other side of a public road, which is now the B block on the A,B,C grazing system.

Most of the other current farm infrastructure was in place, with only some small changes required to suit the robotic system.

Grazing gates

One roadway was added to access the C block, and paddocks were made bigger with strip wires now used to divide most paddocks.

Cows were still at grass at the time of the farm walk, but buffer feeding was also taking place in the shed.


A high economic breeding index (EBI) Friesian herd was already in place on the farm, with a herd average EBI of €185.

Changing to robots has had no impact on breeding policy, instead a couple of areas have gotten more of a focus – such as milking speed.

The data available from the robots has also allowed the brothers to breed from their best cows.

But speaking to Agriland, Robert said that milking speed is vital to the system; although production is important, a slow milker could take as long as two other cows giving the same level of production.

Heat detection and health monitoring collars were also installed with the robots, which has also had a significant impact on labour during the breeding season.

Milking got underway in the robots in September 2019, so when the breeding season came around, they had full confidence in the heat detection system.

No tail painting was done to pick up heats, they solely relied on the heat monitoring system.

They also noted how the system ensured that you were serving cows at the correct time.

Free time

Both Henry and Robert said that it has taken around two years to fully get used to the system, with the main change being the free movement of cows around farm; herding is now not required for milking each morning and evening.

It has also freed up the brothers to take more time away from the farm and ensure that they get time off.

To read more Dairy Focus and Dairy Throwback articles on Agrilandclick here.