Robotic milking: We can’t hold back the tide of progress
I was asked to speak at a farmers’ meeting in Co. Longford some months ago, ostensibly to discuss my then recent visit to China.
But, as so often happens, events took a turn in a slightly different direction after me mentioning that a neighbour of mine had recently installed a milking robot. Immediately, all talk of China was put to one side and the entire focus of the conversation that followed turned to the ‘pros and cons’ of robotic milking.
However, I could take you to at least 20 farms within a 10-mile radius of me on which robots have been successfully installed over the last decade. These businesses comprise a mix of production models, from year-round confinement to those committed to securing the maximum level of output from grazed grass.
On all of these farms that I have an association with, the decision to invest in a robot was taken in order to reduce the drudgery and hard work associated with milking cows while, at the same time, giving those running the businesses more time to think strategically.
She takes it for granted that the robot is more than capable of physically milking cows efficiently time after time – after time. And Grandin is absolutely correct. Robots don’t get tired; they always carry out the milking process to a meticulously high standard and, for good measure, they represent a super highway of information where the performance of each individual cow is concerned.
They can also be programmed to dump milk from antibiotic-treated cows for the required period of time. There is no need to spray udders with red marker; nor is there any need to get concerned as to whether or not withdrawal periods have been fully adhered to.
Lely, for its part, has shown a lead over the last number of years in profiling the benefits which robotic milking brings to the party. The company’s ‘in vivo’ robotic milking demonstrations at recent Ploughing Matches and Balmoral Shows reflect its commitment to the cause and its absolute determination to put robotics on the map, where dairy farming is concerned.
At first glance, this could be deemed a risky strategy. Taking cows away from their home environment and having them milked in front of large audiences and the ensuing excitement this generates could make them a bit nervous of themselves.
Yet, any time I visited the Lely stand at the recent Balmoral Show the cows seemed very at ease with themselves, either lying down, feeding or quietly waiting their turn to be milked. It struck me quite forcefully at the time that the only constant in the lives of the cows was the actual robotic milking unit.
I know that many dairy farmers prefer the option of putting the clusters on their cows manually. They feel it gives them that up-close contact with their stock. And everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, I get the feeling that in 20 years’ time, robotic milking will be the norm and we will all look back, pondering the question: what was all the fuss about in the first place?