Saturday, 27 January 2018 08:55

No regrets after going robotic

Written by  Mark Daniel
Cambridge farmer John Fisher. Cambridge farmer John Fisher.

While robotic (voluntary) milking systems appear to be gaining in popularity, the Fisher Farm, between Cambridge and Te Awamutu, has a head start on today’s converts.

Now well into its sixth season, the operation milks 300 cows over 80ha, and lays claim to the title of being the first farm in Waikato to install a DeLaval VMS.

When owner John Fisher first looked at the concept, the farm had a traditional herringbone milking shed without a feed pad, and was operated by two full-time staff and a relief milker. 

A visit to the Greenfield Farm at Ruakura set the seed for Fisher to automate and he soon began planning to convert.

Four DeLaval VMS units are housed in a light, airy open-span shed at the heart of the system, complemented by a feed pad, automated drafting gates and cow rotary back-scratchers, reducing labour demand to just 1.5 units.

Today his cows produce about 480kgMS each, and they are said to be calmer and more relaxed, a trait found running through to the owner and the herd manager Brian Wilson. He suggests that because the cows are not being pushed as a mob down the races to the milking shed they suffer less lameness; each cow can pick her own route in her own time.

The conversion entailed a fresh look at farm layout, resulting in a three-way grazing layout that lets animals onto fresh pasture every eight hours. 

The cows decide when they wish to be milked, so stroll into the complex where the system decides -- based on yield over the previous 12 hours -- whether milking would be appropriate. This might result in a cycle time as low as six hours or as high as 15 hours before animals move to fresh pasture.

Each cow is treated as an individual, with its own transponder which allows the system to draft cows for breeding or vet inspection, or to direct those that have poor condition to the feed pad for buffer feeding.

“The ability to treat cows as individuals within the mob appears to lengthen their productive life by up to two seasons,” Fisher says. 

“Cows appear at the shed at their own pace and are noticeably cleaner, as the competitive nature of a typical milking system has been removed.”

He notes that the regime improves the lives of staff by allowing more flexibility about when they need to be on the farm; and when they are it allows them to complete tasks without having to return to the shed at set milking times. This is important for their family life: they get to attend their children’s school or social events without being “tied to the milking shed”.

Are there any negatives? Fisher says it takes a bit of time to train first-time heifers to come into the complex, enter the VMS system and stand to be milked. 

More like this

One robot makes the difference

A small Waikato dairy farm with one Lely Astronaut A4 robot has proven that robotic milking is also effective with a small herd.

Feed robot boosts yield, saves costs

A robotic feed pusher designed to refresh and remix feed is running on a South Island dairy farm which reports a resulting increase in production and significant labour savings.

Feed robot turning in results

A robotic feed pusher installed on a South Island dairy farm is reportedly increasing production and offering significant labour savings.

Featured

ANZCO makes a $30m profit

Meat company ANZCO Foods recorded its best-ever revenue of $1.7b and a net profit before tax of $30.6m for the year ended 31 December 2019.

 

M. bovis – we’re making headway

Ministry for Primary Industries chief science adviser, Dr John Roche on the indications New Zealand is winning the fight against Mycoplasma bovis.

Delays ruled out on water reforms

Delaying the introduction of new water reforms was not an option according to the two cabinet Ministers directly involved – Environment Minister David Parker and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.

$700m for freshwater clean up

The Government has announced a $700 million fund to support the primary sector and other groups in meeting new clean water standards.

» The RNG Weather Report

» Latest Print Issues Online

Milking It

Effluent power

Finnish dairy company Valio is on a mission to reduce milk’s carbon footprint to zero by 2035.

What’s in a name?

The man who coined the term ‘Gypsy Day’ is slightly miffed that a term he introduced to New Zealand’s farming…

» Connect with Dairy News

» eNewsletter

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter