Tim Gibson farms in Bedale, North Yorkshire, milking 200 commercial cows and 85 pedigree Guernseys under contract for ice cream, with four Lely robots. Tim also runs a separate dairy engineering and supplies business from the farm.
I feel a dose of ‘writer’s block’ coming on when sitting down to do this as the brief is usually ‘be positive’ and don’t get bogged down in the weather or milk price as it may change by the time it’s printed.
Well I would look a bit out of touch if I didn’t mention any of the above. It has been as wet as anyone can remember, the milk price (for most) is a disaster, but trying to be positive I have to say the days are getting longer and grass is starting to grow. As one local village elder keeps reminding me that ‘waking up is always a bonus’. So very true!
This past week I have been in Holland with a group of farmers looking at auto- mated feeding systems. Most of those considering automation see it as a way of cutting costs on an intensive system and reducing building costs on new sites.
I have my own feeding system here on our farm. We have had to change the mixer this year which has led us to a much more advanced control system which links to our herd management software. When a cow calves, and it is added to one of the milking groups, the system picks that up from the calving entry and the group number. This accurately match the number of cows.
The feed robot being filled from the hoppers
Guillotine slices required amount off for each ingredient
This is great if the cowman is grumpy and the tractor driver doesn’t want to disturb him or even speak first thing on a morning! Our system works by then dividing up the total in the mixer for the day into around eight or 10 feeding cycles, and keeps putting out little and often batches for the cows via belts into troughs.
In Holland we were taken to see some of the more advanced options. The first had a series of bunkers, one for each feed material, which the farmer needed to top up every day, or every two days, with a loader. Then an electric driven twin vertical auger mixing robot which holds about a tonne and a half filled itself up from each of the bunkers with whatever it needed to do a mix for whichever group it was going to feed.
It had several runs programmed in for each group of animals – high, medium and low yielding cows, two dry cow groups and then young stock. The robot was busy most of the day feeding the 250 cows and all followers. The farmer spent 15 minutes each day filling the bunkers, and 25 minutes on a Saturday when he puts double in as it was ‘football’ on Sundays and he didn’t feed then. (See first pic).
Another farm we saw had a similar robot with vertical augers for mixing the feed but this one ran on a overhead RSJ beam and hung from that. It could lift up over gates and groups, and had a turntable near its starting point so that it could be sent down four different routes.
This farm had blocks of silage and bales of straw, lucerne and silage stored in compartments with ‘walking floors’. When a ration was being made the blocks were walked toward a cutting guillotine which moved to each bay in turn and shaved off the correct amount of each product onto a conveyor which filled the mobile mixer.
This farmer used a block cutter two times a week for about half an hour to fill up the bays which are remote controlled from the loader cab to move forward as blocks are placed on the table. (See second pic).
At both farms all the straights were stored in silo bins and augers were turned on and off automatically to fill the desired amount of each feed while the tub was mixing. The overhead robot also had the ability to dispense straw bedding to loose-housed animals.
The possibilities were endless and the amount of technology coming onto farms is growing at a faster rate than ever. Robotic milking is commonplace in Holland and almost all diet feeder companies are now offering some form of feeding robot.
Although the bulk of the industry is struggling with low prices, including me I may add, there are a select few out there with money to re-invest, and that is what they are doing. Surprisingly, also, there are a lot of people looking to take up milking and I am quite busy with designing new farm buildings and layouts for green field sites of mostly several hundred cows all over the country.