Forage quality and carefully regulated cow diets have shown to underpin successful robot milking in a Lancashire herd.
Lancashire father and son team, Brian and Mark Robinson, winners of this year’s best grass silage award in the Blackpool Dairy Farmers Competition, rely on high quality forage and carefully regulated cow diets for the 230 cows on their robotic milking system.
It is three years since they installed four robots at Crosshill Farm, Treales, near Kirkham, but combined with correct management of diets, the new system saw the herd’s average yield increase by 1,000 litres a cow in the first year.
The Robinsons say they are still constantly assessing how minute-by-minute computer monitoring of the herd through the robotic system can continue to help them improve management.
Brian says: “There is so much information presented to us because of the robotic system. We rarely look at the bulk tank milk ticket, whereas at one time it would be the most important piece of information we would get every day.
“Now each cow’s yield is being updated every hour. We can see immediately how individual cows are performing on a certain day, as well as how much milk they are giving from each quarter.
“Each quarter is milked individually by the robot, so you are not over-milking or under-milking cows and this is something which inevitably happens when you are milking through a parlour.”
Brian says diet influences the frequency of the visits cows make to robots. Cows are visiting the robots on average 2.7 times a day.
He says: “The feed used in the robots and the protein levels of the feed in the TMR mix are critical to the way you manage robotic milking.
“I am not saying we have all the answers yet, but feeding cows being milked by robots is different to feeding cows which are milked
conventionally. If we do not feed enough protein in the TMR mix, the cows are less inclined to visit the robots.”
First cut silage, about 57 hectares (140 acres), is taken during the first week in May, followed by two further cuts six weeks apart. Grass is mowed and tedded out and picked up after a 24-hour wilt.
Envirosystems’ sales manager Tom Richardson says Brian and Mark Robinson are consistently producing high quality silage.
“Silage quality is ensuring cows are offered a highly palatable diet to maintain high dry matter intakes and produce as much milk as possible from forage.”
About 10 years ago, the farm was milking about 140 cows, but numbers have steadily increased up to 230. A decade ago, the farm’s 133ha (330 acres) were mainly growing grass, but maize and wheat are now an established part of the cropping programme for inclusion in the TMR diet.
High yielders have been summer-housed for about seven years, but since the Robinsons installed free-access robots, the herd has been housed all-year-round. The herd has an average yield of 10,600kg.
Brian says: “Robots are not for everyone. It is a different way of management and you certainly look at your cows a lot more. You definitely spend more time with cows than you do when you are milking them through a parlour.”
The Robinsons say the robots create a more flexible system of running the herd. “We still get up at the same time every morning, but the red list the computer programme produces for us tells us exactly what is happening with cows.
“We check it three times a day and it indicates any cows which should have come to robots to be milked but have not done; and it alerts us about any issues with the yield of individual cows.
“There is so much information provided for us by the computer we do not mind admitting we are constantly learning how to make the best use of it.
“We prefer the free-access system rather than a gated system, because at least we know cows are visiting robots at their discretion. If they do not visit a robot to be milked, we can pick up on that.
“Because the computer flags up any issues with individual cows, we have got to go into the building to check them, which is something we see as an advantage.”
The analysis of the silage which won the 2014 Blackpool Dairy Farmers silage competition was: DM 27.1 per cent, crude protein 13.1 per cent, D-value 73.5 and ME 11.8