Visitors to the Great Yorkshire Show will be able to find out more about robotic milking systems in the live milking demonstration, where the cows will be supplied by the Goodall family, which operates a similar system on its farm.
Investing in a robotic milking system is paying dividends for Jim Goodall, his son Edward, and daughter Victoria, who milk 240 Holstein Friesians near Leeds, processing milk on-site where they also have a cafe and ice cream parlour.
Significant improvements to herd performance, including a 30 per cent increase in yield and enhanced health and welfare, coupled with reduced labour costs, mean that three years after installation, the system is on track to pay for itself within 10 years.
The Goodalls decided to swap a herringbone parlour, at the end of its lifespan, for five Lely Astronaut robots.
Edward says: “We were fully committed to the dairy enterprise. However staffing issues were the main reason for the investment.
“We no longer need staff to milk cows, instead we need stockmen. Victoria and myself could run the system by ourselves; that is the beauty of the robots. They are taking the risk out of finding the right staff, which is a continuing issue.”
The year-round calving herd is averaging three milkings a day at 10 to 12 litres per milking.
The robot not only recognises and milks each individual cow when it chooses, but more than 200 pieces of data are recorded at every milking by the management programme.
Edward says: “The data has contributed towards the herd’s average somatic cell count falling from more than 200,000 cells/ml to a current 161,000 cells/ml by enabling us to pre-empt a mastitis incident and treat immediately.
“Previously in the parlour, mastitis would have had to manifest itself before it could have been identified. The system also automatically dumps antibiotic treated milk so we no longer have to rely on the red tail tape and be on alert to manually separate it.”
Herd fertility has also improved as a result of the robot continually analysing cow movement and rumination.
Edward says: “We estimate the robot to achieve a 95 per cent accuracy level and consequently have been able to improve average conception, with the heifer first service conception rate increasing from 45 per cent to 95 per cent.
"As all our heifers are served with sexed semen for heifer replacement purposes and we are now able to serve our cows with British Blue resulting in an added value calf.”
Nutrition has also come under the microscope.
Edward says: “The system has enabled us to finely tune each animal’s diet. We swapped a TMR ration for a simple system featuring a sole ad-lib silage diet, complemented with concentrate from the robots and out of parlour feeders.
“The change has helped us to save four hours a day feeding and allowed us to feed bespoke diets for each animal, according to stage of lactation and yield,” says Edward.
“The milking herd has free access to paddocks surrounding the farm, but some stay in, particularly in extreme weather conditions, because they get all the feed they need indoors and of course they do not actually like the rain or extreme heat.
“Introducing five robots did present anticipated teething problems, but they were not insurmountable.
“Now we have a system which runs smoothly and leaves more time for us to concentrate on the business, including our doorstop milk delivery business and our new gelateria and cafe at Beech Grove Farm, which we launched 12 months ago.”