Fresh grass remains the most cost-effective feed for livestock, and with low milk prices farmers such as Robert and Mark Cunningham from Aghadowey, are focused on utilising grass with the aim of reducing costs and increasing the profit margin per cow.
The father and son team run a commercial Holstein and British Friesian dairy herd which is milked using two Lely Astronaut A4 milking robots. The robots were installed in February 2015, and this is the second summer they have used Lely’s Grazeway system to manage their herd at grass.
The farm is hosting a Lely Open Day to demonstrate just how easy it is to manage cows at grass using a robotic milking system. The event takes place on Tuesday 30th August and runs from 11am to 4pm.
Mark said: “This is a dry farm so its makes practical and economic sense to let the cows out. They can cut their own grass and spread their own slurry.”
Mark spent twelve months researching the fundamentals of robotic milking. “Our parlour was built in 1979 and had been extended and upgraded over the years. It was time for a change, and with labour restrictions, especially at weekends, we decided to invest in robotic technology.
“We looked at several brands, but Lely has a strong presence in this area. In fact, north Antrim boasts the highest concentration of Lely robots in the British Isles!”
Currently milking 92 cows Mark is pleased with his investment.
“The cows adjusted quickly to the new system, and we have seen a significant rise in milk production.”
The herd’s average was under 8,000 litres and is now projected at over 10,400 litres per cow.
“We calved 32 heifers last year and they responded very well to robotic milking.”
Robert and Mark combine grazing and zero grazing in their daily management routine. They have been zero grazing since early April and feeding TMR at night. Once the first cut silage was harvested and the regrowth satisfactory, they let the cows out to grass.
“The cows have been out since 1st May. They are grazed during the day, and house the cows at night and zero graze.
“There are 65 acres around the yard and the system is working well. It represents a significant saving in concentrate usage,” added Mark.
“Grass growth is up and down with the weather, but we are achieving intakes of 19 to 21 kilos of dry matter per day.
“Zero grazing at night reduces the risk of poaching the ground, and overall the grass is easier managed. The cows are healthier, and there are fewer foot problems, even though some of our fields are up to half a mile away.”
The robots take the strain out of Mark’s daily routine, allowing him to concentrate on chores around the yard and in the fields.
“I have more time for jobs such as fencing, sowing fertiliser and spreading slurry, which reduces our contracting expenses. The robots also offer greater flexibility, giving me more time to spend with my wife and our three young children,” he said.
“The robots work away, and the cows are currently averaging 2.6 visits per day. This increases to 3.2 visits when the cows are housed in the wintertime. Lely’s T4C computer software is simple and easy to use, and I can access a host of herd management information.”
The herd calves all year round, with Robert and Mark aiming to breed medium sized ‘cubicle’ cows, with good yields and components. The cows are fed to yield, receiving concentrates to a maximum of 12 kilos per head per day. There are two rations distributed through the robot: a 16% protein nut for fresh calved cows, and a 15% nut which compliments the grazed grass.
The ration is adjusted during the winter housing period, depending on silage quality.
Jim Irwin from Lely Center Eglish said: “There is strong belief that milking robots are only suitable for herds that are housed continuously. Margins remain tight on farms, and feed efficiency and herd health are key when it comes to profitability. This farm combines efficient grassland management with zero grazing. Visitors to the open day will have an opportunity to see how Lely’s Grazeway system works in tandem with its milking robots.”
The farm is situated at 43 Knockaduff Road, Aghadowey, Coleraine, BT51 4DB. It will be signposted from Culcrow School on the Curragh Road, which is the main route between Kilrea and Coleraine. Further details from Jim Irwin on 07827 884 639.