Lely Astronaut can help transition from suckler farming to milk production

Host farmer David Miller, centre, discusses plans for the forthcoming open day with Lely Center Eglish representatives Dean Cashel and Jim Irwin.
Host farmer David Miller, centre, discusses plans for the forthcoming open day with Lely Center Eglish representatives Dean Cashel and Jim Irwin.

In recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of suckler herd owners diversifying into milk production.

For Co Londonderry farmer David Miller the transition was simplified thanks to the installation of a Lely Astronaut A4 milking robot.

“Land restrictions, increasing overheads, and poor returns from my 70-cow suckler herd prompted me to adopt a change in farming policy,” said David Miller, who regularly topped the market with his suckled calves.

After 15 years as a suckler farmer David is now building up a dairy herd and is currently milking 68 cows.

“I love it. It’s a big change, but I know exactly what I have to do every day. The Lely robot has definitely made life easier. There is no hassle, the cows are happy and contented and virtually look after themselves.

“The decision to switch to dairying wasn’t taken lightly,” David explained.

“I contacted my local DARD advisory team for advice. They were very supportive and helped me to draw up a business plan for the dairy enterprise.

“Initially we had plans for a conventional milking parlour, but after getting a few quotations, which were added to the cost of essential building work to include a collecting yard and parlour, I soon realised that robotic milking was the best way forward.

“With limited grazing land in close proximity to the farmyard I planned to keep the dairy cows indoors. The existing cubicle shed was originally built in 2008 and was very easily converted to accommodate the robot. There was virtually no building work required, and the layout of the shed will allow me to add an additional robot in the future.”

David took over the running of the farm from his father Billy, who runs a successful business supplying, fitting and servicing AGA cookers throughout Ireland.

“The Lely robot is ideal for our farm, especially as my wife and father have full-time jobs, and additional labour isn’t always readily available. The daily routine is a one-man operation,” said David.

The majority of the farm’s foundation Holstein cows and heifers were purchased privately, and the Astronaut A4 milking robot has been up and running since October 2013.

“I bought freshly calved and springing cows and heifers, and they settled into the robot after a week or so,” added David, who opted for medium sized animals with sound feet and legs and good udders.

The herd is currently averaging 3.3 milkings per day, and the cows are keen to enter the robot regularly with 2.3 refusals recorded daily.

The TMR ration is formulated to allow maintenance plus 20 litres, with cows receiving additional concentrates through the robot depending on individual yield. The 18% crude protein dairy nut is fed at a maximum rate of 12 kgs per head per day.

David can access a wealth of management information about each individual cow from the Lely T4C computer programme.

“The software is farmer-friendly, but Lely Center Eglish provided excellent training, and its staff are always on hand to answer questions and offer advice.”

AI sires such as Levi, Golden Boy and the UK’s number one PLI bull Prehen Oman currently feature in the herd’s breeding policy. Sexed semen is used on heifers, and a beef bull is used as a sweeper.

David concluded: “In the future I plan to increase cow numbers and invest in a second robot. The system offers great flexibility and I have more time to spend with my family and friends, enjoying other hobbies and interests.

“More importantly the cows are happy and content, eating well and milking well.”

Lely Center Eglish is staging an open day at David Miller’s farm on Wednesday 11th February from 10am to 3pm. Everyone is welcome. Glencraig Farm is situated at 320 Glenshane Road, Claudy, BT47 4HP, and will be signed posted off the main Dungiven to Londonderry Road.

For further information contact Jim Irwin on mobile: 07827 884639.