Robotic milking is the way forward at Drumrammer Farm

Ahoghill farmers Victor and Margaret Turtle are planning to install eight Lely A4 Astronaut milking robots, which will make Drumrammer Farm the largest automated dairy unit in Ireland. Picture: Julie Hazelton
Ahoghill farmers Victor and Margaret Turtle are planning to install eight Lely A4 Astronaut milking robots, which will make Drumrammer Farm the largest automated dairy unit in Ireland. Picture: Julie Hazelton

Ahoghill-based Drumrammer Farm is set to become the largest automated dairy unit in Ireland.

Managed on a daily basis by Victor Turtle, and wife Margaret, the farm has had four Lely Astronaut A4 milking robots up and running since the end of January, and will have an additional four in operation later this month.

“I’ve been dairy farming since I left school thirty-two years ago. My father, Robert, came here with nine cows, and over the years neither of us imagined that robots which eventually take over the daily milking routine on the farm,” explained Victor.

“My father has always been forward thinking and keen to embrace modern technology, so it was no surprise when he backed our decision to install milking robots.”

The Turtle family farm more than 600 acres and run a herd of 510 cows, the majority of which are Holsteins, with Ayrshires and Jerseys included in the mix.

Investing in eight Lely robots represents a significant investment.

Victor said: “We’ve tried several times to maximise production by milking three times per day, but it has proved impossible to get reliable staff to do the evening milking. We’ve been left in the lurch numerous times.”

With labour posing a problem, and a desire to maximise efficiency and improve cow management and fertility, Victor decided to explore the options surrounding robotic milking.

“The Lely robots sold themselves are far as we were concerned. It’s the number one brand when it comes to robotic milking, and with more than 20 years experience it’s no surprise that Lely has a stronghold in North Antrim.

“The Astronaut A4’s iflow system is unique, and the company offers a professional and reliable maintenance and back-up service.”

The four Lely Astronaut A4 milking robots are situated side-by-side, and minimal building work was required to accommodate them in the existing sheds.

Just over three months into the new routine and Victor and Margaret are very impressed with the system. The four robots are responsible for milking 240 cows, while the remainder of the herd is milked twice daily through the farm’s conventional parlour which is only eight-years-old.

“Although the first couple of weeks were tough, the cows settled into the robotic routine. We had to be with the cows around the clock, but thanks to the dedication of the Lely staff and a team of local volunteers, we persevered and got the cows trained and the system running smoothly.”

Victor praises the system’s ability to manage cows on an individual basis. “Lely’s T4C computer software is a powerful management tool. It is farmer-friendly and we can access a host of information which allows us to manage cows individually. Our kids Victoria, Megan and John have really embraced the robotic technology, and can access data at the touch of a button.”

The robots are recording an average of 2.9 milkings daily. Cows are fed to yield with the TMR, consisting of silage, hay and blend, providing maintenance plus 18 litres for cows, and 15 litres for heifers. Animals are fed two kilos per head to entice them into the robots, and receive an additional 0.45kgs per litre of milk in the Lely Cosmix out-of-parlour feeders. Maximum concentrate usage is 13 kilos per head per day.

“The diet is formulated by a nutritionist, and the quantity is tailored for each individual cow. Targeting cows individually improves efficiency, and reduces concentrate usage,” added Victor.

“We are averaging 30 litres per head per day through the robots,” explained Victor. “Our top cows are producing 56 litres daily, while heifers are peaking at 40 litres. The herd average was 7,500 litres at 4.1% butterfat and 3.4% protein, but when the eight robots are fully commissioned we’ll be aiming to push average yields to 9,500 litres per cow.

“Fertility and herd health has improved, as the robots identify heats and udder problems such as mastitis much quicker than humans.”

Visitors to Balmoral Show will have an opportunity to see an Astronaut A4 milking robot in operation.

Jim Irwin from Lely Center Eglish said: “Our live milking demonstration proved very popular at last year’s show, and we are delighted to be able to stage it again this year. Our purpose-built dairy with 40 cows from Draynes Dairies in Lisburn will be one of the highlights of the three-day event at Balmoral Park.”

For further information contact Lely Center Eglish tel: 028 3754 8228, or Jim Irwin on mobile: 07827 884639.