Lely A5 is paying dividends on Ballygawley 75 herd dairy farm

Lely's Astronaut A5 milking robot was unveiled in April, and with enhanced cow comfort and a faster more efficient hybrid arm, sales have reached unprecedented levels in Northern Ireland.

Fergal Kelly can access a wealth of information on each individual cow using Lely's T4C software. He is pictured with Jim Irwin, Lely Center Eglish. Picture: Julie Hazelton
Fergal Kelly can access a wealth of information on each individual cow using Lely's T4C software. He is pictured with Jim Irwin, Lely Center Eglish. Picture: Julie Hazelton

Lely Center Eglish director Jim Irwin has confirmed that more than 70 Astronaut A5 models have been sold since the latest model made its debut at the 150th Balmoral Show.

“These are exciting times. The Astronaut A5 marks a new milestone in Lely’s world-wide success story spanning more than twenty five years. Milk producers across the country are embracing the modern concept of robotic milking, and sales of the A5 are surpassing all expectations.”

Ballygawley herd owner Fergal Kelly was one of the first milk producers in Northern Ireland to invest in the Lely Astronaut A5. His robot has been up and running for seven weeks.

Mr Kelly runs a herd of 75 cows, the majority of which are purebred British Friesian, with around twenty percent Jersey and Fleckvieh crosses.

“The farm has a long history of dairy farming going back to the days of hand milking in the byre,” said Fergal, who re-established a dairy herd eight years ago.

The Dale Farm supplier installed a ten-point swing over parlour and was producing a herd average of over 6,000 litres per cow per annum. “It was a very simple management system, with no diet feeding or out of parlour feeders,” added Fergal, who is a full-time accountant.

Fergal manages the farm with help from family and part-time labour. “I enjoy farming and working with cows, but it is difficult juggling two full-time occupations. Feeding cows is an exact science, and the system meant that my cows weren’t reaching their full potential. I wanted to eliminate the guess work, and implement a more accurate and profitable system of feeding cows.”

Fergal continued: “I had been following the progress of robotic technology for a while, and earlier this year news of the new model Lely Astronaut A5 really caught my attention. Lely is a market leading brand, and the Astronaut milking robot does exactly what it says on the tin.

“I didn’t shop around. I have friends and dairy farmer clients using Lely robots, and I know how reliable they are. This network, coupled with the reassurance of an efficient 365 day back-up service, gave me the confidence to invest in an A5.”

Minimal building work was carried out on an existing shed. “We added a two bay extension to accommodate the robot and extra cubicles,” added Fergal.

The A5 was commissioned in mid-October. Fergal is full of praise for the advice and support given by Jim Irwin and his team during the start-up period. “The Lely guys were here around the clock for the first few days. It’s a matter of training cows to go forward to the robot, and after a couple of weeks they quickly settled into the new routine.”

Fergal added: “The robot and T4C computer software are easy to use and farmer friendly. I’m used to working with figures on a daily basis, and the robot generates a variety of reports allowing me to manage each cow on an individual basis. The data is displayed in a simple dash board style format, and more advanced reports are also available. I enjoy analysing the figures on my ipad every evening.”

Cows are fed silage at the feed fence, and receive an 18% crude protein high energy nut in the robot. “The technology allows me to identify the higher yielding cows, and they receive concentrates to a maximum of 12 kilos per head per day.”

He added: “Milk yields have increased by 20% to 25% for the freshly calved cows and heifers. They are milked up to four times per day and are performing really well under the new management regime. Good quality silage and a more targeted approach is paying dividends, with cows producing up to 40 litres daily.”

The Astronaut A5 boasts improved energy efficiency, and its hybrid arm is silent, faster and more accurate than earlier models in the range. It also features a teat detection system with improved scanning of the udder, allowing more accurate post milking spraying.

Fergal added: “I have so much information available. The robot monitors milk yield and concentrate intakes, but one of the biggest advantages is cow health. The robot will detect a sick cow, or mastitis, at least two days prior to any visible signs.”

In the long-term Fergal plans to increase the size of the herd to 80 cows, allowing the robot to operate at full capacity with 65 to 70 milking continuously. “I am also aiming to feed the cows in two batches, as the robot can be set up to distribute a number of different concentrate rations. Cows that are more than 150 days into their lactation will switch to a high protein nut.”

Fergal also plans to install the Lely Grazeway system, which will allow his herd to graze fresh grass during the spring and summer months. “My fields are situated conveniently around the farmyard, so it’s a matter of setting up a network so the Grazeway gate and robot can work together.”