Robotic technology aids dairy diversification

County Donegal farmer Irwin Tinney embarked on a career in dairy farming in January 2018.

Tuesday, 5th November 2019, 8:44 am
Dean Cashel, Lely Center Eglish, is pictured with Irwin Tinney from St Johnston, Donegal, who is achieving a 305-day average of 8,200 litres at 4.06% fat and 3.61% protein using a Lely Astronaut A4 robot. Picture: Julie Hazelton

The transition from suckler and beef farming was prompted by ever decreasing profit margins.

“I was finishing suckler and dairy calves for bull beef, but I couldn’t see a long-term future in it. I have always been interested in dairying, and I gained milking experience on neighbouring units in a farm relief capacity.”

Irwin has built-up a herd of 80 commercial Holstein Friesian cows and is currently achieving a 305-day average of 8,200 litres at 4.06% butterfat and 3.61% protein.

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County Donegal farmer Irwin Tinney embarked on a career in dairy farming in January 2018, and is set to host a Lely Open Day on Tuesday 12th November. Picture: Julie Hazelton

The cows are milked using a Lely Astronaut A4 robot. “I had considered a conventional parlour, but that plan was going to need a new unit on a green-field site and a significant financial outlay. I had heard great reports about Lely robots and after attending several open days, and visiting farms in Holland, I decided automation was the way forward.

“I was able to convert my original beef house with minimal building work. I added two bays onto the shed, and re-designed the layout to include three rows of cubicles and a feed barrier. My existing shed was easily adapted to facilitate a dairy unit,” explained Irwin.

“Lely has been manufacturing robots a long time, and I was impressed with the back-up service and the professionalism of the team at Lely Center Eglish.”

Foundation stock for the herd was sourced from several farms. “My heifers all came from non-robot farms, but they were easily trained and adapted to the robotic system within days.”

Irwin added: “I’ve really settled into the routine, and I can access a wealth of herd management information at the touch of a button. Lely’s T4C computer software is farmer-friendly, and allows me to access data on each individual cow using my mobile phone.

“The robot is equipped with a weigh floor which identifies a drop in body condition. It also monitors milk conductivity and can detect mastitis long before it become visible. Early intervention can prevent mastitis, and in the majority of cases treatment with uddermint can eliminate the need for antibiotics.”

The herd is on a year round calving pattern to ensure the robot is operating at a 65 to 70 cow capacity. Average daily milkings are 2.7.

Irwin operates a zero grazing system, and benefits from specialist advice from FarmGate Nutrition’s David Kaasniewski. Silage is fed during the winter months.

Cows are currently receiving a 12% crude protein dairy nut fed through the robot. Quantities are determined according to individual yield, with a maximum limit of 12kgs per head per day.

The herd’s breeding programme focuses on production and milk quality. “I like medium-sized, easily managed cows with sound feet and legs, and longevity. I am using conventional and sexed semen across the herd.”

Irwin commented: ”Diversifying into dairying was the right decision. Thanks to the Lely A4 robot I have flexibility and can manage the herd single-handed. I have time to do other jobs around the farm, and spend time with my family and enjoying my hobbies.”

In the future Irwin plans to increase the size of the herd and install a second robot. “I need to extend the shed further, and I am exploring the possibility of setting up a grazing system.”

- Lely Center Eglish is hosting an Open Day at Irwin Tinney’s farm, Treantaghmucklagh, Saint Johnston, County Donegal, F93 Y8D2 on Tuesday 12th November 2019 from 10.45am to 3pm. Farm suppliers offering advice on the day with include FarmGate Nutrition, Smyths Daleside Feeds, Grasstec, Progressive Genetics, Eurogene, Aurivo and Teagasc. Tours will start every 30 mins between 10.45am and 2.00pm. Visitors are asked to adhere to biosecurity measures. To facilitate catering arrangements please register online via the Lely Center Eglish facebook page, via twitter or telephone the office 0044 28 37548228.