Reaseheath’s dairy robotics conference gives food for thought

Over 100 farmers, vets, nutritionists and students packed into Reaseheath College’s annual dairy conference to learn about the rapid progress of robotic technologies in farm production systems.

The gains and limitations of automated milking and feeding were addressed by four speakers from the dairy industry. All agreed that the use of robotics to standardise production processes had the potential to reduce variation and improve efficiency, but that it very much depended on the approach of the individual and on the farming systems already in place.

The Dairy Group’s Nigel Hardie, a business consultant specialising in robotic milking systems, gave insights into the latest developments and how they were influencing the management of dairy cows.

He said that his research had shown milk yield, along with farm profitability, had increased once the cows had the choice to be milked automatically several times a day. One downside was the loss of human contact at milking, but this loss was offset by the gained time being spent on more detailed individual management.

He also pointed out that farmers need to think about alternative holding systems for treating cattle on site.

Reaseheath’s Farm Manager Mark Yearsley reported on the forecasted cost and return on investment should Reaseheath choose to install a robotic system in addition to the current parlour for its high input herd. A strong supporter of robotics, Mark said that he believed improved staff efficiency would be the most important outcome, as the herd managers would have more time to focus on attention to detail. He also felt there would be a positive effect on rumen health, as the cows would be able to feed little and often.

Summarising, Mark said: “I have no doubt that robotics are going to play a big part in next generation farming.”

Anthony Andrews, Sales Manager for GEA Farm Equipment, looked at the benefit of automatic feeding and how this technology could help the farming industry, while Phil Ormerod, a progressive commercial dairy goat farmer described how robotic feeding cut down on waste and helps him run a more efficient and cost effective business.

The conference was chaired by George Fisher, Manager of the Reaseheath Agricultural Development Academy, who said: “There was a lot of positive but balanced discussion. I hope everyone went away with a better understanding of the technology involved and its place in profitability. We also have to appreciate that whether you choose robotics depends very much on how you want to farm”.

Alan Whiston, Director of Delamere Dairy which supports nine producers said: “I thought that the conference gave a good overview of the cost benefits to farmers of robotics, particularly of the possible long term saving”.

Neil Howie, Livestock Production Consultant remarked: “It was good to see so many people here, particularly over such a wide age range. I felt that the presentations were well balanced and that one of the main findings was that no matter what resources exist on farm, greater automation releases time for stockmen to be more hands-on.

“In my opinion the key for farmers is to get a really committed team alongside which includes the manufacturers, suppliers and service fitters and to make sure they remain part of ongoing assessment and maintenance.”

The indoor session was followed by a visit to a local dairy farm belonging to Andrew Griffiths, where 400 pedigree Holsteins are milked using a robotic system.

Reaseheath’s Dairy Conference was sponsored by DairyCo, GEA, Lely, Genus Breeding, Advanced Nutrition, HSBC, For Farmers, The Dairy Group and Lambert, Leonard and May, Farm Veterinary Surgeons.

See a full report in the Farmers Guardian this Friday, March 27th.

For more information on RADA events see www.reaseheath.ac.uk/rada or email Lesley Innes lesleyi@reaseheath.ac.uk.