My Grazing Week: Summer 1
Robotic system: 1 DeLaval VMS™ box unit voluntary milking on grass
Farm: Andrew & James Walsh, Co. Wexford, Ireland
Soil type: Heavy to medium-heavy
SCC ('000) 60
TBC ('000) 3Concentrates 4kg
After my trip away in Australia, learning new skills and experiencing a different life, I returned to normality where I continue with life back on the farm!
This is the start of a new series of My Grazing Week where I will hope to integrate what I have learnt on my trip along with what is going on, on my home farm.
Life on the farm
Grass growth slowed down last week to about 50kg DM/ha, but since the 25mm of rain, growth has started to pick up again this week to about 70kg DM/ha.
Second cut silage was cut last week so we will now have more after grass coming into rotation, which will allow us two start extending the rotation length in 2-3 weeks’ time.
This year we have over 70 cows milking on the system which is about an 8% increase on last year’s numbers.
Right through the months of May, June and July, we have consistently been exceeding the 2000kg/robot/day mark, which is beyond where we expected to be in only our third season voluntary milking. The cows appear to be holding a more consistent level of production this year compared to the last two previous years.
This is due to a number of reasons such as:
- The cows are far more relaxed now and as a result have a higher DMI (dry matter intake), resulting in more production
- Cows are now traveling more so as individuals and not so much as a herd, meaning the shyer cows are now not as prone to bullying and therefore have less waiting around
- We now know what works and what does not work!!
These are only a small number of reasons as to why our robot is working so efficiently and the cows are producing a good level of production (still with room for improvement!)
Start-up: Stay Positive!
Having a positive attitude from the start really has a huge implication on how the system runs. It starts with firstly being calm and relaxed with your cows, they will sense this and know that the robot is not out to get them, making it more likely for the cow to return on her own.
Here is a bit of an insight into how we got to where we are, and due to the fact that we were one of the first robotic grazing systems, we had to learn nearly everything from scratch:
There is often a huge expectation placed on these robotic milking systems as a huge amount of the marketing looks at only the positives (and rightly so!). The farms that we hear about or see working well, are usually the farms that have put in the most amount of work, effort, and thought in order to get the system running the way we see it!
The reality is that, yes voluntary milking systems work extremely well, but when you visit a farm or see videos on YouTube, you are only witnessing the tip of the ice berg!! The amount of work, and thought gone into manipulating cow flow, is in most cases quite a large amount which is a credit to these farmers and/or advisors!
To put into comparison, take the All Blacks rugby team. When we watch this team play we sit back and admire them, at how good they are and they make it look all so easy! But what most of us do not see is the amount of hard work and hours, upon hours of training that it took to get this team playing like they do!
Well, voluntary milking is no different! If you put in a huge effort and a lot of work in the first year, this will pay off greatly to getting the system running effectively and efficiently.
There were times that we thought that the system was not going to work, and stated blaming the robot for reasons such as cows not travelling etc. We realised that it wasn’t the robots fault at all, or for the most part even the cows fault for something like this. It was OUR fault, and perhaps some mismanagement at times, i.e. allocating too much or too little grass. Maybe we were just giving them too much grass and expecting a miracle to happen, or giving them too little grass and wondering why the cows won’t stay in the paddock!! But we made it work and soon realised that we had to change the way we were managing the system, not just the cows! This came down to honesty and not being afraid to admit a mistake to ourselves.
A good saying to keep in mind is ‘if something doesn’t seem right, it isn’t!’ Always try to get to the bottom of the problem and never give up trying to make it work! 90% of the problems are in the head.
Keeping a positive mind set, even when the going gets tough, is really the key to success. Try to sort out the problems rather than getting annoyed with your robots! You can say what you like to the robot and call it what you like, but it isn’t going to make one bit of a difference at the end of the day!!
Stay calm, be positive and do not panic! You are not the only farmer out there with these systems on grass, there are hundreds who have gone through the same process, and the majority come out the other end just fine , you will be no different!