ADOPTION of robotic technology has been a game changer for one north west dairy operation. Rachel and Matthew Radford installed a new robotic system on their property at Riana about 12 months ago.
Mr Radford said the need for a new dairy on the property had prompted them to look at robotics. “Both of our milking sheds were getting past their used by dates, so we had to look at another option,” he said. “We like technology and we like figures and everything on cows, so this was a good option.”
Mr Radford said difficulties trying to get employees in the region had also made the robotic technology more viable.
“We were running two shed as well, so we needed double the staff, so we’ve just gone back to one shed now and it’s all robots,” he said. After operating with two sheds and 600 cows, the farm now runs 430 cows which are milked with six robotic milking systems.
Mr Radford said they did a lot of research and visited a number of other farms before investing in the Lely system, which suited their operation the best. Being able to collect accurate data on each cow, especially health traits, has been one of the major benefits of the new technology.
“It means we can fix up any cows that aren’t right really quickly, and it detects all the cows that are coming on heat too,” Mr Radford said. “We get messages on our phones, so we can draft cows that are sick or draft them for AI with just a button on our phones, so it’s made things a lot easier in that way.”
The herd is made up of all Holsteins and Mr Radford said they select genetics to ensure they have sound cows that can handle the undulating country in that area. The herd includes some red Holsteins and Mr Radford said they use genetics mainly from the United States.
“We’re very type orientated,” he said. “They got to have good udders as well everything has to be very functional, especially with the robots now. They’ve got to have pretty correct udders, or it can make things a bit difficult.” The farm is operated as a family operation, along with Mr Radford’s brother Andrew and his wife Emma.
They milk off an area of about 162ha, which is mostly irrigated. Water for irrigation is supplied from bores and on farm dams. The new dairy has been up and running since February last year. Mr Radford said training the cows to the new system was quite straight forward.
“On average it takes us about four to five days to train a cow, some do it a bit earlier and some a bit later but that’s the average,” he said. “Within a week they’re all going through themselves.”
Mr Radford said the gates in the system are always open so they can travel through the system as they like. However, he said the weather does play a part.
“Some days they’re not that keen to move if the weather’s not too good,” he said. Mr Radford said production had remained steady after changing to the robotic system. On average the herd is producing 580-600kg of milk solids per cow. As well as the robots, the new dairy has also been built with an undercover feed pad. The feed pad is used to feed either silage or straw depending on what the cows need. The cows are also being fed about 8kg of grain a day.
“They love going through there, they line up,” Mr Radford said. “They’re really quiet too, they just don’t care we’re here.” Mr Radford said having the technology to track the production of individual cows was a major benefit of the new system. “It’s interesting to see the production because you can’t always tell by looking at the cows,” he said. “Some are doing better than whine up,” Mr Radford said.
“They’re really quiet too, they just don’t care we’re here.” Mr Radford said having the technology to track the production of individual cows was a major benefit of the new system. “It’s interesting to see the production because you can’t always tell by looking at the cows,” he said. “Some are doing better than what you thought.”
The system is set with a minimum six-hour gap between milkings for each individual cow. Mr Radford said some cows have learnt to wait in the system until the gates change to let them into a fresh paddock. The cows are averaging 2.1 milkings a day at the moment. “We’re pretty happy with that because we’re sort of pushing things to the limit at the moment, so we have about 70 cows a robot,” he said.
Milk from the operation is supplied to Cadbury. Now with the robotic system, they will milk year-round with 300 cows calving in the spring and 100 in autumn. Mr Radford said the robotic system had allowed them more time to focus on other aspects of the farm management, however, the robotic system does require regular monitoring and maintenance.
“It will be a thing for the family farms, but probably not the corporate models,” he said. “Maybe the robotic rotaries will work well for the corporates though.”
Each year they rear about 100 replacement heifers. Silage is also cut off the property. Mr Radford said while milk prices are at record levels, input costs are also significant. “The milk price is pretty healthy but our costs are up there too, so it needs to be where it is at the moment,” he said.