Breeding cows with improved robotic milking speeds will allow an expansion of the dairy herd at Draynes Farm in Northern Ireland.

The farm attached to the family-owned milk processing business – located on the outskirts of Lisburn in Co. Antrim – is home to 120 Holstein cows.

They are milked through three Lely robots. The plan is to bring the herd up to 170 cows with associated youngstock while retaining the same number of robotic milking points.

The business recently hosted a visit by members of the Ulster Grassland Society.

Draynes farm manager, Chris Wright, explained: “Our average milking speed is currently 1.9L/min. The scope to bring this figure up 2.9L exists. We have identified the group of animals within the herd that are slow milkers.

“The plan is to breed their bloodlines out of the milking group and replace these with youngstock that are genetically programmed to milk faster within a robotic system.

“By taking this approach we should also be able to significantly improve the number of cows being milked on the farm the year-round.”

Milking and breeding

Currently two of the robots are set up as a total confinement system. However, the third has been configured to allow in-calf cows out to graze during the spring and summer months.

One of the robots is dedicated to freshly calved heifers only. 

Cow rumination and heat detection rates are also monitored on a continuous basis.

The Drayne herd is currently averaging 33kg of milk/day across an average of 3.1 milkings. Current butterfats are 4.2% with milk proteins at 3.38%. The average Somatic Cell Count (SCC) for the milking group is 140.

The rolling herd concentrate feed rate is currently sitting at 0.39kg/L.

From a breeding perspective, sexed semen is used on maiden heifers plus the top performing cows in the group. A maximum of two sexed straws will be used per animal, after which, the shift will be made to beef semen.

Maiden heifers are synchronised at 13-14 months-of-age, aiming for a 24-month age at first calving date.

Triple-beef cocktail straws are used on all the other breeding animals. Bull calves are sold off the farm at an early age.

The current dairy breeding programme has a strong focus on increased longevity and lifetime yield. Improving fat, protein and milking speed are also key drivers for the future.

Breeding cows that are suitable for a robotic system is also a priority.

A small amount of Viking Red semen has been used on the Drayne herd with the first calves now on the ground.

The calving interval for the herd currently stands at 393 days. Animals are vaccinated for infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), bovine viraldDiarrhoea (BVD) and leptospirosis.

Herd replacements are wormed and fluked on the back of veterinary advice. Cows are wormed and fluked during their dry periods.