Pics and video: Using milking robots to bridge the gap between two farms

A farm in Co. Meath has used milking robots to its advantage by bridging the gap between two grazing blocks located either side of a busy road.

Brothers Kevin and Paschal Hand milk a spring calving herd of 140 cows in partnership on the outskirts of Slane Co. Meath, along the main route to the Boyne Valley.

In 2015, the brothers installed two Lely Astronaut robotic milking machines, one located either side of the busy public road.

Since the robots were installed, Kevin said the 140 cow herd has been split in two groups of 70, with all milk collected in one bulk tank located in the old parlour in the farm yard.

The location of the robots either side of the road means that the cows no longer need to be moved across the road for milking, Kevin said, but instead the milk is piped back to the parlour using a 130m pipeline.

The pipeline runs under the road bringing milk from one side to the other.
The pipeline runs under the road bringing milk from one side to the other.

Speaking at an open day on the farm on Thursday, Kevin added that the possibility of building an underpass was out of the question, due to the location of the farm.

We would have needed an archaeological survey to build and underpass due history of the area.

‘Its still a grass-based farm’

Kevin continued to say that the farm will continue to make the best use of grass, and the brothers are currently operating an A-B grazing system.

This system means that the cows have access to two separate paddocks daily, with cows first turned out to grass during mid-February.

The move to robotic milking has freed up a considerable amount of time on the farm which now can be used for managing grass, he added.

Typical Holstein Friesian cows on the Hand's farm.
Typical Holstein Friesian cows on the Hand’s farm.

Since the installation of the robots, the concentrate usage on the farm has remained pretty much the same as in the old herringbone parlour at 600-650/kg, he said.

On this level of meal input the cows are currently averaging 6,500L with a protein level of 3.40% and a butterfat average of 3.90%.

However, Kevin added that with the two robots on the farm there is essentially two grazing platforms of 50ac each, so this has created a little bit more work in terms of grassland management.

Before and after grazing.
Before and after grazing.

Five hours less in the parlour each day

Paschal also spoke at the farm walk, and he said that the move to robotic milking has reduced the amount of time they spend in the parlour by five hours each day.

He said that the move to robotic milking has taken the pressure off and they are never “bursting a gut to get back for evening milking.”

The robots give us freedom to carry out other work on the farm without having to watch the clock for milking, he said.

But, Kevin added that you cannot remove yourself from the day-to-day running of the farm.

You don’t stop farming, you just spend less time in the parlour.

“The whole day used to revolve around milking at 4.30 in the evening, now we can sit back and look at the phone to make sure everything is OK,” he said.

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Experience of four different milking methods

Paschal Senior, who started the farm in the 1950’s was also present at the open day on the farm on Thursday.

Paschal Senior said that the move to robotic milking has been the fourth type of milking he has seen on the farm.

He started milking by hand before making the switch to a bucket plant unit and then to the herringbone unit that the robots have now replaced.

It is great when you are after doing a hard days work and the cows have been milked.

“There is no panic to get the cows milked in the evening, there are no deadlines with the robots,” he said.

Video: Robotic milking in operation on the Hand’s farm