Farming moo-ving ahead as robots do the milking

By Esther Hayden

Published 21/07/2015 | 00:00

James and Allyson Walsh with their sons Andrew and George.
James and Allyson Walsh with their sons Andrew and George.

The latest in milking technology was showcased at the farm of James Walsh on Friday last.

James and global milking technology giant DeLaval hosted an open day at the Walsh farm outside of Kilmuckridge to demonstrate the effectiveness of its Voluntary Milking System (VMS).

James took delivery of a DeLaval VMS in February last and has found that it meets his extremely high quality standards. An award-winning farmer, James has a mixed tillage, beef and dairy farm in Kilmuckridge, and the initial impetus to change to robotic milking came about as a result of a spinal injury. 'Milking was aggravating the problem', James explains. 'I had to either get out of cows or find a different way of milking them.'

Lifestyle was another issue. 'The next generation is coming on now. I have a son studying agricultural science in UCD and I don't want him to be tied to the farm in the same way I was. The DeLaval VMS will give us the flexibility to do other things as well.'

He chose the DeLaval system for quality reasons. 'I was a finalist in the National Dairy Council Milk Quality Awards last year and I didn't want to compromise our quality standards in any way.

'In my opinion, the teat preparation and washing system that comes with the VMS is superior to any of the other robotic systems out there. I am very happy with it and the quality is on a par with what we were achieving previously. Also, the cell counter on the VMS is similar to the system used by the co-ops and that's not the case with the others.'

Setting up the system and training the cows to use it was a relatively simple operation. 'DeLaval had people on site for the installation and within 10 days we had 98 per cent of our cows using it voluntarily. The cows are extremely content in it. I was very surprised at how at ease they were. Everything is working well - the milking is working, the milk quality is good, and the cows are content.'

The speed at which the cows got used to the guided system was also unexpected. 'Our system here is full-on grazing - the only time the animals get fed concentrate is from the robot where a little is left as an enticement. We have a feed-first guided system here and I was very surprised at how quickly the cows got used to it.'

This means his herd of 55 cows can choose when they want to be milked and also enjoy a cow management system which caters for the needs of a grass-based milk production system. The DeLaval machine can direct milked cows to the next paddock allowing most effective management of grassland while if a cow needs attention, she will be directed to a segregation area and the farmer will be alerted. 'The result is that our cows don't get stressed and this results in a high-quality milk,' concluded James.

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