Calculations are all in hand
By Jeremy Hunt
A HAND-HELD computer for in-parlour use, designed to record milk yield and calculate feed rates of individual cows, is meeting with widespread success among Cumbrian dairy farmers.
Ideal for those milking in parlours without electronic milk mete-ring, this piece of gadgetry is marketed by Dunglinsons of Carlisle.
"Everyone we have supplied with this hand-held recorder has said they get the yield keyed in faster than writing it down," says Mike Dunglinson. "Once the yield information has been updated there is an immediate calculation of feed rate.
"This is a system that enables feed regimes to be monitored efficiently by those dairy farmers whose parlours are not fitted with the latest milk meters and computers. And for a fraction of the cost."
The feed calculation is made to two decimal places but if the user is working with a manual feed box and not a computerised delivery the recorder will round it down to half kg. To calculate the exact feed rate it is necessary to initially log in some group parameters. Up to 99 groups can be accommodated and any cow can be slotted into any feed group. It is the group parameter which determines how much feed the cow should be receiving based on yield.
Each group, which can have either two or three milkings a day, can be programmed for a number of target days post-calving. "As an example, we could have a group with 20 days as a post-calving target which means the 1kg target start rate will be gradually increased over 20 days to 6kg. It is basically lead feeding," he says.
The milk recorder will also prompt changes to feed rates after the first 100 days of lactation and enable alterations to be made for variations in forage quality.
Dunglinsons has also designed an interface for use with the ATL- memory feeder box. An option on the milk recorder provides the facility to send feed rate information directly to the feeder box from the organiser.
Costing £749 + VAT to include the organiser, printer, programmes and data packs, the system enables farmers to obtain "hard copies" of two reports – General Cow Report and Feed Report. The general information printout details calving date, drying-off date and lactation data. The feed report contains individual yields plus stage of lactation and total daily feed rate.
"The best way to describe the organiser is a semi-automatic feed calculator/processing system," says Mr Dunglison. "We asked three dairy farmers to use it and we havent even written a manual. It takes barely half an hour for the operator to become confident. Farmers now using the system have moved from pen and paper calculations of feed rates, which can be hit and miss and lead to a far from efficient use of feed."
Dunglinsons says the organiser complements the increasing degree of feeding accuracy now being provided through parlour feeders. "In-parlour feeders have never been more accurate. The Westphalia systems are now calculating feed to two decimal places, which brings rationing into the realms of grammes a day."
The "Look at a Cow" option on the menu provides a complete update on the performance of individual animals at the push of a button on the hand-held organiser.
Information relates to the cows calving date, most recent yield, calculated feed rate a day, total lactation to date and drying-off date. A cow calendar is not included but may be in future.
"The jar man and the direct-to-line dairy farmer without milk meters can drastically improve the allocation of feed via the accuracy of the hand-held organiser," says Mr Dunglinson.
Martin Wilson milks about 118 cows at Howfield Farm, South-waite, Carlisle. "We used to record milk yields with a pen and paper in the parlour and work out cow rations in the same way. It was time consuming and inefficient," says Mr Wilson.
Individual cow yields are now recorded twice a month and the figures put directly into the hand-held recorder. The 20:20 herringbone parlour with low-level jars is not fitted with milk meters but does have an ATL-memory box for feed delivery. Programmed to feed 0.15kg for each litre of milk, the recorder adjusts feed levels and the data is fed directly into the feeding system via the interface.
"We have been pleased with the accuracy, too. We installed West-phalia feeders and started spot-checks. Cows are getting exactly what they should every time to the nearest 200g. That is efficient rationing," says Mr Wilson. *