19 September 1997

ELECTRONIC GAINS APLENTY

New state-of-the-art parlour electronic systems are reducing milking times and easing management on two Welsh dairy units.

Robert Davies reports

NEW parlour electronics installed at a farm on the England/Wales border have improved feeding efficiency and greatly reduced operator stress.

"I enjoy milking again and have no worries when a relief milker takes over," says John Radford, who milks 95 cows though a modified 8:16 herringbone at Lower House Farm, Llanymynech.

"Our investment in electronic cow identification and feed control lets me feed the cows more accurately than with our inefficient old manual system. It also means I no longer have to walk miles struggling to read cow numbers in our narrow parlour."

The £9000 system, installed in 1996, was manufactured by Agricultural Technology Ltd (ATL), Newmarket, Suffolk. The microprocessor-based control unit manages parlour feeding and milk yield recording. It also stores animal health information, and can be connected to a standard personal computer. This allows two-way data exchange.

Cow identification can be manual or through the use of lightweight ear-tag transponders. These derive their power from the magnetic field generated by the antenna fitted to each stall.

The ATL system differs from others on the market because it does not require a separate reader for each antenna.

A unique electronic interface, which the company calls DABS, or dynamic antenna balancing and selection, allows up to 1000 antenna to be read by a single unit, reducing system cost. Each stall is scanned in turn and feed is not released until the one ahead is occupied, and the cow has been recognised and fed.

Cows quickly learn that they will not receive concentrate unless they move to the next available standing, which ensures a free flow through the parlour. The pre-determined level of feed is dispensed when the transponder is read. When a new tag, or one from a cow no longer in the herd, is read the operator is warned and uses a keypad to link the tag to data about the animal in the computer.

"The next time she enters the parlour she will be recognised automatically. It is a simple system and means that tags can be reused. There have been no problems and I can leave a relief milker in charge with complete confidence. Spending an extra £4000 on auto ID and 120 transponders was not a luxury. It was a necessary way of easing stress on me, and improving feeding accuracy." Before the change rolling average yield was 6500 litres a cow, of which 1932 litres came from forage. It is now 7300 litres, including 3000 from forage. Margins over purchased feeds have increased from £1300 a cow to £1438. Milk quality has also improved.

"Not all the gains are a result of the new electronics. We are trying hard to improve all aspects of feeding and management. But we now know that we are getting the right amount of feed to the right cow, every time. Cows are more relaxed and I finish a milking feeling fresh rather than tired."

PARLOUR ELECTRONICS

&#8226 Cow ear-tags plus antenna at each stall.

&#8226 No separate reader for each antenna.

&#8226 1000 antenna read by one unit, reducing cost.

New parlour electronics – including electronic ear-tag transponders and antenna fitted to each stall – have made milking easier for John Radford.