Robots have their day as dairy staff become scarce

The future of farming depends on how much profit one man can produce – not how big the farming enterprise is, according to Cornish dairy producer Fred Harvey.

fred harvey robotic milking 
Robotic milking has seen cuts in mastitis and vet bills, and more time to make better use of vet time, says Fred Harvey.

Strong words from someone who has backed his belief and his family’s future and put his money behind this statement… and is now reaping the rewards. Mr Harvey and his wife Debbie, together with their young son Jack, run their family farm in partnership with his parents, Fred senior and Esther, milking a 125-cow herd of Friesians and has seen yields rise to more than 1m litres since the herd switched to robotic milking in October 2006.

While the herd has since fully settled into its new milking regime, Mr Harvey has learned this initial period could not be rushed.

Robotic Milking Q&A

  • Q Are heifers hard to train?
    A No. Heifers who have never been in a conventional parlour are the easiest and take to the entire “freedom” milking regime quickly.

  • Q Did you have to cull any cows when you started?
    A No. The robot arm coped with all of our cows, including the old and low-bag ones.

  • Q What happens if the robot stops milking ?
    A As cows are milked 24 hours a day, when there is a technical problem only a few cows would be kept waiting – not all of the herd. Lely’s technicians are on hand 24 hours a day to help, though.

  • Q What happens to the milk if you have to tube a cow for mastitis?
    A When a cow has mastitis, the computer’s control system can be programmed to separate that cow’s milk automatically.  

“At the beginning, everything was new to the herd, which numbered 100 cows. Building layout had changed and cows had the freedom of fresh grass paddocks as well as freedom to be milked when they chose either of the two Lely Astronaut robotic milkers.”

Mr Harvey breeds and rears all of his new and replacement stock from the all-year-round calving herd and is gradually introducing fresh heifers, with a total of 150 milking cows proposed for late 2009. The herd is now producing practically zero waste milk as mastitis is almost non-existent.

Little-to-no-mastitis milk means that almost all of Fred’s production is sold. “Cows are in much better health and vet bills for mastitis have substantially reduced. Consequently, we can now afford to make better use of key vet services.

“We are currently aiming to produce between 6000 and 6400 litres every two days all year round from 109 milking cows, two farmers and 150 acres of grass. And central to this has been improved grass and slurry management. We’re steadily improving and I’m determined to improve further to help reduce feed and fertiliser costs.”

Mr Harvey is now aiming to achieve between 1.3m and 1.4m litres of milk once he is up to 150 cows, and believes this will be the farm’s maximum. “We hope to keep cows longer, extending their life from five to seven lactations, so the herd’s overall health has to be good from feet to diet.”