Robotic milking with “Merlin”

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We installed two Fullwood Merlin 225 Robots to milk Kirkby British Friesians last July. Our existing milking parlour was past it’s sell by date. We had updated as much as we could with new feeders and pipework over the years but it was just not big enough any more. Cows were having to stand too long waiting to be milked. So what to do about it?

We had always relied on family labour, only employing contractors for specialist jobs like hedge cutting and maize silaging. If we were to find the right assistance , as we neared retirement, we would need to provide a house and as there was none available on the farm it meant we would have to buy one. Also if we were to put in a bigger parlour we would need a new building to put it in. At least we did not need slurry storage as we had installed that in 2001. So we did all the sums and decided that the Robots were the way forward.

In our favour was the fact that we were all quite used to computers and in their favour our cows were used to out of parlour feeders, so they were quite accustomed to returning to the yard day and night to have their feed rations and we have retained the OPF to work in conjunction with the Robots.

robots being installed

We applied for and were awarded an East Midland Development Agency Grant towards the costs of installing the Robotic milking system. Fifty cows were introduced to the Robots at the beginning of August and we all began the huge learning curve but most especially Trevor who was the one the Robots would call if there were any problems, on his mobile phone!!!

As usual nothing ever goes quite according to plan and we had to begin baling and carting all the straw that we need to carry us through the year at the same time. So we all got up close and personal with Robots and computers.

Once the harvest was complete we were able to gradually introduce the rest of the cows along with heifers calving for the first time. The way individual animals took to the new system varied a great deal. The friendly quiet cows tended to plant their feet and say” I’m not going in there. “Whereas the grumpier characters would just be put in once or twice and they would say “I like this, I can milk when I want and I don’t need you anymore.” In the final group to join the Robots was our oldest cow Kirkby Breeze 2 in her 11th lactation. None of us expected her to take to the new system easily but how wrong we were. We only brought her down to the Robot gates twice and ever since she has been in at least twice a day and should make it to 110,000litres before the end of this lactation.

Only 2 cows have been sold because they were unsuitable for the Robotic system. One because of a Teat much lower than the other three and the other for temperament.

Yields have increased already in the fresher calved cows and heifers with some heifers visiting the Robots 4 or 5 times a day during their training period. We were not looking to increase yields necessarily but virtually no cases of mastitis throughout the winter has been a big plus. There is an aura of calm in the cubicle house that is quite marked with no hustle and bustle of rounding up for milking.

Pedometers are worn by each cow on their front leg. When an animal enters the Robot the Pedometers are scanned to identify each cow. Information is fed back to the computer via this link to record yields etc. The computer also checks activity levels. If this is greatly increased it segregates the animal into a separate area as this suggests they are bulling.

Of course there have been moments when things did not go quite to plan. All of us that keep cows know that they are not stupid and occasionally you get one that is a bit cute. We have one such cow who is skilled at opening doors. So one night during the winter the whole lot got out and found to their delight that a gate was open too. Off they went for a romp across the fields. Shock! Horror! when Trevor got up, no cows. They all came trooping back in and we thought no more about it. We never thought about the pedometers telling the computer about the increase in activity!!!!

You guessed it next morning it was standing room only in the segregation yard as it had diverted the whole lot. That is one mistake we will not be repeating. Another took just one hour to find how to beat non return gates when introduced to the Robots for the first time.

Economical milk production has always been the driving force for us, that’s why we chose British Friesians. It is impressive to witness those lasers locating teats and just popping them on time after time while we do something else. Our Merlin 225’s provide a much needed pair of hands and don’t need weekends off or holidays or a house. They are without emotion so they just keep on trying and never loose their temper!!. It was certainly a huge outlay for us but with interest rates where they are we decided they would be a better investment than a pension scheme.

Well named, we think our Merlin 225’s are magic.