Robots Phase Two


Just before our annual TB test last March we sent one of our old dears off to the abattoir where her carcase was condemned! Unfit for human consumption. Despite living in the same airspace as all the others, breathing bacteria all over the rest , not one was infected with TB as was proven a week later. So not our cow? a mistake had been made? Not a chance said AHVLA you are shut down. Give us a DNA sample we said to prove it was the correct cow as we had heifers and a bull from her. Samples are not possible as there are no facilities for taking such samples. So to cut a long story short along with hundreds of fellow farmers we went on the treadmill of 60 day testing until the end of September when restrictions were lifted.

By now we were massively overstocked as we had been unable to sell the 40 heifers we had planned to sell as they calved. These heifers had to be taken into our herd swelling the numbers to 156 instead of the 120 we usually keep. Anything contract mated was obviously unable to enter the AI Centres. Quite a loss of revenue all told.

As phase two of our Robotic milking system was due to be completed during the summer we now realised that we also had to face the winter housed period hopelessly short of room. So Phase two had to be done.

In the spring we decided to upgrade our silaging kit and instead of going with our usual forager and trailers, we bought a Forage Wagon, a Strautman Super Vitesse. It seemed to take the stress out of foraging as soon as we got going and instead of slowing us down it proved actually to be quicker than the other system as we were able to put more grass into the swath. One good thing that happened last summer! We had a visit from our footpath officer who declared we had to remove a second stile on one footpath as it was illegal. This had only been in place since 1987 and was purely to give easy access along the footpath as well as ensuring our back fencing and biosecurity was sound. A few words were exchanged and the stile remains as to remove it would be like having a water tank with a 6 inch hole in it!!

So by the time we organised the extension to the cubicle building and it was finally erected it was November. We all know what sort of weather we had last winter so in all that rain we took off half the roof and moved the out of parlour feeders. We broke up concrete and we put down new concrete passageways and feed areas, put in new cubicles and erected concrete panels as walls and moved feed silos and re routed augers and extended the auto scrapers.

Talking of slurry, we had realised in the summer that we were likely to be rather over full in our slurry lagoon with all the extra cows we had not been able to sell. We duly rang our Environment Agency to enquire whether we might be able to spread in the closed period as it was Force Majeure. Definitely not they said you will be prosecuted if you do but we are having a meeting and I will raise your predicament at the meeting with colleagues and see what we can suggest. A couple of weeks later we did receive their considered suggestion that our only option was to export it to another farm! We did ask where they kept their brains as they clearly had none in their heads.

On a similar vein before all restrictions were lifted we like many others had to sign a form AHVLA headed, to confirm we had disinfected the land where any inconclusive cattle had been kept. So we duly asked our supplier for approved disinfectant. Upon reading the data sheets, nowhere could we

find it was approved for use on land. So we enquired of the manufacturer who assured us it was NOT. As this was likely to be deemed an illegal act by our friends at the Environment Agency, we felt it only fair to point this out to Defra who apparently had no idea this was happening.

Just how the cows managed in such conditions was little more than miraculous. Yield did suffer but only one case of mastitis throughout because the dear old Robots just kept going night and day with as little down time as we could configure. We shaved seconds off every process we could. We even fed half of the herd outside. It was such a relief when the last cubicle was finished and at last we had enough room for them all to be indoors. Of course we have had to wait for the ground to dry out this spring before we could consider finishing off drainage systems and the new exit route to the grazing.

So Phase Two almost complete with a few more security and observation cameras sited to monitor activity around the yards. We launched our website with a live link to show the robotic milking in progress.

It is surprising how many farmers are suffering the effects of failing a TB test. I hear trials and tribulations from around the country who have suffered far greater problems than us. Just how the situation is to be improved is hard to see with the total lack of understanding on the part of those who dream up the rules. How do they expect a closed herd to survive losing 30-40 heifers/cows every year? Every expert is busy telling us to gear up to face the global market post quotas, then, the processors cut the price. Fills you full of confidence doesn’t it. One thing we can be sure of here at Kirkby, the robots will carry on milking giving us that extra time to enjoy life.