The move to robotic milking in 2011 took a couple of years to come to fruition, says Tom. “We were considering either a rotary parlour or robots and visited both to try and decide. In the end, we went for robots as Lely had just introduced the Astronaut A4.”
Management of the herd at Acland has focused on yield with strong milk solids, particularly butterfat over the past few years to suit their buyer Rodda’s creamery, well-known for its clotted cream.
The cows are currently averaging 11,750 litres at 4.71% butterfat and 3.45% protein with combined milk solids of 958kg per cow per year. Tom believes this is the combined effect of improvements in breeding, forage quality, nutrition, and the way the robots allow the cows to be fed little and often throughout the day.
Milk from forage is one particular area that has seen significant improvement over the past few years. “We started using a multi-cut system about five years ago,” says Tom. Paying more attention to the agronomy of the grass and crops has helped to maximise quality and output in the past two years. Tom now aims to make six cuts every four weeks starting in early April. “Multi-cut has made an enormous difference to the business, however like many other businesses we are always looking to improve.”
A Lely Juno is used to push TMR up to the feed barrier multiple times a day and this has helped to boost forage intake too, he says. The herd now achieves 4,500 litres milk from forage and currently margin over purchased feed is £4,396 per cow per year.
ForFarmers account manager Matt Jenkin says: “The ForFarmers robot compound fed in the A4s is designed to aid rumen health and keep the balance between milk production and the very important milk quality. We also use the new ForFarmers Robotic Analysis Programme to help highlight potential areas of improvement to focus on.”
On the breeding side genomics have been used for some time to select females most suitable to breed replacements from. Those with high milk solids and longevity are chosen and sexed semen is used to produce around 160 replacements each year, says Tom. As a previous winner in the ForFarmers Youngstock Awards, heifer rearing remains a strong focus for the business. Attention to detail in calf management and now regularly weighing heifers to keep on target of 24-month calving. Tom says: “That target is another really important key to profitability.
“I am always looking at everything to see where we can do better,” says Tom. Rather than focus on big changes this usually means smaller tweaks that make smaller gains which add up, he explains. Fertility and foot health are particular areas he is trying to improve.
“We are also working on the detection and treatment of mastitis. The A4 flags up potential cases, but we now have our own facility to test to see what bugs are there and the best way to treat them. Our attention to detail is helped by having a great team here at Acland,” he says.
“The impact of the changes we make now may only be small individually, but if we can find 10 things where a 1% improvement can be made, that really adds up to making a big difference overall.”