Providing new opportunities for the next generation

Motivated by the desire to provide new opportunities for the next generation, the Robinson family in Staffordshire made the switch to robotic milking in 2021.

Robotic Milking
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Making the switch to robots has been really positive, explains Richard Robinson, who farms in partnership with his sons, Henry and James, at Petsey Farm, near Market Drayton, Staffordshire.

“The amount of management data you get is staggering and the robots free up so much time, that we can now spend with the cows. It’s no surprise that we’re picking up issues like lameness early – enabling swift intervention and better cow welfare.

“By developing a new robotic unit at Petsey, we’ve got scope to increase cow numbers to 300, and we’ll aim to do this over the next few months. The aim is to develop a compact, easy to manage and efficient dairy unit that will support the family well into the future.”

The Robinsons currently milk 205 Holstein cows, using four Fullwood Packo M²erlin robots, achieving average yields of 10,000 litres of milk, at 4.0% butterfat and 3.3% protein, with all milk supplied to Arla. Robot visits average just under three per cow per day.

Developing the business

The Robinsons originally ran a conventionally milked herd on a dairy unit in Lichfield, before acquiring Cotton Farm as an additional site in 2019. While waiting for planning permission to develop the brand-new robotic unit (Petsey Farm) on some of Cotton Farm’s land, the family installed two robots within Cotton Farm’s existing 1960’s era infrastructure.

“It was a good learning experience,” continues Richard. “The knowledge we developed and practice we had getting to grips with analysing robot data has proven invaluable.”

Building work for Petsey Farm got underway in 2021, with the first new cow shed completed in December 2022. This conformed to a specialist design and was based on the robotic system at Nottingham University’s dairy unit.

“Everything is geared towards cow comfort, with free, easy access to the robots,” continues Richard. “When we first moved the cows in, they transitioned well and we started to hit yields of 33 litres per cow, per day.

“We finished building the second cow shed at the Petsey site earlier in the year and we plan to have three robots and 150 milking cows in each building. But we’ll build this up slowly, utilising a mix of home-reared heifers and bought in livestock. The idea is to time this expansion to coincide with an improving milk price.”

Cotton Farm is now used to rear youngstock, and the Lichfield unit has been dedicated to rearing the dairy-beef crosses produced by the milking herd, which are taken through from calf to finishing.

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Making the most of robotic data

The family has embraced data analysis through OptiRobot to help track cow and robot performance more accurately.

“Early on with the new robots at Petsey, OptiRobot identified a specific group of cows whose yields were dropping,” explains Richard. “With Bas van Santen’s help we were able to quickly pinpoint an issue with the default feeding rates of the robot being too low, adjusted the feeding curves in the robot settings and soon got the cows back on track.”

Cows are fed up to 12kg of ForFarmers NS (no soya) Feed2Milk Dairy MELK compound through the robots, which is complemented by a TMR of bespoke protein blend from ForFarmers, homegrown wheat, Rumi-Buff, Lintec and a mix of three-quarters grass silage and one-quarter maize.

“We’d usually feed more maize, but our stocks are lower than anticipated this year, so we’ve had to compensate by adding wheat to the cow’s diet,” says Richard. “As cow numbers grow, we’re reviewing our forage growing strategy to ensure we aren’t caught short on silage stocks in the future. Going forward we’ll increase grass hectarage by 20 hectares, and maize by 16 hectares.”

Fixing fertility

The cows settled quickly into the new routine at Petsey Farm, but after a few months, issues with fertility arose.

“Conception rates dropped from around 30% down to 18%, which was a significant cause for concern,” says Richard. “We spoke to our ForFarmers account manager, Roger Marley, who has worked with us on the farm for years, and he suggested that we feed the cows Lintec to give them a boost of omega 3 fatty acids.”

Roger explains: “The high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in Lintec help to elevate progesterone levels and suppress prostaglandin, which is beneficial for maternal recognition of pregnancy. This helps a cow maintain her pregnancy and reduces the chance of embryo loss in the early stages.”

Lintec was incorporated into the TMR from May 2023 and the Robinsons quickly saw a reversal in fertility problems.

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“Conception rates have gone back up to 31%, and the cows also look in very good condition,” concludes Richard. “As we look to increase numbers and fill the new shed at Petsey, it’s good to know that there’s something in the diet that will safeguard fertility.

“It’s been a long journey to get to where we are, but the whole family is pleased with how the business has developed. Once we have the two sheds running at full capacity our focus will then be on fine tuning our system for maximum efficiency. The physical building work might nearly be at an end, but there’s still plenty to do.”

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