Farm open day: Securing a dairying future with robots

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Dairy farmers who are facing succession and labour challenges could benefit from installing robots.

James Lomas and his veterinarian wife Rhiannan reached a turning point at Meadow Farm near Nantwich, last year, facing problems common to many in the dairy industry.

“We needed change,” says Mrs Lomas. “We were milking 140 pedigree Holstein cows through an outdated 16-point Herringbone parlour with glass milk jars and no automation; it was at the end of its operational life and milkings were taking three hours each side of the day.

“On top of that, James’ parents were looking at stepping back, external labour was unreliable, and having a young family meant we couldn’t sustain doing it the way things were – and we had to maintain the herd size to provide an income for both of the families.”

Looking for a solution, the Lomas’ saw an opportunity to make the farm work for the future by converting to a robotic milking system, and to their advantage it coincided with an available EU farm productivity grant.

“We were in a situation where we could have spent £500,000 on a new conventional parlour and still needed to find and fund labour,” she says. “Or we could use the grant to convert to a robotic system which would offset labour pressures and set the farm up for a productive future.”

By Christmas 2020 the Broomlea herd was being milked through three freshly installed Fullwood Packo M²erlin robots from agricultural dealer DA Cotton & Sons; and the Lomas’ haven’t looked back since.

“Fresh cows are producing an average daily yield of 45-50 litres with the herd averaging 8,500 litres, and a five-year lactation target of 10,000-11,000 litres,” explains Mrs Lomas. “A reality of changing systems is that the transition and building work can cause interruptions so productivity in the first year or two isn’t necessarily reflective of the potential.

“Cow comfort is most definitely improved and that has massive benefits on cow health and productivity– but the immediate win is the offset of labour costs and securing a future for us and our children.”