Auto milkers in demand

JANA Van De Meer (pictured) believes robotic dairies are about to take off down under. The 23 year-old is on a four-month internship with Lely in Australia and is undertaking a Bachelor of Agricultural Science in Holland. “It took 10 years before robots became really popular in Holland,” she said. “And that’s how long they’ve been in Australia for now.”DEMAND for automatic milkers is on the rise, with dairy farmers starting to recognise the benefits across Victoria.

Darryl Light, who milks 120 Jersey cows at Drouin South, is one producer who will soon incorporate a new milking system on his West Gippsland property.

He is the first Australian to invest in the latest Lely Astronaut A4 hot off the press from Holland – after seeing the unit at the Elmore Field Days.

The unit was released in Holland last February.

Although he’s jumped head-first into a world of new technology, Mr Light says he does not even own a mobile phone, which is required to operate the robot.

“They told me I have to get one,” Mr Light said.

And as for the automatic milker?

He says the investment is all about continuing to make a living.

“I’m too old to milk cows and too young to retire,” he said.

“Hopefully it will take that grind off my body and I can be making a living from cows for longer.”

After operating a 10 double-up Herringbone for 10 years, Mr Light says the switch will take about three months.

He has bought two robots that require one central unit.

“It’s a very manual process in the beginning,” he said.

“I need to split the farm into three sections and offer new grass every eight hours to encourage the cows to come back to the milker.

“It will be a steep learning curve.”

One of the biggest benefits of investing in the robots was the ability to evade hiring labour.

“It wasn’t viable for me to look at hiring someone,” he said.

“And it’s getting harder and harder to find an employee you can rely on – someone who will notice if a cow is sick and is prepared to look after them.

“It was a logical choice for me to look at getting an automatic milker.”

He is hoping the system, which will be up and running by January, will simply remove the “wear and tear” from his body and allow him to do what he loves.

“My expertise is growing grass. I need to make a living out of it, so I needed to make a decision,” he said.

While many assume robots are only suited to large-scale operations, Mr Light said his dairy enterprise was small.

“Smaller farmers like me could consider this as another option,” he said.

A further plus was the removal of herd-testing costs.

“The robot measures fat and protein,” he said.

“And I’ve been told it’s as accurate as a milk factory.”

Winnindoo dairy farmer Max Warren – who was the first to buy the Lely automatic robots in Australia and New Zealand – says the main reason he moved to a robotic dairy was to remove the pressure for the operation.

“You take away that stress from yourself and the cows,” he said.

“The cows become quiet, because they come and go at their own will, and you feel happier.”

And although there was a plenty of negativity about the robots when Mr Warren first started using them 10 years ago, he has noticed a shift in acceptance.

“The banks are a lot more receptive to them now,” he said.

“And I think its something everyone wants to do.”

He operates four A2 robots that milk 300 cows.

Although the cost of the investment stops many producers in their tracks, Mr Warren said he paid off his units long ago.

“If I didn’t make the move into robotic dairying, I wouldn’t be here today,” he said.

“I found milking extremely stressful. Now I wake up and feel free.”

Last year, DeLaval launched Australia’s first-ever robotic rotary dairy system for pasture-based systems and large herds.

It was another big step for robots in the dairy industry.

However the system will not be available commercially until 2012.

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