An opening day showcasing Co Leitrim’s first robotic milking machine has attracted over 250 farmers from not only across the north west, but also as far afield as Counties Tipperary and Limerick to Tooman, Mohill.
The farm, run by father and son team Michael and Cathal McCrann, is a thriving business milking up to 60 cows.
A growing realisation that their current milking parlour set up was no longer meeting their needs brought them to consider the possibility of installing a robotic unit.
“I first started looking at this three years ago,” explains Cathal.
“It was a big step for us because it was so new and I admit that when I first started researching the technology I was a bit negative about it. We were worried about the cost, what if breaks down, what if it’s complicated. But I talked to a lot of farmers up North who have these machines in place and they were all very positive about it.”
Further research led Michael and Cathal to invest in a Lely Robotic Milking Machine, which they finally had installed last August.
For Cathal and Michael it has been a real life changer.
“We can now have a life outside of farming,” admits Cathal.
“This unit is automated. It milks the animals when they want to be milked, it feeds them according to what they individually need and it records not only each time each animal is milked but it also gives us lots of information on the health and welfare e of each animal. At a glance we can see how active they are, how much milk they are producing and that is a huge benefit,” he said.
Most importantly, the data collected on each animal allows farmers to closely monitor the health of the herd, “it is such good that it can detect that there is something wrong with an animal faster than you would actually see it.”
But ultimately the introduction of the machine has given the McCrann’s not only confidence that their animals are being well cared for, but also the tools to further build on their business.
“Milk production has increased since we installed it and we have introduced new animals, but most of all this means that we can have a life outside of farming,” says Cathal.
“We don’t have to rush home to milk in the evening or have to get up at 6am in the morning. We have plenty of other things to do around the farm, but having this system in place frees us to be able to do things outside of farming and to feel confident that our animals are being well taken care of.”
It is this unique selling point that has been a major draw for farmers the length and breadth of the country, who have looked to install robotic milking machines.
Niall McGauran, CEO of the Lely Centre, Mullingar, points out that the technology behind the system has been in place for over 22 years - since the sale of the first robotic milking unit commercially in Holland.
“The majority of our customs are over 50 and the reasons behind their investment is two-fold. Firstly is the labour saving element, farmers are under pressure and some aren’t big enough to finance additional help or , in some cases farmers don’t want to become employers and to take on all the additional work that entails. Secondly , farmers are investing in these units because they not only save time and labour, they also provide comprehensive information on each animal.”
Niall admits that many people can be a bit wary when they first hear about robotic milking - “I think they believe that it is actually some sort of robot who will carry out the work, that’s why open days such as this one are vital, they show people the technology in operation and farmers get the chance to ask another farmer what their experience has been with it, that’s invaluable,” he said.
At present there are 350 units in Ireland with the first installed in Dunmore, Galway 14 years ago.
Niall bought the business three years ago after being impressed by the technology and seeing the huge growth in demand for robotic units in Europe and the UK.
The company has invested heavily in engineering support and organises study tours as well as open days to promote the technology.
For farmers like the McCrann’s this technology is saving them five hours of additional labour each day and that’s a massive selling point, especially for older farmers who may be affected by the wear and tear of many years work but feel that they are far too young to want to retire, says Niall.
The installation of the units is relatively simple. The units come on a pallet and in most instances can fit inside the existing parlour infrastructure.
Units are bolted to the ground and then connected to power, the milk tank and feed auger and, because units can be secured on hire purchase, farmers on higher rates of tax can write of their capital and interest paid on their tax bill.
Each animal is monitored via an individual collar which not only helps the machine to keep records of milk production, feed and milk quality - such as butterfat, protein, lactose and symmetric cell counts, it also provides details on each animals activity levels, rumination levels and can pick up when the animals come into heat. The technology also helps to identify any ill animals, automatically separating them from the herd for closer inspection by the farmer.
The automated nature of the system also means that it is invaluable to part time farmers, allowing them to seek employment outside the family farm.
Niall notes that the fact that the animals are milked when they want and not just twice a day, means that many users are reporting increased milk yields.
Anyone interested in getting a free farm appraisal or further information should contact Niall at the Lely Centre on 086 4178424.