Cow comfort is top priority for Mearfield Holsteins

Peter Cox, dairy farmer with robot milker

A guided access system of robot milking is proving to be a big success for Cornwall dairy farmers Peter and Sheila Cox and family. 

Their pedigree Mearfield Holstein herd at Stoke Climsland now numbers 140 cows and has been milked by DeLaval VMS robots for the last three years. There are two robots to cater for the 120 cows in-milk at any one time.

The herd average is 11,000 litres 4.3% fat and 3.3% protein.

“Because we’re a high yielding herd having cows milked on a robotic system is far better for them from a welfare point of view. We used to milk twice a day but cows were carrying a lot of milk in-between milkings,” says Peter.

The Mearfield herd’s high herd average is the combined result of deeply-bred cows from long established cow families along with close attention to cow welfare, cubicle comfort and nutrition.

“We’ve always bred for milk with high constituents as well as cow longevity, but the key is putting all the elements together and getting the basic cow management right.”

Cow comfort is a top priority for this heavy milking herd. As well as robots ensuring cows can be milked on demand, the environment created in the cubicle bed is also an important consideration. The cows are now bedded on Envirobed on top of mattresses after switching from long-time use of sawdust. The bedding is now available from the new Envirosystems plant at Aylescott which has considerably reduced haulage costs.

“We have a walk-behind petrol driven brush so we can clean off the backs of the beds every morning and evening, and then bring fresh Envirobed from the front of the bed back towards the heel stones. We top up the beds once a week.

“The cows are comfortable and the udders are clean which is essential for our robot milking system.

“We’re keeping on top of mastitis because of the absorbency of the bedding. And we like the way Envirobed stays on the beds.

“We do get gusty south westerly winds here and if you’d just topped up the beds with sawdust on a windy day it could all blow off in seconds.”

Before we went on to robots we were around 10,000-10,500 litres. Robots have definitely played a part in the yield improvement.

Cows are fed a TMR mix for M+30 litres. Cows are fed a flat rate of 3kg through the robots but the high-yielders get up to 8kg for those giving 60 litres.

Peter Cox opted for a guided robot system in preference to one allowing his cows free access.

“If you want to maximise the output of your robots from high yielding cows there’s no point in having a cow that’s going to be dropping four or five litres of milk when another cow could be in there giving more. Every time a cow goes into a robot it costs you money and the yields need to justify each visit.

“A lot of farmers like the free-access systems but there can be high numbers of “rejected cows” that get into the robot but don’t need to be milked.”

On the Cox’s system the cows can move from lying in the cubicles to having free-access to the feed trough and the loafing area but if they are carrying milk when they go back to the cubicles they are selected to go in front of the robot.

“If a cow isn’t carrying milk the gate system directs her back to the cubicles. “We have no issues with cows prematurely drying off – which can sometimes be a problem with the free-access systems. Even low yielding cows going back to lie down will still get milked twice a day.

“The guided system ensures that the freshly calved cows can get milked almost as often as they want to whereas the later lactation cows are a little more restricted.” Peter Cox says he finds that some cows, due to their flat lactation curve, are carrying quite a lot of milk at dry off rather than them drying themselves off.

“Because of the feeding system, the type of cows we have and the short calving index, we very often find we’re drying off a cow at 280-300 days that’s still giving 28-30 litres of milk.” All cows are housed at night but a grazing gate operates in the grazing season to allow mid-late lactation cows and any giving less than 40 litres to go out to grass but still have access to return to the robots.

“It’s still early days to be able to quantify what impact the robots will have on the longevity of the cows but clearly the udders of high yielders aren’t under the same amount of pressure so wearability should improve.”

To find out more about EnviroBed click here or call the EnviroSystems team on 01772 860085

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