Farmer/owner: Hurren Family
Farm location: Great Ayton, North Yorkshire
Farm name: Borough Green Farm
Herd: Under 100
Milking system: Robotic Milking
Date of installation: October 2011
David and Helen Hurren started milking at Borough Green Farm, on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors, in 1984 when their dairy farm was equipped with a 5/10 herringbone parlour. After milking their herd of 60 pedigree Holstein-Friesians through the old parlour for almost 30 years, they decided that the time had come to invest in a more modern milking setup that would not only bring the farm up-to-date, but also improve production efficiencies.
The Hurren’s had another motive for investing in new facilities, with their daughter, Jess, having recently returned to the family farm following her graduation from Reaseheath College where she studied dairy herd management. “We knew we needed to invest in new facilities if we wanted to develop a business capable of supporting both generations going forwards, and in particular to create a business that would give Jess a sustainable future in milk production,” David Hurren explains.
“We looked at the various robotic options available and decided that we wanted a system that we could maintain ourselves. We opted for the Fullwood Merlin because it seemed the most robust and easiest to maintain. We initially installed one machine, but included space in our plans for a second machine that could be installed at a later date.”
“As soon as the robot was in situ we started using it as an out of parlour feeder so that the cows got used to going in and out. Our initial plan was to milk half of the herd through the robot, with the remaining cows going through the old parlour until the first batch had been trained. We anticipated that it would take up to a month to get all of the cows going through the robot but it actually took less than a day,” David describes.
The first cow was milked by the Merlin at midday on day one, with the entire herd having been milked robotically by 10:30 that evening.
On the morning of day two, there were only 10 of the 65 cows to gather and put through the robot. “We were expecting to wake up to complete mayhem, but the reality was much different,” David Hurren adds. “The cows were eerily calm and have stayed that way ever since. They seem more relaxed and contented, thanks in large to a reduction in bullying within the herd and a more natural milking regime.”
Not only has the new robot helped to ease the family’s daily work routine and reduce stress within the herd, it has also brought some significant production efficiencies to Borough Green.
“The cows are healthier, with fewer incidents of clinical mastitis, largely because they are being milked an average of 2.8 times a day,” Jess explains. “The highest yielders are being milked as many as five times a day and we are fully expecting to see an improvement in milk yields.”
Just as importantly, milk quality at Borough Green has also improved, with cell counts regularly dropping as low as 90. “The robot’s conductivity meter provides an early warning for any cows that may be showing early signs of mastitis. We can then treat these cows earlier to avoid a full-blown infection,” David explains.
“The robots have given us the tools to manage the cows more efficiently and have also helped us to improve the herd’s fertility. Each cow is fitted with a pedometer, which tells the robot which cow she is, and feeds back information the on how active she has been. From the information that is downloaded each day we can tell which cows are bulling, and which cows might be under the weather. We can then check to see what attention each cow needs.”
Following the success of the first robot, plans are now afoot for the second machine to be commissioned. “The switch to the first robot was so easy that we immediately started thinking about our next move,” David Hurren explains. “Fifteen months later we are ready to start-up our second machine, and we have a long-term goal of expanding the herd to 110 cows. We’ll need to put up another shed to house the extra cows, but we’ll soon be on our way to building a business that offers Jess a sustainable future in milk production.”