UK dairy farmers are in need of intuitive, flexible milking systems to cater for changing cow needs and production demands. For those who are looking to upgrade to the latest technology without totally reinventing their systems, batch milking through robots could be the answer.
“More and more dairy farms are seeking milking solutions that can handle larger herds and have capacity for other management systems – like grazing – without compromising efficiency or cow comfort,” says Simon Redfearn, country manager at Fullwood Packo. “Batch milking could be a productive and practical asset and give UK dairy farmers more flexibility to respond to market and contractual changes.”
The firm officially launched its batch milking set-up, the M²erlin Meridian, in the UK on 4 May, after three successful years and more than 3 million milkings across Europe.
“It has a cow-first design philosophy because it is widely accepted that cow comfort is key in quality production,” says Mr Redfearn. “But we also know that a ‘one or the other’ approach to conventional and robotic milking might not be the best solution for all dairy farms – larger farms face their own unique challenges.”
And with greater focuses on welfare and sustainability in the sector, some milk processors are already dictating that cows must be grazed for a minimum of 150 days each year. “For the farmer who is larger scale – or who wants to grow cow numbers – they need innovation and systems that meet real needs and allow them to stay competitive in a demanding market.”
So why batch milking? Batch milking is essentially the milking of grouped cows. “Incorporating the batch milking concept into a robotic system combines the best of both worlds; consistency and routine of conventional milking, and the technological and time advantages of robotics,” Mr Redfearn explains. It also allows the installation of robots without having to completely redesign the cow housing, as is required in free-choice milking.
A starting size would be six robots to 150 to 300 cows, although this will depend on how much time producers want to spend moving cows to the robots. “The semi-circle set-up allows cows to flow directly into and out of the robots,” explains Mr Redfearn. “The cows need to be comfortable and spend minimal unproductive time on their feet – this reduces stress and lameness, and gets the cows through the milking system efficiently so they can get back to eating, ruminating, and resting.”
The system is particularly suitable for farms with a grazing platform, helping to maximise forage while also improving the milking environment, time and labour.
Because the system doesn’t require direct supervision, farmers can bring cows into the milking system and leave them to be milked while they bring in the next group or carry out other jobs, like cleaning cubicles. Cows can be kept in a secure central waiting pen with a circular backing gate to ensure smooth entry into the robots.
“The design is purposely space saving. And it means that farmers don’t need to spend on the infrastructure that would be required if they were installing a housed robotic system,” says Mr Redfearn. “And the system can be easily expanded with further M²erlin robots if desired.”
Accessible and usable data is a major component of both modern dairy herds and future planning. The M²erlin Meridian links directly to the compatible smartphone app, which makes vital data immediately accessible to producers.
“Data is now so important; farmers are using data not only to see real time performance, but to also make decisions that have long-term impacts on the herd and business,” says Mr Redfearn.
“This is undoubtedly a time of transformation in agriculture and any innovations or products need to help businesses work smarter not harder. Cow health and performance, workflow efficiency, and farm profitability all follow on from adaptable and supported systems.”