Robots and grazing are successfully working in combination to maximise milk from forage and advance the Baird family’s succession plans in Lanark, Scotland.
Andrew and Marisa Baird and their daughter Kirstie Baird work in partnership to run the 205ac (83ha) Auchnotroch Farm that is home to their 200 cross-bred cows.
Producing on average 34 litres per day, each lactation averages 8,000 litres, with 4,500 litres produced from forage. Milk constituents are consistent at 3.38% protein and 4.3% butterfat.
“We had four Fullwood Merlin robots installed in September 2019 – the first cow being milked on the 28 January 2020,” says Kirstie. “Twenty years of milking has taken a toll on dad’s knees – and there have also been other changes that got us thinking about the possible time and labour challenges ahead.
“I’d like to have a family in the future and with a conventional parlour would mean hiring more staff and relying on people, something we’d like to avoid; robots take away much of that stress and expense.”
With 110ac of grazing, Auchnotroch Farm differs from many other robotic installations as the Merlin robots are used in conjunction with an automated 21-day grazing rotation. “The grazing platform is split into 20 paddocks which are then split between morning and evening grazing with cows directed by an automated shedding gate – it works well in encouraging the cows up and through the robots,” explains Kirstie.
“The robots are really quiet and the cows are comfortable going through the system – they’re relaxed but still nosey and they bring themselves up – we’re not having to fetch many cows, if any at all.”
The Baird’s robotic set-up is proof that robots have a productive place in managed grazing systems – even in the shorter summers of Scotland. “The cows are all happy and fit – we’re not pushing them at this time of year (June) and they’re still 300 litres a day in total above last year, with mastitis levels kept below 5%,” she says.
All concentrate is fed through the robots and has only increased by 200kg per cow per year compared to the conventional system – but the switch to robots has boosted yields by four litres per cow per day with an extra 500 litres per lactation from forage.
“Now we’ve got a milking and grazing system we’re happy with, the aim is to average 10,000 litre cow producing 5,500 litres from forage with concentrate use at 2t per cow – people will say it’s unrealistic but we’ve got usable data and some of our cows are already producing 12,000 litres with 8,000 litres coming from forage,” Kirstie says.
The robots are a vital component in the farm’s short and long-term ambitions; from cow performance and health to business and operational efficiencies. “We purchased the robots and infrastructure from McCaskie – they have been phenomenal and we’re really pleased with the quality of the Fullwood robotic system,” she says.
“We’ve had a couple of problems, but there has never been a time when something’s gone wrong and no one has come out or got in touch. Most of it is learning how the robots work and how each cow adapts.
“We’ve never looked back since having the robots installed.”