NZ Dairy Winter 2022

70 | nzdairy Robotic milking benefits keep flowing Kim Newth Paul Tyacke’s dairy operation at Taupaki, north-west of Auckland, has been running like clockwork since a Lely Astronaut robotic milking system was installed seven years ago. Long gone are the 5am starts. Paul rarely starts before 6.30am or 7am these days and he and wife Leanne are even thinking of taking a holiday off farm this year. “If you’d told me 20 years ago that robots would be milking the cows, I would have said ‘don’t be an idiot’ because every udder is different. I couldn’t imagine how a robot could manage that, but the Lely system is able to scan the udder and adjust to each cow. “The technology is amazing. You can put cows in once a day, twice a day or every six hours. Effectively, it enables cows to be managed as individuals, rather than a herd and everything runs so smoothly.” While initially sceptical about the concept years ago, Paul was won over by then farm owner Len Kay who had oated the idea after having seen a robotic system demonstrated with cows at the Robotis in action: A Cow being milked through the Lely Astronaut A4 robot. DAIRY PEOPLE » Paul & Leanne Tyacke National Agricultural Fieldays. “I said, ‘well, I’ve done high production, and once-a-day – let’s try robotics’.” The old herringbone shed was replaced with a new shed housing three Lely Astronaut A4 robotic milking machines. The main challenge early on was training the cows not to all come to the shed at once but that was resolved within a few months. “Now the farm is divided by three and there’s an eight-hour break per shift. Our system automatically alternates between three races. It works well because the cows know that to get more grass, they need to go to the shed to get to the next paddock. It’s a really good design. In spring, we have cows that milk four times a day. Other cows like once a day and stay in the paddock and graze.” The Lely robotic system captures a lot of data as all cows are tagged and tracked with various sensors. “It means you can identify if a cow is sick even if she hasn’t got any obvious symptoms.” Since the system was put in, the 57-hectare farm has been sold to Fletcher Housing. Paul now leases the property and has carried on milking there all year round. Looking back, he’s still amazed at how production per cow increased once the robotic system went in. At 330kgMS per cow under the old set-up, the farm was in the top 10 per cent for production in Northland in those days. “Then, in the rst year of robotics, we went to 427kgMS per cow and the only thing we added was meal. We were already feeding molasses in the previous system. The cows get a kilogram of meal per day, but I think better production is also due to the cows being more relaxed as there’s no-one chasing them up the race and they milk at their own pace. “In this system, I’m not so much a dairy farmer; I’m a caretaker managing the grass in front of the cows, working out where they will go tomorrow and the next day.” Paul has downsized the herd from around 180 to 150 cows. In a dry summer like this one, it makes life easier having a smaller herd to feed. Normally a few wet weeks can be expected from February and Paul is hoping that will give them a much-needed boost. A new worker is coming onto the farm next season and Paul anticipates that it will be relatively straightforward showing them the ropes. He doesn’t consider himself to be particularly computer savvy but says the robotic system is easy to run. “We haven’t had a holiday in ve years, so we’re hoping this will give me and my wife a chance to have a break.” “The technology is amazing. You can put cows in once a day, twice a day or every six hours. Effectively, it enables cows to be managed as individuals ...” Taupaki farmer Paul Tyacke with farm owner Len Kay. Paul checks the production of his herd.