'It's like having the same relief milker all the time'
"Investing in a robotic milking system gets you the most reliable employee you can imagine."
That's how Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary dairy farmer and Glanbia board member Brendan Hayes summed up his experience of robotic milking 10 months after taking the plunge.
The Hayes' family installed two Lely Astronaut A4 robots on their farm last spring at a total investment of around €200,000. Their herd comprises 120 cows, mostly spring calving and made up mainly of Friesians with a few Swiss Crosses.
"The robot is there to milk for you 24/7, it never rings in sick and it's fully trained to prepare the cow for attaching and detaching the clusters," Mr Hayes explains. "It's like having the same relief milker all the time because the robots get to know each cow really well.
"There's consistency, with everything from milk yield to fat and protein content, somatic cell count for each teat to heat detection and rumination activity measured to allow the farmer to make the key decisions on herd management."
Was the system hard for the cows to get used to? "It takes about a week to 10 days to have 99pc of the herd fully trained in," says Mr Hayes. "For the first few days you literally have to push the cows in because they don't know what's going on. It's the same with a new heifer.
"But they learn the routine incredibly quickly; they associate being milked with the reward of concentrates or fresh grazing paddocks if you use the ABC grazing system, which we do. I've noticed that the cows have become much more docile around humans since adopting the robotic system, probably because there is no more hunting them in the mornings and evenings.
"This is an interesting trait that a lot of my discussion group friends using robotic milking have also picked up on."