A full-scale robotic milking parlour complete with a herd of 40 cows is set to be one of the stand-out attractions at Ratheniska this week.
The Lely Astronaut A4 is set on a concrete base surrounded by a 35m x 25m seven-bay marquee 'shed' and incorporates a two-bay parlour and five-bay straw-bedded shed where the cows will eat, sleep and drink for the entire duration of the Ploughing Championships.
The autumn-calving herd of cows have been on site since last Friday to allow them to settle into their new surroundings and get into a normal milking routine. This will be the first live robotic milking demonstration to be held at a trade exhibition in Ireland.
The machine costs between €140,000 and €150,000 depending on various extras. It has the capacity to milk up to 65 cows and incorporates a software package called the T4C (time for cows). This software records every event from birth until the day the cow leaves the farm via a collar on the cow's neck and can be viewed by the farmer on a dashboard.
Lely maintains that automated milking systems such as the Astronaut A4 will change the face of dairy farming in the 21st century.
"With the long and demanding hours that milking requires, the Lely Astronaut A4 robotic milking system frees up invaluable time for dairy farmers allowing them concentrate on other farm duties," says Lely sales manager Tomas Cooney.
The farmer can also access information on the herd via smartphone, laptop or tablet and manage his cows from anywhere in the world. Lely will be doing a presentation on the T4C management programme on the hour every hour from 10am-4pm on each day of the Ploughing.
Lely introduced its first robotic milking machine in 1992, since then the company has sold more than 16,000 machines worldwide, milking over 1 million cows every day.
Visitors to the Lely demonstration unit at the Ploughing will be able to watch each of the cows being milked up to three times per day. The cows are milked in what the company calls a "free choice" system, where they choose when to be milked.
"Cows are more relaxed as they are allowed to express their natural behaviour and have the freedom of choice to be milked at any time of the day or night, mimicking the behaviour of a cow suckling a calf," explains Mr Cooney.
Most cows present themselves at the milking unit (a walk-through box) around seven times a day, but the machine will only milk them twice or three times. If a cow presents herself for milking too soon after her last milking, the gates will simply open up again to let her back out. The Lely demonstration is located at stand 274 in row R of block 1.