Shorter days, lower costs - how robots are changing the face of dairy farming
Our reporter on the technology transforming farmers' lives
'No one is suggesting that my one-year son is going to be a farmer, but the robots might maximise its appeal," said 42-year-old Waterford dairy farmer, Ken Murphy.
He has gone a step further than most farmers in the country by not only investing in robotic technology to milk his 144 cow herd, but also to feed his calves, clean his passageways…and even scratch his cows.
"Lely threw in the back-brusher for free," admits Murphy, and given the €230,000 that the farmer spent with the Dutch-based firm, he was probably entitled to it.
"A single robot costs about €120,000, but the second one is a lot cheaper at €90,000. The calf feeder was about €8,500, and the muck scraper was about €12,000. All those prices exclude VAT," he said.
Another €100,000 was spent on extensions and modifications to the shed, but Murphy believes that he would have spent at least that on building a new shed on a greenfield site if he had opted to go for a herringbone parlour.
"Even though I saw robots in operation on a college trip to Holland back in 1995, and thought they were great, I never really considered them for more than a moment as a real runner here.
"I did initially run it past my Teagasc advisor, and he ruled it out on the basis that it was untested technology. He was right in that regard, and I wasn't brave enough to go it alone," remembers Murphy of the thought process that finally brought him and several farmers to the automated system.
"So I was hankering after some kind of a parlour upgrade, and then realised that two of my neighbours, along with my cousin and a few other farmers locally were all in the same boat. So we decided to get together to pool our knowledge and see if our collective requirements could generate a bit of a discount.