Smart milking... thanks to a robotic milking system
Johnny O'Hanlon hasn't looked back since installing a robotic miking system
"It becomes very obvious, very quickly on a robotic system which cows are intelligent, and which ones aren't. That's what happens when your cows aren't herded around the place. My cows are free to make decisions, and it's amazing how big a gap there is between the smart ones and the not-so-smart ones," explains Kerry farmer, Johnny O'Hanlon.
He invested in three DeLaval robots to milk the family's 150 pedigree Holsteins over two years ago. And the Ballyduff farmer has no regrets.
"Sure, the running costs might be higher than our old parlour, but they would have to be given that we are milking our cows more often. During the winter, we average 3.1 milkings per cow, while in the summer it drops to 2.4 per day," he says.
Johnny points out that cows are less likely to try to walk in from the fields during the night, and that the proximity of the robot during the winter helps maximise milking frequency.
"There are some cows at peak that will be milking five times a day, while others nearing dry-off will drop closer to once a day.
"There are limits that you can set so that the machine isn't going to start milking a cow if she has less than 10 litres to give for example. That ensures that the running costs stay economic," says O'Hanlon.
When asked if he has any concerns about the extra investment required to milk extra cows, the Kerryman insists that, if anything, he will be reducing cow numbers.
"In theory we could milk more cows per robot, but I like having the bit of extra capacity to allow heifers to choose when they want to get milked. The last thing that I want to see is cows queuing up at the machine to be milked. If anything I could see us reduce the number of cows that we milk because we're able to increase our output by increasing the yield per cow.