Gala Farm - Australia

The Dornauf family has been milking cows in Tasmania for more than 50 years. Chris Dornauf took over the farm from his parents 30 years ago and their son Nick and his partner Rebekah Tyler are now the third generation of progressive dairy farmers in the family.

Innovation and technology for the future, today

Gala Farm is one of five dairy properties where currently 320 cows are milked in the world’s first commercial automatic milking rotary, DeLaval AMR™. The Dornaufs are planning to increase the milking herd to 600 cows in a full voluntary system over the next two years, depending on how the people, the animals and the equipment adapt to it.

There were several reasons the Dornauf family decided to install an automatic rotary: they wanted to better be able to attract, recruit and retain labour, and they also liked the flexibility the system allows. Time that was previously spent milking can now be used to focus on managing the farm and using the system’s data of individual cows for making management decisions.

“There is an aging population of skilled dairy farmers in Australia. We hope that this kind of technology can sort of redefine the role of the dairy farmer and start attracting people of my age back into dairy farming”, says Nick Dornauf.

In addition to the lifestyle benefits and more stimulating work situation they have also seen additional positive effects of going robotic: the cows adapted very quickly to the system, making it an easy transition. Also, the milk quality is very good with a consistently low somatic cell count, 11/12 season average is approximately 65 000. One of the major changes from the transition from the conventional way of farming to robotic technology is that it is a lot calmer form of dairy farming with less stress for the cow as well as the operator.

Chris and Nick have always had a fascination for robots and the Dornauf family loves a challenge. When they were approached by DeLaval looking for someone to take on this pilot farm project, they visited current installations that were more prototype than commercial. They saw the technology and were impressed by it, and the project started in March 2011 when construction began. On October 15, 2011 the first cows were milked manually on the DeLaval AMR™ and on February 13, 2012 the robotic milking started.

The DeLaval AMR™ consists of a 24-unit internal, herringbone rotary platform. The milking process relies on five robotic arms: two for udder preparation, two for cup attachment and one for teat disinfection after milking. Treatment cows, incomplete cows and milking plant cleaning are still taken care of manually.

The challenge for automatic milking in Australia is adapting the robotic milking technology to a pasture based system. Grazing, supplements and concentrates play a critical role to encourage voluntary cow movement (traffic) through the farm system. To assist in attaining a minimum of two milkings per day they have applied a 3-way grazing. The cows walk to and from the dairy to distinctive areas of the farm at different times of the day under management guidelines created and controlled in DeLaval DelPro™ herd management software.

“I think this is critical to get voluntary cow movement”, says Chris Dornauf.

A number of strategically placed smart drafting gates direct the cows to the dairy, paddock, holding yard and feed pad depending on their individual settings in the herd management system.

Nick believes this technology has the potential to become the preferred form of milking larger herds of dairy cows in the future. He also believes that profitability in the Tasmanian dairy industry in the future is going to involve looking at efficiency of the individual cow, as resources become more finite and expensive. The technology and the data available from automatic milking systems will be vital to really pushing forward in efficiency at the cow level.

“We really are excited about the challenges that lie ahead, and the benefits and opportunities that are going to arise through the adoption and evolution of this technology”, says Nick Dornauf.

Farm facts:

Land: 260 ha, pasture: 200 ha.
55ha irrigated by centre pivot, 600 ML dam.
Feed/cow/year: 3,5 ton DM grass, 2,2 ton DM concentrate, 0,5 ton DM silage and lucerne hay.
Further grazing and irrigation development planned.
Production/cow: 8500 liter/lactation peaking at 35L/day (330kg fat, 290kg protein
Herd: Currently milking 320 cows and they plan to increase the herd to optimal size of 550-600 cows by spring 2014
Calving: They apply split calving: a third of the herd calve in autumn and two thirds in spring.