Robotic Milking on New Zealand’s Finest Pastures

When Alvin Reid installed six DeLaval VMS™ robots into his farm in 2013, he did it with cow longevity and sustainability at the top of his agenda.

His cows now have less mastitis, produce more milk with less staff required on the farm. But it’s not just a reduction in illness that has benefitted the cows. The cows are now the ones in control, according to Reid.

The farm, based on New Zealand’s South Island has 485 cows grazing all year-round in open pasture and walking up to three kilometres a day to get themselves to one of the farm’s six DeLaval VMS™’s . They milk more than two times a day at peak lactation.

Rhys Grant, Reid’s farm manager says the change to automated milking has meant a big change in farm management. “I don’t touch the cows anymore. If they are lying down in the paddock, or standing ‘chewing’ in the races, I leave them alone. They will eventually get up to look for a feed, and if the pasture is eaten out, they know to come to the VMS’s and the Smart Gate interchanges to be milked and shown a new pasture.”

Reid adds:  “Our cows run the farm now. Not us!!”

And his cows seem pretty happy about it. Animal health costs have dropped on the farm. Despite the extensive walking there has been a decrease in lameness and Reid expects that cow longevity will improve to perhaps an extra lactation because of the new system.

“We have about 4.5 lactations per cow and we think we will now be able to extend that to about 5.5 lactations, time will tell” he says.

The seasonal calving system in New Zealand is based on calving the entire herd in springtime over 8-10 weeks. This is to make sure the ‘peak grazing demand’ co-incides with the ‘peak supply’ from quality pasture.

Feeding costs are kept extremely low with this system and robotic milking can be implemented without adding to the pasture management or feeding costs.   Reid says the drop in labour costs and health costs are balanced out with the higher capital investment costs. However, Reid believes the potential in increased cow longevity, proactive farm management and labour retention makes the new system worthwhile.

Reid also runs DeLaval DelPro™ on his VMS farm and besides all the important VMS-related KPI’s, he uses it to help with proactive daily decision making and farm/milking management. Last season they achieved within the top 10% when it came to submission and in-calf rates in New Zealand.