Fourth generation dairy farmer Greg Dennis’s decision to re-enter the dairy industry two years ago was motivated by improved farm-gate prices and an interest in robotic milking machines.
Dennis’s family had earlier stopped dairying on their Tamrookum farm, south of Beaudesert, Queensland, in 2003 – due to a combination of the on-going drought and deregulation.
“We sold our milkers and utilized the 370 acre farm, comprising Logan River flats, to grow hay on a large scale basis, as well as working off-farm,” Dennis says.
However, in 2007 milk prices jumped from their unproductive low of 35c/l to 55c and there was a welcome break in the season – so the Dennis family returned to the industry.
They sourced their milking herd from as far north as the Atherton Tablelands and southern NSW. Now the family is milking 160 Holstein cows, producing 1.4m litres annually for Parmalat – utilizing a three-unit Lely Astronaut robotic milking system.
“When I returned to the industry just over two years ago, I briefly looked at the latest in robotic milking,” Dennis says.
“However in April last year, I really got serious and started researching milking robots and was confident it was the way of the future.”
In May, Greg and his father Darrell, together with their dairy advisor Derek Acheson, of Tekno Dairy, Jimboomba, travelled to Victoria to see the Lely Astronaut system first hand.
“We travelled to two Victorian farms in the Gippsland district, as I knew my father needed to see the robots in operation, to be able to fully appreciate them.
“We placed our order for three Lely Astronaut units in June and milked our first cows through the system on October 31.”
The system took seven days to install and Greg says it handles the family’s 160 cows with ease.
“It is the productive efficiency and the technological information that really impresses me,” he says.
“It cuts down the time I spend in the dairy, allowing me more time to manage other aspects of the farm.”
Dennis says the labour saving is also an attraction and makes his farm-time more flexible.
The cows are milked two and a half times on average over a 24-hour period. The cows are rotated on a grazing pattern known as ABC strip grazing and are enticed through the dairy by the need to feed.
Hygiene is automatically managed, with teats washed down and the lines rinsed after every 10 cows.
Each cow’s daily production is registered by the computer, via scanning of a neck collar. The computer also records a health check, weighs the cows, and gives a heat detection reading.
Milk quality is monitored and production from any cows showing health problems is kept separate from the mainstream vat.
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