Stradbrook Robotic Dairy
The first commercial robotic dairy operation in New Zealand
In 2008 Winslow Ltd opened the first commercial robotic dairy farm in New Zealand . The company says the move reflected their progressive approach to the challenges in farming and their willingness to support innovation in farming systems. The questions they had were could it fit into a pasture based dairy system did it stack up financially was the Lely system the right one and was there technical support readily available?
Based 10km south of Ashburton, Winslow provides stock feed and farm service solutions to farmers. Winslow was named a finalist in the NBR Bayer Innovation Awards 2008. In 2008 Winslow rolled out the first robotic milking platform on their property at Mayfield. The farm has become a showcase of the latest automated dairy technology, all supplied by Dutch dairy company Lely.
The business was purchased by the Carr Agricultural Group in 2000 as a ruminant stock feed business and the company has grown and developed significantly since then. While it still produces stock feeds for calves, dairy cows, cattle and sheep, Winslow now operates across six divisions, providing New Zealand farmers with a range of quality agricultural products and services. Winslow Ltd has a ruminant stock feed division, a seed division, a baling and transport division, a biosystems division and a farm technology division.
The Carr Agricultural Group was started by Greg and Glenys Carr in the late 1970s when they were baling contractors and farmers. The Carr Agricultural Group banner now incorporates the large machinery business of Agrifarm Machinery and Landpower Machinery (selling and servicing farm machinery throughout the greater Canterbury region); Winslow Ltd and Agri Livestock Ltd (the groups farming business); and Carr Group Investments Ltd (the companys property development and investment business).
On Stradbrook Farm in mid Canterbury, the cows milk themselves any time of the day or night. The strip grazing fences use solar power instead of human power and robotic gates open and shut automatically, operated by the individual cow standing before them.
Even the effluent system turns itself on and off, sorting fibre from liquid. The early milking times are gone and cows are treated as individuals, no longer as part of a herd.
The 80ha dairy conversion near Mayfield not only showcases the technology but is also operating commercially as a fully-functioning dairy farm.
Winslow Ltd is the agent and New Zealands first Lely Dairy Centre, and is using the farm to showcase the cutting edge dairy technology.
When it was opened the target for Stradbrook was to be milking 280 cows this year and moving towards developing a split calving model to maximize the use ofthe robots all year round.
Innovations on the farm include:
Adapting the robotic milking technology to a pasture-based system;
The prototype solar powered strip grazer that frees farmers from having to continually move fences, and gives cows a more consistent feed pattern and fresh pasture;
Grazeway gates that open and close automatically, directing cows to different parts of the farm depending on what each cow needs and the pasture rotation.
Automatic Luna cow brushes to comfort and massage the cow (these are in use while the cows wait to go onto the platform).
An effluent system that reduces the environmental impact of dairyings most challenging by-product.
Winslow purchased four Lely Astronaut A3 milking robots in July 2007 after first touring five farms overseas where they were in use.
In the company press release Craig Carr says:
After seeing their benefits, we had decided to use the robots in our companys own dairy conversion. We had already had success with Lelys automatic calf feeders, so we were confident the robots were the next logical step.
Craig Carr says the decision to use the technology rests around labour, animal health issues, production and each farmers own objectives.
The Astronaut robotic milkers are said to be kinder to cows than traditional milking, as it serves their needs rather than the farmers time schedule. The robots sensors alsopicked up any health issues a lot more quickly than some dairy staff might.
Other avantages include what amounts to a 15 year old reliability record in the Europe, US, Canada, Japan and Russia. In countries like Holland more than half the dairy farmers are using this technology.
There are no issues around finding labour, or filling in for workers who are off for health reasons.
Cows are lured to the machines by feed or water. They walk to the automated machines and are milked by the machine's arms as sensors detect the teats.
Theres no barking dog, no electric fence and no man on a motorbike chasing the cows up the race. The machine cleans the udders sensors guide the cups to extract the milk and the system can tell when the cow has finished giving its milk.
Training the cows to use the system takes just over 3 weeks.
The Lely Voyager strip grazing system has two mobile robots. A solar panel powers a battery to each unit. The robot allocates the forage using a pre-programmed time and a number of metres. The farmer has to set how many metres he wants to give the cow each day and the system will make the calculations and release that distance.
An electrified wire is moved forward and releases the pasture during the day, but can also be used to drive the cows back several times a day. The wire remains tight via a reel in one of the robots. The robots communicate with one another via Bluetooth and follow the outline of the pasture by means of a wire follower. In this way the pasture is fenced off from grazing cattle.
The idea of the Lely Luna Cow Brush is that a cows natural behaviour is to rub up against something to remove scales and dust. This large revolving brush is set up in the cow shed and can be used by the cows that are waiting to go onto the milking platform. It apparently switches on with the cows movements to essentially give the animal a massage. Cows apparently will typically rub their back, neck, head and tail on the unit. It is largely maintenance free because its engineered to have few moving parts.
Lely is the uncontested market leader in sales and servicing of automated milking systems and holds a strong position in the grassland machinery business. The company is active in well over 40 countries worldwide and employs more than 675 people. Annual revenues amount to over 200 million. In the dairy business, the company pursues a vigorous policy of enhanced international market penetration.
This policy is carried out by appointing importers in new countries. In addition, for robotic milking systems, Lely is in the process of implementing the Lely Center concept, adistribution formula that is unique in the agricultural world.
The following are extracts from a speech by Craig Carr at the opening of the Winslow Dairy Centre :
Winslow Feeds was purchased in late 2000 by the Carr Group, was totally re-engineered and re-built during the first half of 2001. We choose at this time to focus on and make ruminant feeds only, i.e. calf, dairy and sheep feeds and started with only 3 staff, 2 factory staff and myself. The Winslow business today employs around 30 permanent employees and an additional 20 seasonal staff during peak periods to provide products and services though its 6 divisions across NZ and soon to be international markets.
Companies and products include :
- Winslow Feeds Division
- Winslow Contracting Division (Previously Carr Contracting Incorporated into Winslow Feeds in 2003)
- AGC, Ashburton Grain Consolidators Division (Incorporated into Winslow in 2007)
- Winslow International Seeds Division (Launched in 2007)
- Winslow Bio Systems Division (Launched In 2007)
- Winslow Farm Technology Systems Division (Lely Dairy Center)
- Calm Automatic Calf Feeders
- Compede Rubber floor matting
- Voyager Grazing Robot
- Astronaut Milking Robots along with
In 2006 the opportunity arose for Winslow to take on at that time the current Lely Dairy range of equipment through our sister company Agrifarm Machinery and their relationship with Lely NZ. It was seen as an integrated fit into Winslow with a large proportion of Winslow clients being dairy farmers and calf rearers.
The first product line we decided to start with was the Lely Calm Automated Calf Feeders. Our strategy was simple, we installed 2 units with the ability to rear 180 calves on our own farms to firstly understand the product and to create a system for where and how calf feeding automation fits into NZ farming systems. With great success in terms of animal health, growth rates and with time and labour saving this gave us the enthusiasm to promote these to our clients and over the last 2 years have installed several units into both dairy farms and calf rearing operations.
Early in 2007 the Carr Family and Board decided that we would convert some of our farm land into dairy to endeavor to increase our farm profitability and return on our investment.
In the discussions around the possible dairy conversion and how and what we would do the idea of installing robots by my brother Ryan Carr was brought up as he had seen robots working on a farm when he and his wife Amanda were in Europe in 2006. Ryan thought that it looked a great way for a passionate sheep farmer to be able to go into dairying.
With Winslow being the Lely Dairy agent and Lely having the most superior robot milking machines in the world our strategy was again very simple. If we are going to sell robots why not build our own robot dairy farm to bring prospected clients to and sell the benefits and provide the knowledge of this farming system.
So in March 2007 the planning and research around robotic milking began to answer 4 major questions:
1) Are Lely milking robots the right machine for us?
Obviously we had no doubt about this but wanted to talk to farmers and other dealers currently using and selling the technology. This started with visiting of 5 farms around the world in the UK, Europe and Australia. This confirmed to us that the Lely Astronaut A3 was the best machine on the market and that robotic milking does work and is a reality in many parts of the world today. I am sure Alexander will comment more on this tonight!
2) Can robotic milking work in a grass base system?
It was important for us to understand and ensure that we can run a grazing based system with Robots. A visit to Max and Evelyn Warrens farm in Australia who also run 4 Lely Astronaut A3 Milking Robots and a visit to Dairy NZ Greenfield Robotic Farm in Hamilton proved that grazing and robots can work and works very well.
3) Does robotic milking financially stack up against other types of milking?
Winslow engaged the services of Macfarlane Rural Business and principally Andy Macfarlane to understand the economics and to create models and budgets that detailed that robotic milking was economically viable and NZ was ready for this technology in many ways.
4) What do we need to do to support this technology in NZ?
Winslow would need to become an authorized Lely Dairy Center and have qualified technicians employed to back and support the products.
With the answers and four big ticks Winslow confirmed an order for 4 Lely Robotic A3 machines in July 2007 which at this time would be the first Lely machines in NZ but also the first commercial robot milking farm in NZ.
The pressure was now on to start the farm design and shed layout and to employ the right people to ensure the project would be a great success.
In September I was put in contact with Paul Berdell from the USA a qualified Lely robot technician and an experience dairy farmer in both robot farming and conventional dairy farming. Paul agreed to come on board with us to develop the farm and run it and be our service technician. Paul arrived in NZ in January 08 after several months prior to that of design planning via email with myself.
In early February the first sod was turned on this Greenfield site and building began in early March. Winslow selected to use high quality contractors for this project that had a strong relationship with our property business that in the future could be used for future turn key conversions. In total there have been 30 companies involved in the development of this conversion and I thank all of them for their hard work, and quality dedication to this project."