Tuesday, 29 May 2012 15:39

Robotic rotary redefines Oz farmer’s role

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IF ROBOTIC rotary milking is the future of large-herd Australasian pasture-based dairy farms, Nick Dornauf must surely be the future face of dairy farming.

University educated and technology savvy, the young farmer is relishing his part in “redefining the role of the dairy farmer”. He manages, with partner Rebekah Tyler, the greenfield farm Gala near Deloraine in north-west Tasmania which has been the pilot for DeLaval’s first commercial AMR (automatic milk rotary).

“Being involved with something cutting edge… I go to bed at night and my mind races,” Dornauf told Dairy News. “I jump up out of bed in the morning inspired, as the
ground we are heading over hasn’t been trodden before, which makes it something special.”

Perhaps Dornauf inherited his entrepreneurial genes from his grandparents Ian and Jenny Dornauf who came dairy farming in the area in 1964 without previous experience. 

Three generations of Dornaufs, including his parents Chris (who acts as an advisor at Gala) and Lyn, now own four other dairy farms locally.

The first cows were milked on Gala, the Dornaufs’ 220ha former drystock block, in August last year on the one-sided 15-unit herringbone, while the rotary was being built. Dornauf was “delighted” when the 24-unit herringbone rotary first came into action in October , halving the milking time, even without robots at that stage.

Automation started on February 20 with the system using five robots – two for udder preparation, two for cup attachment and one for teat disinfection after milking. They now milk 250 New Zealand Friesians, 90% heifers and 10% mature cows, at Gala and aim to reach 550-600 cows by 2015.

After three months, the Dornaufs already have all the cows settled into the voluntary milking routine with all attachments done by robots. They are about to start voluntary traffic to the rotary – currently the cows are bought up in batches.

“Already it is redefining my role,” says Dornauf. “I am not physically milking cows at 4am – I am doing other jobs…. still getting up early. It is a five-step process to voluntary and we are about three steps on the way, the last two being voluntary traffic and refining that system.”

AMR means Dornauf can be more hands on with his herd.  “You can go out and walk with the cows in the paddock. It’s a misconception you put a robot in, the job’s done and you walk away. It’s redefining your role as a dairy farmer.” 

Interpreting the new levels of data available from automation will be a key to future success of the dairy farmer, he says. “This dairy pulls out huge amounts of data every second. Our challenge as a farmer is to analyse and sort the data and make accurate decisions. Information like that is allowing us to be more proactive rather than reactive farmers.”

With data on animal performance, milk yield, feed consumption and udder health, the biggest bonus with all AMS systems is getting these at per quarter level. Conventional rotaries with high levels of automation provide that data but only as a composite sample.

“We pick up on outliers outside our normal data range a lot quicker than you would with composite samples. You pick up that one quarter is heightened straight away.”

Gala uses DelPro which is DeLaval’s herd management system. “Its role is to collect all that data we get bombarded with every day and put it into a form is easy to analyse and make decisions upon.

“I come to the dairy in the morning and can read a main report that can tell me how things have gone on a previous milking. It really is an age of managing your dairy farm on what quality reports you can derive.”

Dornauf says using any AMS forces you to become a better pasture farmer. Gala operates a three-way grazing principle. For encouraging voluntary milking “the stimulus is the food running out in the paddock but also the grain we are offering at the dairy”. 

Most other pasture-based automatic milking systems do not have more than 300 cows, but as Gala wants to expand to 600 cows, the walking distances increase. 

“The [automatic] dairy itself can milk cows,” says Dornauf. “The challenge is adapting that to a pasture based system whilst maintaining good pasture intake which is our key driver of profitability and making that work in a voluntary system. That is the bigger challenge of this project than the actual dairy itself.”


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