‘Gala’ – a dairy farm where the cows milk themselves

AMR Robotic Dairy Gala

Nick Dornauf with milking cow

'Gala' - a dairy farm where the cows milk themselves

NOVEMBER 2015 |Joanne Eisemann

FOR THIRD generation dairy farmer Nick Dornauf, watching how the cows behave when working in a voluntary milking system is just as interesting as the robotics and technology running his dairy.

“Yes, we could see that robots could milk cows. But, as a dairy farmer, the much more exciting part of this technology is the cows volunteering to go freely to and from the paddock,” reflects Nick.

His interest in robotics was sparked while viewing the  first automated dairy system in Australia while he was at university, adding, “I think the whole industry has a fascination with what robots can offer.”

At the time of installation, robots were working with herds of a couple of hundred. But Dornauf Dairies wanted to try a larger scale system of 600 cows.

Five years ago, ‘Gala’ at Quamby Brook, one of four Dornauf Dairies in Meander Valley, was converted from ‘run off’, a place where cows have their holiday and heifers are raised, to a fully automated 24 bail Automatic Milking Rotary (AMR) working with technicians, De Laval.

This voluntary system has cows choosing when they want to be milked. They bring themselves in from the paddock and put themselves onto the rotary dairy. This helps to reduce their stress and fatigue and so maximises production.

At the moment the cows choose to be milked 2.4 times per day. Nick says they prefer being milked by robots as they enjoy the consistency that it offers in terms of timing, noises heard and action as they get on.

“We find absolutely the cows prefer this system” says Nick and “the time they use the dairy best is outside our normal working hours, when there are no tractors, no dogs, nobody around.”

Another advantage is early recognition of mastitis, a disease common amongst dairy cows. Computers analyse the milk and are able to pick up abnormalities before noticeable symptoms occur in the cow;

“We are able to treat them earlier which means a better cure rate and less drug usage. Also there’s a lot less time out of the herd, so less lost production time” says Nick

His dairy aims for a steady flow of cows milking 24 hours a day to maximise the use of equipment, stock and pasture which, in turn, provides the best return from investment.

Machinery is maintained using a preventative practice of replacing parts before breakdown as staying functional is critical in a 24 hour system as opposed to a regular dairy that may be used 6 hours per day.

While principles of pasture management have not changed “instead of having 1 pasture rotation I now have 4 pasture rotations” explains Nick. “For the system to function we have to get our pasture right,” he adds.

“If you have happy healthy cows, then you have happy healthy farmers,” says Nick.

As a group, dairy farmers are aging. Nick is interested in attracting more people of his generation into the industry and thinks robotics may be one of the keys to doing this. “We never have someone leave here that doesn’t say ‘oh that’s pretty neat’” says Nick. “Even robots can’t operate without people,” he chuckles.

 Mike Moores