Tom Hayes

TWO years in the making is finally coming to fruition at the Hillside Dairies in Tinamba, with production and efficiency now maximised on the dairy farm.

Situated on a 300-hectare property, the farm holds 1150 pasture-based cows, so work is always needed to be done in every part of the production line.

Over the past two years, Hillside Dairies have been in the process of planning, fitting and preparing 16 DeLaval Robotic Milking Machines.

The addition of these machines gives Hillside Dairies the title of the biggest DeLaval milking production in Oceania.

So what is so special about the DeLaval Robtoic Milking Machines?

These machines ease the duties of employees of the farm by doing the brunt of the work as an automated system.

On top of this, they are able to look after the cows, stopping the spread of infections and alerting staff to be able to help as soon as possible if something goes wrong.

So, how does the system operate?

The system works in a number of different ways, but everything begins at the drafting gates.

Each cow has an ear tag, which allows the system to identify the cow, knowing what she needs and where she needs to go.

Standing in front of the DeLaval milking machines is (left to right) DeLaval DSM Jim Hare, VNS Project Manager Shannon Bennetts, Hillside Dairies Owner Alister Clyne, and DSM Capital Trent Lawrence. Photographs: Tom Hayes

DeLaval district sales manager, Jim Hare, has worked with Hillside Dairies throughout the process.

“They’re all drafting gates … it splits 12 ways, a cow can go one of 12 different ways, based on what it’s requirements are,” Mr Hare explained.

Hillside Dairies owner, Alister Clyne, believes the system gives the farm better flow, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“You might have a cow you want to catch, that’s unwell; it’ll pull her out into a special needs area, and she’ll stay there until you see her,” Mr Clyne said.

The operation from above.

“If you chop it (the grazing paddocks) up into smaller portions, then allocate the herd to have access to those portions more often … then you’re going to have better flow through the shed.”

On the 300-hectare property sit 100 paddocks, each of which is three hectares big.

“There’s lots of options, the cows always get turned out onto good food, good pasture,” Mr Hare said.

Even if feed doesn’t look good in the paddocks, the farm stocks silage for the cows if need be.

The robotic arm that automatically operates most of the machine.

The drafting system is completely voluntary for the cows, which stands well from an animal welfare perspective, as does the automated system.

“From an animal welfare perspective, these things are next level,” Mr Hare added.

If a cow is ready to be milked, they will be escorted through the drafting gates and will be able to filter themselves into the DeLaval Robotic Milking Machines voluntarily.

From here a two to three-minute process is underway, with no hands required on deck.

A robotic arm, using cameras and sensors picks up tools, begins by cleaning the teat, one-by-one, all while stimulating the teat ready for milking.

Following this process, the robotic arm picks up the four milking cups one-by-one, connecting to the teat to begin the milking process.

Usually, when milking using a four-teat milking system, the process will stop when a teat finishes milking, but this way around, it maximises the amount of milk from each quarter.

Each cow is identified to have a different milking averages, and the system registers when cows should be ready to finish; thus if any abnormalities arise, the farmers will be able to recognise these.

“It knows how much she should give in each quarter, and if it’s out of whack and she’s not giving the milk, it’ll tell you,” Mr Clyne said.

“They could come in at any time of the day, or night.”

“The efficiency that these things work at is so much better for the cow,” Mr Hare added.

“The computer determines when the milk flow is nearly finished … and it’ll take that cup off.

“The other three might still be on for a while, until they are all finished. In conventional dairy, they (the cups) all come off together.”

Once milking is complete, the robotic arm then disinfects the teat, keeping cows clear from disease, as well as cleaning its own equipment in order to stop the spread, if a case breaks.

“A conventional dairy probably uses 30-40 millilitres of teat spray for each cow, this will use 7.5(mL),” Mr Hare explained

“You save a lot on consumables.”

Following the milking process, cows are then escorted to the feeding station, which is another impressive addition to the farm.

Hillside Diaries have 24 Hanskamp feedings stations located next to the milking machines – the most stations in the world on one farm, the previous highest being 12.

Another smart piece of technology, the feeding stations register the cow via the ear tag, dispensing certain food depending on the cow’s needs.

“It’ll tell us everything we need to know about it (the cow) … it will tell us depending on its stage of lactation, or whatever it may be, how much it should be fed,” Mr Hare said.

“Each one of those has three feed heads with separate grains that go through, it could be a protein, an energy, minerals, or it could be a wheat or something like that.

“Depending on the cow, what its needs are, stage of its milking, stage of its life, stage of its lactation … that will dispense individually to each cow.

“That (the feeder) is what brings cows to the shed, the stuff that goes through there is the most favourite food you’ve ever eaten to a cow.”

With more than 4000 dairy farms in Australia, just two per cent of them use robotics.

One big plus for the robotics route, is the fact that it relieves manual stresses from employees, allowing them to work on other important jobs on the farm.

“That’s the biggest part of going this way, there’s benefits for the cows and all that sort of thing, but reason you do it is so that you reduce the labour requirement,” Mr Clyne said.

“(Milking) is intense and physically demanding work.

“In here, all of that physical stuff – the robot will do, you’ll still have to do stuff with cows – big time, but you’re doing that important stuff, like treating cows.”

“They spend their time more productively doing other jobs on the farm, and this dairy labour intensive component of their day-to-day operation is taken over by these machines,” Mr Hare added.

“As an industry, we’re trying to generate attraction towards this type of milking of cows.

“To be able to sit and work on a computer and reprogram it or study and analyse the data that it’s generating is less demanding.”

This route increases the chances for a better return on investment for Mr Clyne and Hillside Dairies, as farmers can be more productive with half of the amount of milking labour required, all while the automated system runs 24/7.

Thanks to the DeLaval systems in place, each milking machine will milk 75 cows a day, which equates to 1200 a day with all 16 machines in operation, more than what is needed.

Thanks to the 24/7 operation, around 130 cows can be milked hourly, rather than filtering through all 1150 in a six-hour span, relieving stress on employees.

The set-up is described as unique, with extensive planning required from the get-go to ensure that the shed would be in a position to maximise production.

“It’s a very unique situation this, and the scale of it also makes it unique, because with 16 boxes, it’s a lot,” Mr Hare said.

“This shed, as good as these things are, you can’t milk the cows if they’re not here, so cow flow and cow traffic is imperative for this to be able to work.”