State of the art dairy farm
A SWEDISH dairy farming couple, Patrik and Elin Johansson, have just invested the equivalent of £3 million in a new facility which will allow them to milk and feed 340 cows in a totally automated manner.
Their objective is to spend more time actively managing their herd of Swedish Red and Holstein cows, rather than ‘wasting’ valuable time in the physical processes pertaining to milking and feeding.
Farming Life’s Richard Halleron recently visited their ‘Torp Farm’ in the South of Sweden as part of this year’s IFAJ (International Federation of Agricultural Journalists) Word Congress itinerary.
But before getting into the nuts and bolts of the investment the husband and wife partnership gave Richard some insights into the financing arrangements they entered into, so as to make the new facility a reality.
“We went to three banks with our business plan,” Elin explained.
“We had agreed beforehand that if two of the three felt that it stacked up then we would press ahead with the venture. However, if we got a negative response from two or more, then we would shelve the whole idea. As it turned out, all three banks said ‘yes’.
“We borrowed all of the money required, using the forestry land that we own as collateral. The deal was done on the basis of paying back the building in 25 years: the equipment will be paid back within ten years.”
She continued: “All of this was fine when the milk price was good. At the present time, however, we are receiving a milk price equivalent to 28 pence per litre. This is three pence below our breakeven cost of production.
“Our worry now is that feed prices are starting to rise dramatically, so we need our farmgate milk returns to strengthen significantly over the coming months. That said, the bank is fully aware of our situation and has made it clear that there will be sufficient flexibility built into the loan agreements to meet our needs. So that is good news!”
But of equal significance is the fact that the new dairy complex is meeting all its performance related targets.
The cows are divided in two groups, milked by two robots each. At Torp Patrik and Elin have installed the DeLaval Feed First system, in order to optimise cow traffic. One robot on each side has a DeLaval on line cellcounter (OCC). The gating system makes it possible to send specific cows to the robot/cell counter combination when there is a need to check them. This also ensures that cows can automatically be sent to a treatment area or to a “high priority” area for special attention.
“The cow traffic solution saves time,” Patrik confirmed.
“Thanks to this, time can be spent on taking care of the cows rather than making them move around.”
The cows are offered a TMR mix in the feeding passages, more of which anon. This is formulated to give 20 kg milk. On top of that the cows get concentrate and minerals in the DeLaval feeding stations placed in the barn. The cows have free access to the feeding passages but can only access the feeding stations after passing through the milking robots.
Both groups making up the herd can also be grazing paddocks throughout the summer months. However, the vast bulk of the performance achieved from the cows is obtained using the aforementioned two tier indoor feeding system.
In the past Patrik and Elin used a traditional feeder wagon to provide a TMR ration for their cows. However, the commitment to invest in the new dairy gave them the option of installing the state-of-the-art ‘Optimat’ system from DeLaval. The technology, which is fully automated, delivers fresh feed to the very hour, 24:7.
Patrik explained why they decided to take this approach.
“Up to now we made up a TMR ration twice a day. However, during the summer months, spoilage and refusal levels would be quite high. The new system offers the cows fresh feed almost hourly, with the result that all of the feed is used much more efficiently by the cows.
“In addition, the software associated with the Optimal system ensures that the ration mix is correct every time. There is absolutely no guess work involved. This was not the case when we were using the feeder wagon and tractor combination.”
Forages are stored in fixed wagons, or buffer tables’ which are refreshed on a daily basis, with the other TMR components held in silos or mineral dispensers. Each storage container is connected to a stationary mixer, through a series of conveyors. In this way the mixer can be easily loaded with the various combinations of forage, concentrates and minerals – to make one of many different rations available to the Torp team.
After the mixer does its job the feed wagon distributes the ration to the feed passages. This is achieved by way of a vertically suspended conveyor system, encompassing the entire shed.
“It takes around 30 minutes each day to fill the buffer tables with forage,” Patrik commented.
“Less automation would increase this time spent on feeding related work to four hours.
“The mixer will start to operate as soon as the feeding passage has been cleared by the cows. The feed wagon distributes feed throughout the shed 18 times per day, on average.
“The new feeding system has already proven itself. In the first instance it saves labour. However, it also allows frequent feeding. This is important within an automatic milking system, as it helps improve cow traffic.
“There is also less waste of feed. The cows eat all the TMR presented to them, as it is always fresh.”
Completing the new barn at Thorp Farm is a series of feature included specifically to improve cow comfort. These include a chimney and automatic wall panelling system, which open and close to provide the cows with the perfect indoor climate. An innovative lighting system makes daylight conditions a 24:7 reality within the shed.
However, Patrik is particularly taken with the DeLaval slurry robot, which is continuously active on the slated floor of the new facility.
“The manure robot is an investment that has a pay back time of only one year,” he further explained.
Patrik concluded: “Both Elin and I believe there is a future in dairy farming. We opted to invest in a system that will allow us make best use of our time, while giving the cows the most comfortable environment possible. We also believe that technology will continue to play an important role at the very heart of dairy farming. It is the future.
“But all of this comes at a price. Milk producers must receive a realistic return on the investment they are making. And this is not happening for Swedish dairy farmers at the present time.
“Thankfully, in our own case, the bank fully recognises the pressure we are under at the present time.
“We maintain extremely high environmental and animal welfare standards. A case in point is the requirement under Swedish law to graze dairy cows throughout the summer for at least four hours a day.
“We are not producers of cheap food. And this is a core fact which must be communicated to consumers and the public at large in very clear terms. Farmers need to achieve a standard of living which allows them to enjoy time with their families. The days of being a slave to the farm are over.”
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