2.5 milkings per day
With the help of the development team Legge was able to construct two secure and portable containers in which his two Lely robots were built along with a milk storage tank, a wash room and a small office. The units are powered by a 700m electricity cable and water is piped to the units for washing the robots. Water troughs for the cows are only placed at the robotic milking machines to entice them to come and be milked.
“The cows are milked on average two and a half times per day by the robots,” said Legge. “We split the herd in two and put them into two blocks each of 20 hectares. In the beginning of course we had some teething problems. The cows took a little longer to train to come to the units than normal. However, placing the only water supply for them at the milking station means they come there voluntarily to drink and to be milked. The robotic milking units remain in the fields from April through to October when they are then moved into the barns for Winter milking. It’s a simple enough task moving the units,” said Legge. Each container weighs eight tonnes. Everything is inside the containers and can be easily packed up to be moved by the machinery.
Legge continues: “We only have to move them twice per year as the cows use the same pasture blocks each year. When it’s the grazing season we do move the cows around the fields on a rotation basis allowing for four centimetres of grass growth before the cows change field. Poaching of the land does occur around the robots as the cows wait there to be milked and drink water. However, we do save on other areas of the fields being poached as we change those areas regularly.”
Would not work for everyone
Legge has invested €400,000 in this project which includes both robots and their containers. His goal is to pay back the loan within 15 years saving money on labour costs along the way. Right now, Legge is the main worker on the farm but says he spends 25 hours per week working there thanks to the robots. His wife also carries out some jobs as well as a part-time casual worker.
Legge currently receives €0.48 (£0.40) per litre for his organic milk which is costing him €0.32 (£0.27) per litre to produce. The current herd average is 7,500 litres per cow per year which has dropped from an average 10,000 litres in 2000, falling after becoming fully organic in 2001. His milk averages 4.2% Butterfat and 3.48% Protein. Legge has a supply contract for 75% of his milk produced but because of its organic status, his milk is in huge demand and is never refused.
He receives €170 per hectare from Brussels for his organic status and is a firm believer in the benefits of Germany being a member of the EU.
“Having the robots in the field is a good system for us but I know it would not work for everyone,” said Legge. “Our cows have to walk a maximum 600m from the robot to their pastures, even on the furthest rotation. Current milk prices for conventional milk are indeed quite low and farmers are certainly losing money. There is a huge oversupply of milk in Germany and this needs to be reduced to try and improve the overall dairy situation here,” he concluded.