Letting machines do the milking.
FARMER David Morgan had embraced the latest technology by moving into robotic milking at his farm at Trostre Court, near Usk.
The 465-acre farm also grows 200 acres of wheat and produces 140,000 broilers for Sun Valley. David also has a building company, erecting farm and industrial buildings.
He farms with his wife Nancy and their daughter Sue.
The decision was taken some 18 months ago, when David looked at how computers were assisting him to run his two other businesses. He also wanted more information about his dairy herd.
"We originally wanted a new parlour but milking was taking too long between three and four hours at a time, " he said. "So we started looking at robots to move us on a generation and keep us ahead of the game."
Two units have been running since November and a third will be commissioned shortly for the 200-cow herd.
The pounds 200,000 cost of the robots is part of what in recent times has seen a pounds 300,000 investment into automatic slurry scraping system, upgrading of cubicles and a new slurry storage facility. Cow comfort is a top priority, with rubber mattresses, which cost pounds 40 each, for the cows to lie on topped with sawdust.
"The cows adapted to the new system surprisingly quickly.
We walked them through the robot to get used to it a few times initially, and then started with just 20 cows on the first day, adding more as the days progressed, while milking the remainder in the parlour, " David explained.
"We had to break their twice-a-day milk cycle, but within a week 75 per cent of them were going round by themselves."
Cow access to the robots is computer-controlled. Cows wear a collar that idenitifies them to the robot and can go to the robot for milking when they feel like it. But if they are making too many visits, they are simply let out of the robot without being fed or milked.
The average number of visits is 2.6 times a day.
"The cows have taken to it with no trouble. They are much quieter because they are more relaxed, " said David.
"Whenever we visit them 50 per cent are lying down.
The robot picks up an astonishing amount of information. It checks temperature, for mastitis, blood in the milk, the cows weight and activity level which could indicate bulling or sickness for instance.
An alarm contacts the operator to alert to any serious problems, such as a cow that hasn't paid a visit to be milked for a while. A print-out of information three times a day highlights any deviations from the norm which can be quickly picked up and acted upon. It also automatically cleans the teats and clusters at each milking.
Not enough time has passed to know the true effect on yields but David, who sells to the Milk Group, feels that it has risen because cows can now choose when they are milked.
Yield currently stands at 8000 litres but David is aiming for 10,000 litres by next year without increasing cow numbers.
"The robots also make dairying more pleasant, " says David. "We haven't reduced our labour requirements enormously, but the whole business is better for both humans and cows.
"Robots have taken the clock out of the job, because they are going 24 hours a day.
In the parlour it was monotonous - just a race to get the clusters on and off the teats.
Now we have more time to spend on cow management instead. Its rather like mowing the lawn - you can push the mower, or you can use a rideon mower instead!"
Autumn calving is being changed over to all year round calving, with the aim of having 180 cows in milk all year round to keep production level. With milk prices currently depressed, making the right decisions now for the future is crucial, David believes.
DAVID MORGAN Herdsman Bernard Hancock in the robotic milking shed at Trostre Court, near Usk