DeLaval’s team worked with the van Leeuwens to meet their needs, providing a complete package to deliver excellence in animal health, efficient milking and a farm that works in synergy with the environment, at scale.
Regional President for DeLaval Oceania, Richard Alderton says while New Zealand and Australian farmers have been more cautious than their overseas counterparts when it comes to adopting robotic milking technology, there is a growing minority who see it as a progressive step that will help solve the problem of attracting and retaining quality staff.
“Does it help save labour? The answer can be yes, but for others they choose to use the time saved to create value-add activities on farm, like pasture management.”
The VMS gives farmers the gift of time and flexibility. “Both farmer and cow can decide what to do and when they want to do it. She can come to be milked three times a day if she is a high productive cow, or at midnight if she is a less dominant cow.”
Public sentiment towards cow barns in New Zealand has shifted, he says. “They’re starting to see them as part of the environmental solution, not the environmental problem.”
As land becomes more and more limited in New Zealand the challenge is to do more with less and change thinking from output per hectare to output per cow.
“At DeLaval we help farmers feed the world and that’s particularly true here in Oceania. Barns and robots fit with DeLaval’s mission to help make sustainable food production possible,” Alderton says.
The van Leeuwen operation is a great example of a farm that it maximising its resources and keeping in balance with the environment.
The VMS and barn system allows a saving in labour and an increase in milk production.
Owner Aad van Leeuwen says there are also savings in storing effluent and re-using it. “What comes out of the barn is recycled and goes back on to the farm. On this farm there is no artificial fertiliser…we have proved to the authorities that what we are doing here is sustainable.”
The farm grows all its own feed for the cows on surrounding land, as the van Leewens have a contracting business too, completing the cycle of a completely self-sufficient farm.
Running at full capacity, he expects 1500 cows inside, continuously milking, producing 1.2 million milk solids. “Our goal is to focus on milk solids and not push production, we want to be sustainable.”
The total cost of setting up the operation was $22 million (including the land), with an average cost of production of just under $4.50/kgMS.
Focusing on average milk solids should also increase the longevity of the herd, another saving.
The van Leeuwens were particularly attracted to the DeLaval VMS due to the Herd Navigator technology, saying the information made available would help them make crucial decisions.
The aim is to have 12 robots operating with Herd Navigator by the end of next year.
“The drive to robotic barns was we were winter milking. Nasty weather would come through and knock the cows around. We wanted to look after the cows better and staff skills were not keeping up with industry growth in New Zealand. We decided we were going to build a barn and put robots in it, that was the motivation.
“We wanted to prove to people you can have a large herd under one roof, if you set it up properly and manage it properly. It became a bit of a challenge. We set out to prove to people in New Zealand that the past is not always the future. We’ve got to get more efficient, it can be done, just as profitably.”
Cows become very calm in the barn and VMS environment and as staff are constantly wandering among the cows, they are able to quickly identify any problems. Specially designed beds and rubber floors eliminate any slipping and lameness issues.
“We feed them well, make sure they are comfortable and kept out of the elements and they are happy. A happy cow produces lots of milk, which is exactly what we’re looking for,” Wilma van Leeuwen says.
The van Leeuwens already have Lely robotic milkers installed at a different farm, but went with DeLaval for their new barn.
Wilma van Leeuwen says what really won them over was the prospect of using Herd Navigator.
“Costs were pretty similar and we know robots are robots and will do a good job. Both Lely and DeLaval have a good reputation but what really attracted us was Herd Navigator. We feel the manager needs a bit of assistance on such a large scale farm.
“We like a challenge and thought it would be really interesting to compare. We’re not afraid to step outside the square. It keeps competition in the market.”
The scale of the installation was a challenge in itself, with two and a half kilometres of milk lines alone in the barn.
Added to this, the barn had been designed already, meaning the DeLaval team needed to work with what had been created. Ideally, the barn would have been wider, so they needed to adapt to the building.
DeLaval Automatic Milking Systems Technical Specialists Jon Nurse and Adrian Garner worked with the global planning department in Sweden and kept communication lines open about the size of the building and how things could fit in it.
The barn has several unique features, including the milk transport system. Because of the large number of robots, getting the milk to the vat proved complicated.
They came up with eight lines, split into four areas on each side of the barn. This means that at any one time there will be at least one VMS able to milk 24/7.
Another feature is the centralised chemical line. Because of the sheer volume of robots needing chemical (acid, alkaline and teat spray) to operate and clean, the chemical goes straight to the robot rather than being manual.
It is the first centralised vacuum system in Oceania and creates efficiency of power use, reducing capital costs and also the number of vacuum pipelines needed.
The same system will be installed for the colostrum milk, which will be delivered to a central point and pumped from there.
The computer network was also tailored to meet the needs of the van Leeuwens, with six PCs installed for 24 robots, as opposed to the usual one PC for up to eight robots. This is to provide an enhanced service for users, with all screens are able to tap into the same database.
The van Leeuwens themselves say the workmanship is second to none.
“It was breaking it down into components and planning each component of the system. The volume has been the big trip. Part of the brief from Aad was that the aesthetic look was important. It was a massive challenge doing the pipework,” Garner said.
“We are immensely proud. A lot of what we are trying to do is make things work as well as they can, to get the best result for Aad,” Nurse said.