Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Robots take charge

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Auckland farmers David Yates and son Brian enjoy reaping the benefits of a robotic milking system. Sonita Chandar reports.
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It is 2am and though it is pitch-black a small mob of cows is strolling toward the cowshed – it is their third visit in one day.

They are the cows that somehow just know a new is paddock available and the only way to get there is through the shed. 

They are what Auckland farmer Brian Yates refers to as hoons.

“Some girls hoon around the three-way grazing system like three-year-olds on red fizzy, arriving at each new break as it becomes available and getting up to three milkings per day.

“These midnight movers or hoons are heifers that have adapted to the robotic system really well and come blasting through at 2am for a midnight snack from the in-shed feeding system.”

Fortunately, he does not need to be there to milk them – he can leave that to the milking robots.

When David and Cathy Yates’ children moved off the farm they thought that they would be the last of the family to work on the 106-year-old family farm.

But installing a robotic milking system proved to be a lure for son Brian who told his parents he wasn’t keen to let the farm go.

He and wife Natasha are now lower-order sharemilkers on Heritage Farm at Karaka south of Auckland where they peak-milk 160 cows. He is the fifth generation farmer on the property.

The innovative family are pioneers in the dairy industry – not that they set out to be.

The farm was the original Yates seed farm in New Zealand before switching to sheep and beef. In 1978 the farm was converted to dairy and David built a 28-bail rotary shed considered to be ahead of its time. 

By 2009 that rotary had passed its use-by date.

David and Cathy weighed up their options, one of which was to sell the farm, by now a certified organic operation.

The data from the system helps streamline the operation and keeps on top of animal health.

David and Cathy help feed calves and keep an eye on things when Brian has time off.

Apart from the usual jobs on the farm, he can schedule or prioritise jobs without having to allow for milking time.

“I can choose what I want to do and when – there are no limitations.

“I can go play with my kids or look at the figures on the cows or find areas where we can tweak the system further to get the best out of our capital investment.”

Brian and Natasha plan to eventually buy the herd and go 50-50. 

Farm Facts

Owners: David and Cathy Yates, Heritage Farm 

Sharemilkers: Brian and Natasha Yates

Location: Karaka, Auckland

Farm size: 135ha, 95ha milking platform

Cows: 165 Holstein-Friesian, Jersey-cross

Production: 2017-18 63,500kg MS

Target: 2018-19 65,000kg MS

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