Future paved out with Robotics for Laois farm family

Future paved out with Robotics for Laois farm family

Gwen and Trevor Carnegie with their three children.

The Carnegie family certainly do not do things by halves, so when the decision was made in 2013 to convert some of their farm to milk production, they embraced the challenge to venture into unchartered territory with huge success.

Gwen and Trevor from Derrylough, near Rosenallis in Co. Laois were originally suckler beef farmers, bringing all progeny through to finish. However, with diminishing beef returns and a young family on the way, they knew something had to change.

They had 100 hectares of grazable ground available to them, so they knew the potential was certainly there.

Lely Milking Robot Installation

After a meeting with Niall McGauran of Lely Center Mullingar, they decided that robotics was the way forward, and in 2013, a Lely Astronaut A4 milking robot was installed on their farm. The farm has grown from strength to strength on the back of the success of the first robot and the initial herd of 60 cows. In 2015, a second Lely robot was added. In 2016 a new dairy shed was erected, which put the family on course for further dairy expansion, and in 2018 and March 2020, a third and fourth robot were added to the existing system. This has resulted in an expansion of the herd from 60 cows to 235 cows milking today, allowing them to maximise the full potential of their grazing block.

Herd Output

One would be forgiven for thinking that solids output per cow might not have been a core priority during this rapid expansion programme, however this could not be further from the truth. In 2019, the herd produced 485kg of milk solids, at 3.98% butterfat and 3.42% protein, all while going through an expansion phase and with 50% of the herd as heifers. This year’s ICBF Herdplus performance report details five stars for fat and protein kgs per cow, and the same accolade for litres per cow per day and protein %. The milk output achieved in 2019 required 800kgs of a high specification Lakeland Agri Dairy Nut per cow together with 600kg of fodder beet and 50kgs of barley per cow. This highlights the Carnegie’s reliance on high quality grass for milk production. They aim to reseed a minimum of 10% of the farm per year, and have been working hard on addressing soil pH, P and K status since their conversion to dairy. They started measuring grass this year to help increase grass utilisation further and took their first cut of silage on the 15th of May to maximise quality.

Fertility Performance

The fertility performance of the herd is also equally impressive. Last year, the herd achieved a 72% spring 6-week calving rate and had just 12% empty at the end of the breeding season last year. Their breeding season this year started on the 23rd April. They had a 76% 21-day submission rate in their cows, and a 95% 21-day submission rate in their heifers. They relied completely on the technology of the Lely robot to identify cows that were bulling and to draft them out into a separation paddock for two rounds of AI. Two “mop up” bulls then follow this. This strategy has shown great results, with a 1st service conception rate of 68% in the cows and 100% in the heifers. This herd is a testament to showing that it is indeed possible to get a high output herd, with high levels of fertility, and it is further testament to the ability and drive of this family behind the wheel.

Lakeland Agri Technical Support

The family work closely with Barney Tighe, their Technical Sales Representative in Lakeland Agri, on ration selection at the various stages of the lactation. When further detailed advice on cow performance through the Lely robotic system is required, they communicate directly with Alan Hurst, Lakeland Agri Technical & Product Manager, who is Lely trained and Lely FMS accredited. He has extensive experience on Lely robotic systems both in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland and is equally adept when dealing with both housed and grazing systems.

Future Plans

Gwen and Trevor’s vision for the future of their farm is to maximise the output of their herd through the four Lely Astronaut robots. They aim to grow 15 tonnes of grass dry matter per hectare as the base for feeding their herd, and to produce 600kg of milk solids per cow on approximately 1.5 tonne meal. They are actively looking at calving a portion (20%) of the herd in the autumn time to spread labour requirements, and their most important vision for the future is to enjoy the lifestyle associated with robotic farming and spend time with their 3 young children Joshua (aged 4), William (3) and Jessica (1).

The Carnegies had the following to say about their experience in robotic farming;

“Since we started milk production, we have relied on the product selection and the technical expertise of Lakeland Agri and Lely Center Mullingar, which we have been extremely pleased with. The cows have been milking well, their fertility is excellent, and we put this down to using the correct ration at the various stages of the year and to having the robot set up to perform at the highest standards by the technical teams in Lakeland Agri and Lely. We would have no hesitation in recommending both parties to others looking to maximise performance in herd’s similar to our own.”