AN increasing number of dairy farmers in Cumbria are seriously embracing the latest innovation to make their lives easier, put more milk in the tank with less effort and achieve optimal feed efficiency for healthy and productive cows and calves.

Amongst them is Agnes Robinson and her family.

“I used to carry 12 litre buckets of milk twice a day, seven days a week from dairy to the calf shed before lifting to pour in to the troughs. It seemed like a life sentence,” says Agnes who farms a 230-cow herd near Kendal, Cumbria with her husband Raymond, daughter Tracy and family.

“Twelve months ago, we decided to invest in a Calm automatic calf feeding system, and it’s not only transformed my whole working life, but also calf performance.

“The system is saving me over two hours a day repetitive manual work, whilst nowadays I’ve quality time to spend with each calf.

“First thing in the morning, I check through the system to see how much every calf has drunk during the last 24 hours, an indicator of their health status and the onset of any potential issues. I then keep a close eye on the pen to make sure there are no signs of infections. The system has also given me more time to daily thoroughly clean out the water buckets and concentrate troughs.”

Agnes spends approximately 10 minutes at each end of the day filling the machine with milk powder and checking it over, whilst it automatically cleans itself which makes for ease of management as well as good hygiene.

“The Calm has introduced a much more natural way of feeding - each calf has the opportunity to daily drink several small allocated amounts, consequently the system has eliminated bullying,” she says.

“Milk is delivered at a consistent temperature and concentrate, so digestive upsets have been minimised. We are able to programme the volume fed on a rising plane to six litres per day and then gradually reduce over a 10-day period to weaning at 60 days.

“We’re also seeing better growth rates and so far, our 12-month-old heifers are on target to reach 400kg bulling weight at 13 months and in turn reduce our current average age at first calving from 26 to 24 months.”

The Robinsons introduce five-day-old calves from their all year-round calving herd to single pens in the rearing shed for a further five days to provide time to adjust to milk powder, before moving on to pens of 18 and automatic feeding.

Agnes says very little training is required.

Introducing automation doesn’t stop in the calf house. The family has invested in four A5 robotic milking systems in the last 12 months during which period average herd yield has increased by 15 percent to 9,200 litres.

“Apart from improved performance, the robots are enabling our cows to make their own choices, they are giving us more flexibility and they are guaranteeing a future for the family farm.”