James Holding Dairy Engineering Ltd installed our first Merlin robot in 2011.  The installation and training process was done to a very high standard, which made transition from milking parlour to robot remarkably stress free. During the milking in process, both Kevin and James spent 72 hours non stop on site to help and provide expertise. They insisted that we as a family went to bed for the first two nights and they oversaw the night time training.

In 2013 the decision was made to install a second Merlin as our first robot had been such a success. We were so pleased and confident in the Holdings that the decision to install a second robot was easy to make. The support and back up from the whole Holding family has been faultless and we would highly recommend them as dairy engineers.
David Hurren (Great Ayton)

I got James Holding Engineering involved in the update of my parlour which was fitted between milking’s in a surprisingly short time.

They were very pleasant to work with and very professional. I was very pleased with the new equipment and milking was an enjoyable experience compared to the old parlour.

After thinking long and hard about the future of the Dairy industry I contacted James Holding Engineering about the possibility of fitting Robotic milking machines on my farm. After an initial meeting and a lot of input from them we began making plans to convert from conventional milking to robotic.

I now have two Fullwood M2erlin robots milking 100 cows which were started up on 13th May 2015. The cows took to it straight away and we have already seen an increase in milk yield.

The equipment is very impressive but I feel the input from concept to now from James Holding Engineering has been invaluable in making it a smooth transition.
Lee Coates (Leyburn)

Milk yields soar following switch to robotic milking

Milk yields at Martyn Jennings’ North Yorkshire dairy farm have increased by 27% since the herd switched from conventional to robotic milking just over 12 months ago.  Cow health is also much improved, with less lameness, fewer cases of mastitis and improved fertility among the main benefits seen to date.

Martyn Jennings took the over the dairy farm at Lower Lane Ends in Cowling from his father, Ralph, and uncle in 2007.  At the time, the commercial herd of 100 black and white cows was being milked through an 8:16 Fullwood herringbone, originally installed in 1978.

The parlour had been upgraded with ACRs and milk meters, but by the time Martyn had expanded the herd to 150 cows at the beginning of 2013, each milking was taking 3.5 hours to complete.

With too much time being spent in the parlour, and Ralph ready to step down from the daily milking duties, Martyn started to look for ways to update the farm’s milking facilities and reduce labour requirements.

“To renew and extend the herringbone parlour would require a new shed to be built and I’d have had to look for a new member of staff to replace my father in the parlour,” Martyn explains.  “I didn’t want to employ another full time person and the economics of building an entirely new shed didn’t add up.  So I decided to look for an alternative solution that would enable me to make better use of the farm’s existing infrastructure.”

Robots offered the ideal solution, both physically and financially.  “I looked at various set ups in the UK and Holland and realised that an automated milking system would work for us,” Martyn adds.  “I worked out I’d need three robots and that they’d pay for themselves within 10 years.  They would also take away any concerns I had about finding decent relief staff, especially at weekends.”

Three Fullwood Merlin robots were installed in April 2013: two robots serve the main herd in one cubicle house, with a third machine milking the heifers in a separate building.  “The herd was housed for the previous two summers due to poor weather and a lack of grass for grazing,” Martyn continues.  “That helped them get used to being housed all year round and paved the way for their new regime.  Even so, the transfer across to the robots was a lot easier than we thought it would be.”

The cows were walked through the Merlins on a daily basis for two weeks with the robots used as out of parlour feeders for a couple of days prior to being used for milking.  “We were going to use them as feeders for a few more days, but the old parlour was practically falling apart so we decided to start the robots up as soon as we could.”

The robots were installed by James Holding Engineering of York who sent a team of five staff to assist with the switch-on.  “They stayed on site and were on hand 24 hours a day to keep the cows moving through the robots,” Martyn describes.  “They’ve got an affinity with cows so know how to encourage them without causing any undue stress.  Their help was invaluable and let me concentrate on the rest of the farm without having to worry too much about which cows had and had not been milked.”

Twelve months after the robots were installed, milk yields at Lower Lane Ends had increased from 7,500 kg to 9,500 kg per cow – an increase of 27%.  Some of the increase in output is due to weather conditions and silage quality, but Martyn estimates that the robots account for an uplift of between 17 and 20%.

“The cows are being milked more regularly (an average of 2.7 times per day with 185 cows currently in milk) and are giving over 33 kilos per day.  We’ve never seen production like it.  Every month the milk tank gets fuller and fuller and we’ve successfully broken into the next volume bonus on our milk price schedule with Dales Dairies at Grassington.

“The cows are also much better on their feet with 40% less lameness as a result of less time spent on the concrete collecting yard.  We’ve also seen fewer cases of mastitis because the robots milk each quarter individually and we’re seeing more heats thanks to the pedometers which constantly measure activity levels.”

Martyn even states that the robots have made him and his herd assistant, Mark Littlewood, better stockmen.  “We both walk through the cows at least three times per day and are spending more time with them now that we’re not confined to the parlour.  With the data from the robots backing up what we’re seeing, we have got better control over three key areas of cow management: lameness, mastitis and fertility.  We’ve also got better control over each cow’s diet as we can feed each animal individually.”

Overall Martyn is happy with the new facilities, but he knows the system isn’t absolutely perfect.  He has however identified a way of making further improvements: as the herd expanded, Martyn realised that the optimum number of cows for the three robots was between 160 and 170 in milk.  “At 160 cows the herd was being milked three times a day with the highest yielders peaking at five milkings in 24 hours,” Martyn explains.  “But as cow numbers have increased we’ve actually seen a slight drop-off in milking frequency.”

A fourth robot, which wasn’t in Martyn’s original plan, is therefore due to arrive later this year and a new indoor silo, which will provide capacity to store all silage crops under one roof, is being erected.  “My end goal is to reach 240 cows with 200 in milk all year.  Installing a fourth robot will reduce the workload on the original machines and allow the number of milkings to return to three times per day.  The cows will therefore be able to reach their full yield potential.

“I calculated that the fourth machine will pay for itself in next to no time, so it was the obvious thing for us to do.”

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