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Teagasc Lead the Way in the Development of Robotic Milking for Grazing Dairy Cows

Teagasc Moorepark, in association with partners from Ireland [Irish Grassland Association], Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, France and Belgium, will develop technology integrating robotic milking with grazing dairy cows over the next three years. The name given to this innovative project is ‘AUTOGRASSMILK’. It is funded by the EU FP7 programme under ‘Research for the benefit of SME Associations’ and the project is worth €3.1 million in total. The partners involved in the project are meeting in Cork today Wednesday, 13 February and tomorrow Thursday, 14 February.

The project is being co-ordinated by Dr. Bernadette O’Brien of Teagasc Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Programme, Moorepark. The group includes six European associations of dairy farmers/producers/processors and six research organisations (Wageningen UR Livestock Research, the Netherlands; Aarhus University, Denmark; Institute de l’Elevage, France; University of Liege, Belgium; Swedish University of Agricultural Science, Sweden and Teagasc Moorepark Ireland) as well as two commercial dairy farms, one each in Ireland and Denmark. The Irish SME association is the Irish Grassland Association.

In robotic milking, cows come voluntary to the milking unit and milking is distributed over a 24 hour period. In recent years dairy farmers in most EU countries have adopted robotic milking at an accelerating rate for reasons such as improvement in lifestyle, less physical work and lower labour costs. However this has been associated with a decrease in cows grazing with a corresponding increase in indoor feeding systems. Grazing has many advantages in terms of lower costs, improved environment, better animal welfare and higher quality milk. The objective of this project will be to develop grass-based systems of milk production using robot milking.

Currently there are only a small number of farms with robotic milking technology in Ireland (approximately < 20). The Food Harvest 2020 report recommends an increase of 50% in milk production by 2020. Robotic milking could significantly assist in achieving this goal by addressing issues such as (i) fragmentation – where farms are divided into more than one block, robotic milking could offer the opportunity to split the herd which would not happen if milking was conducted conventionally, (ii) labour – robotic milking has the potential to reduce labour costs on farms, particularly as they expand, and (iii) entry level – the successful introduction of robotic milking in grass based systems could offer farmers an entry level into dairying allowing them to continue other employment until the farm is viable.

A Fullwood Merlin robot milking unit has been installed at Teagasc/Dairygold Research farm to conduct the research. The application of project findings will be targeted towards the dairy farmer, producer associations, their members who are engaged in dairy farming, and thereafter all EU dairy farmers. Dissemination will be via Teagasc advisory service using farm visits with discussion groups assisted by website, factsheets, seminars and conferences, and scientific papers.

Pictured at the launch of AUTOGRASSMILK, an innovative project that will develop technology integrating robotic milking with grazing dairy cows, co-ordinated by Teagasc Moorepark in association with partners from Ireland [Irish Grassland Association], Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, France and Belgium are project co-ordinator Dr. Bernadette O’Brien, Teagasc Moorepark, Dr Eva Sporndly, Sweden, Ann Power, Tipperary, Thure Worn, Denmark & Deirdre Hennessy, President, Irish Grassland Association.