Fullwood Merlins – the magic of robotic milking

21st Century technology for milking brings a host of data and health information for each and every cow, designed around cow comfort and wellbeing.

The cows pedometer on her left leg is used for identification.
Holstein cow Fullwood milking
Cow entering the Automatic Milking System (AMS)

Why Fullwood AMS?

After 20 years in service, our traditional Fullwood tribone milking parlour no longer met the needs of our expanding herd.  Following lots of reasearch, we opted for a brand new Automatic Milking System (AMS) also known as ‘robotic milking’, manufactured by Fullwood in Shropshire.   We had a good long established relationship with our local Fullwood dealer and being manufactured in Ellesmere, the company aligned with our values of supporting British manufacturing.

There are many benefits to an AMS; not just for the us farmers but the cows too.  Freeing up time to concentrate on other husbandry work such as hoof care, with an AMS cows take themselves for milking 4 or 5 times per day, or just once a day if she is reaching the tail-end of her lacation cycle.   In the traditional parlour, high yeilding cows who could be producing 40+ litres of milk a day were having a full udder in the hours running up to milking (1 litre of milk weighs approx 1kg).  

Morning milkings were at 4am – 8.30am; to give cows regular 12 hours in between milkings, we were milking again from 3.30pm until 7pm – this was 2 people, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  Robotic milking was the answer to improved cow comfort and higher standards of welfare whilst reducing our increasing labour costs.

A cow milking on our first Fullwood Merlin AMS

No more conventional milking parlour

Christmas Eve 2008 we switched over to the Fullwood Merlin robots from the convenientional milking parlour.  Initially we had four installed and a few years later we purchased an additional robot second-hand to ease the workload.  As soon as the cows were trained on the new system (and they leanred they no longer needed to queue up!) it was evedient they were a huge sucess. 

When the cow is ready, she walks into the robot, is identified by a pedometer on her front leg, and fed by an automatic feeder a measured amount tailored to her stage of lactation and number of visits.  Using laserbeam technology to locate her teats, a robotic arm attaches the milking cluster.  The cow stands contented and relaxed eating her feed whilst she lets down her milk. The cows visit the robots by their own free will; on average across the herd once for every 10 litres of milk she produces.

While the cow is milking, the robots are sending a host of useful data to the farm computer regarding udder health, frequency and yeild of each milking.

 

A new era for milking technology - Fullwood M2erlin

During the 11 years our robots were in service, Fullwood continued to develop their milking technology.  The original 5 robots had completed a whopping 3 million milkings during their lifetime, and new model, Fullwood M2erlin, offered quieter, more efficient milking.  We decided it was the right time to upgrade the original robots to the new M2erlins.

It was not going to be an overnight task – we had to keep the existing milking system running whilst the new ones were installed.  The logistics of keeping 300 cows milking while we made alterations to the shed and install the robots in phases was challenging, but one that we overcame with a lot of planning and support from our Fullwood dealer, D A Cottons & Sons.

 

Delivery of the new Fullwood Merlin Automatic milking system
6 new Fullwood M2erlins we delivered in April 2019
One of the new Automatic Milking robots waiting to be installed

Fun Fact!  Fullwood Packo is By Appointment to HM the Queen 

Sophisicated technical data

As the phased installation progressed the first cows were milked on the new robots along side the exisiting.  The old robots were decomissioned one by one and the cows needed retraining as the robotic milking arm had a new streamlined design.  Being creatures of habit and sensitive to changes in their enviroment, the entry and exit gates were left open for a few days for the cows walk through and get accustomed to the new sights and sounds.  Within a few weeks, the whole herd had become familiar to the changes and were happy to come for milking as they did on the previous system.

The computer systems on board are sophisticated; technical data availble to us has the capability to detect slight changes to patterns of behaviour and milk yield.  Milk conductivity each quarter (a quarter being one of a cows four teats) is measured each milking and Invaluable information aids us with early detection of any potential health issues, that would not always be apparent straight away even to the most experienced herdsman.  Milk quality is also measured and any ‘reject’ milk is diverted from the system.

The first Mawley cow to be milked on the M2erlin

Our milking sucess story

We are now (May 2021) in our second year milking with the M2erlins.  A walk around our milking sheds and the contentment of the cows is apparent.  They quietly go about their day, pottering about their shed where they have access to clean bedding, automatically cleaned feed passages and have 24/7 access to their forage-based diet and fresh water.  In summer months we open the shed doors and the cows have the option of grazing or staying indoors;  always having access back in for milking when they need to.  The average number of times they visit the robots has increased – and this is all automated; without the need for us to be there to round them up, it is all thier own free will to go for milking.  

6 Fullwood Merlin robots
6 Fullwood M2erlin robots milk the Mawley Herd

More information on Fullwood Packo can be found here 

Do get in touch if you have any questions, we would love to hear from you. #TeamMawley

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