Solar panels powering milking robots on NSW dairy farm

DeLaval Voluntary Milking System (VMS)

20 November 2017 - Dozens of farmers gathered in northern New South Wales last week to see firsthand how solar panels are powering a robotic milking system that allows cows to choose when and how often they are milked.

Wayne and Paul Clarke recently installed solar panels on Loongana Farm in Dobie’s Bight. The panels power four DeLaval milking robots that make up the farm’s Voluntary Milking System (VMS). The robots milk 300 cows year round, from voluntary grazing traffic over approximately 450 acres of pasture.
Last week the Clarkes opened the farm gates to share their results with visiting farmers from around the region.
“We’ve saved around 25 – 30% of our electricity costs from installing a 35 kilowatt system. We’ve run it for two quarters now and we’re really happy with what it’s meant for our bottom line,” said Wayne Clarke.
For DeLaval Australia’s technical support team, powering their robotic systems with solar is a first for the company.
“The quality of the power that is provided from the panels is fantastic for the VMS. It’s very reliable, no brown outs or spikes, it’s an exceptionally stable power source,” said David Widdicombe, DeLaval’s National Robotic Milking Manager.
That stability is critical as each robot milks up to 75 cows each around the clock at roughly 150 – 160 milkings per robot per day.
Mr Widdicombe said the farm is now one of its most profitable robotics farms in Australia, thanks also to the Clarke’s careful use of the DelPro management system that captures and interprets data from the robots.
“The Clarke’s have really put a laser focus on farm management – not only with the solar panels, but also feed efficiencies and their breeding programme - they are really extracting every data point from the VMS via DelPro and using it to their advantage,” he explained.
Paul Clarke agrees, saying DelPro data has helped him discover that cows consuming more pasture move through the robots more quickly yet produce similar quantities of milk to cows consuming more expensive concentrates.
“We’re starting to use that information in our breeding programme to select cows that graze harder, so we can spend less on grain,” he said.
His biggest concern before milking with robots was how the herd would cope with the extreme weather events common in northern NSW.
“My gut feeling now is that it’s actually better milking through the hot weather with the robots because the cows get to choose where they want to be at a particular time of the day. When it’s really hot they head for the shade via the robot yard in the dairy,” said Mr Clarke.
David Widdicombe says the farm is proof that voluntary pasture grazing traffic does work in the heat experienced during Australia’s hot summers. The farm is currently producing around 1.8million litres of milk annually from fewer cows than it took to produce the same amount from its previous Herringbone system. The long term goal is to get to 2.1 million litres per year without increasing herd size.
The Loongana open day was held in conjunction with the Queensland University of Technologies Nitrogen research program on November 15.

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