9 Farming Independent Tuesday 4 August 2020 Feature Farming ‘It’s the man, not the robot, that’s usually the problem when things go wrong’ Ciaran Moran “IN MY experience, if you were to ring 100 farmers using robots, you might get one disgruntled guy,” says Michael Downey. “Problems on farms with robots are very rarely due to the cow or the machine — it’s most commonly the man.” In the six years since Michael installed his robot, he has been involved in all sides of the sector. He spent five years as a contractor for a robotic milking company — he assisted first hand with the process of new start-up robotic farms. This involved helping farmers plan their buildings, grazing platforms and other matters relating to the changeover. With this experience independent advice,” he says. For Michael, there are a host of critical questions farmers need to ask themselves before making such an important decision. “Is the robot going to suit him? How much will it cost to put it in his yard? What’s the cheapest way to do it? The actual cost can vary a lot, depending on the case,” he says. Michael has worked on a variety of projects in several counties. These have ranged from family units with two generations of farming and father-anddaughter farm businesses to new entrants to dairying. Questions “Whether it’s a farmer looking at upgrading an old parlour or a new entrant looking to get into cows, rather than having the salesman coming out into the yard I am there to give the farmer some “If you do the figures on it and if you value your time and add up the cost of the extra 20 hours a week milking, you wouldn’t be long depleting the difference in the costs,” he says. “The new fella that wants to get in on the cheap will be able to buy a parlour for two-thirds the cost of a robot say, €80,000. “However, the problem arises in a few years when you have to spend another bit on it, such as cluster removers or heat detection.” These add-ons are not cheap, and according to Michael the “next thing is the guy could have €100,000 spent in a few years’ time, and the robot is still niggling away in the back of his head”. He believes there hasn’t been enough independent research on robotic milking in Ireland. “If you look at other countries where there is a lot of robotic milking, we are at the bottom of a curve heading steeply upwards. “What I see happening on the ground at the moment is a lot of the commercial dairy farmers with 150 to 200 cows buying robots and taking out the parlour. These guys are not fools,” he adds.
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