After some 60 years at Brocklehill, the Rennie family is looking forward to a few more decades – but this time milking the famous dairy herd using the first two DeLaval VMS V310 robots in the UK.

Based at Mossblown, just outside Ayr, the herd also has another two robots in the pipeline to replace their old 12-aside swingover parlour.

“Our parlour was 18 years old, so we knew we were going to have to make an investment of some sort. We looked at all sorts of options, but robots were the obvious choice for us,” said Shaun Rennie, who was milking 180 Ayrshire and Holsteins twice daily through the parlour.

The Scottish Farmer:

At the moment, 60 of the low yielders are still milked through the parlour twice per day, but the 120 highest yielders are now milking themselves three or more times daily on average through the robots.

“We wanted to get our high yielders on to the system first to see how they benefitted when just starting out with the two robots. But, we are looking at installing another two robots in the foreseeable future, when we’ll also increase herd numbers for a more viable enterprise,” added Shaun.

The Scottish Farmer:

He opted for the latest V310, as opposed to the V300, to make use of its reproduction management system, DeLaval Repro. This monitors each cow’s progesterone levels in order to aid in heat detection, pregnancy checking and can pinpoint abnormalities, such as cysts and abortions.

The system is already showing great results whilst still settling in. This new and improved testing system is a continuation of the V300, launched in 2019 and was installed by Fullwoodhead Dairy Supplies – a small Scottish family run business, providing dairy equipment supplies and servicing all over the country. It is celebrating 40 years in business this year.

“The installation of the new robots was quick and easily carried out by our team of hard-working engineers. How the cows and family have taken so well to the new system is a testament to their hard work, we’d also like to thank them for their business and look forward to helping them progress in the future,” commented Donald Erskine, sales executive for Fullwoodhead.

The Scottish Farmer:

Brocklehill is situated around 10 minutes from Fullwoodhead’s main depot at Ayr Market and this, along with their excellent relationship with the business, was a key deciding factor for the Rennies.

“The key benefits for us are the detection of reproduction cycles, as it also detects silent heats, which all results in better management so that cows calve at the right time. Happier and healthier cows mean higher production,” said Shaun.

Since installing the robots just five months ago, average milk yields have increased to 39kg per day, in comparison to 31kg a day when in the parlour, and at 4.4% BF and 3.3% P. With the robots installed just five months ago, the family have high hopes that the yields can increase further.

“Quality and quantity are both hugely important to us as we get paid a bonus for milk solids, so it is crucial that we continue to keep them high,” said Keith, adding that all milk is sold on contract to Caledonian Cheese.

The Scottish Farmer:

Diets are worked out alongside Advanced Ruminant nutritionist, Eughan Mullery, with cows fed a basic robot blend from the Mole Valley feed mill at Coylton, alongside their first cut of silage.

Just two cuts of silage are taken in the spring – 250 acres first cut and a further 180 acres of second cut for young stock and low yielding cows.

“To get the litres you need to have good forage and a well-balanced diet for the cows, with cow health being a key indicator of that,” added Shaun. He also vaccinates the herd for BVD and IBR, as well as routine testing Johnes and a four-year TB cycle.

At the same time as the robots were installed, many other adaptations to the shed were made to maximise the productivity of milk. A 20,000litre DeLaval DX3S Milk Silo was installed, along with three DeLaval fans in the shed to help with cow comfort by regulating air circulation in the summer and reduce flies.

The Scottish Farmer:

Two automatic foot baths at the exit of each robot have also been installed, alongside a DeLaval RS450 robotic scraper for cleaning the slats and two DeLaval swinging cow brushes.

The family’s commitment to cow comfort has transformed the environment in the shed, with cows now kept fuller, cleaner, happier and more productive, they said.

“Everything is to help with cow comfort because a happy cow is a profitable cow in our eyes, and the cows have never looked better,” said Shaun.

The Scottish Farmer:

And there’s been a further investment in a DeLaval OptiDuo robotic feed refresher which follows an induction line around the shed, pushing up and refreshing the feed in front of the cows – that helps reduce sorting and increases feed intakes. The Optiduo is scheduled for 10 runs a day up and down the feed passage.

“This is keeping the feed as fresh as possible for the cows, ensuring high cow welfare. The more intake the cows get, the more they visit the robots, which results in an increase in production,” added Shaun.

With cow health a high priority, the Rennies made some huge changes to their housing system in 2014. Originally running two self-fed pits in the middle of their main shed, this was knocked down and the shed extended 30 feet to install more cubicles.

The Scottish Farmer:

Cubicles are lined with mattresses to ensure cow comfort with a dusting of sawdust to keep the cows clean and healthy.

“Cows now lie for longer and are cleaner, with lower cell counts. Cow comfort is the No 1 game as it is a huge influencer on the milk. No comfort, no production,” commented Shaun.

A high quality of care has to continue through to calving which takes place all year round at Brocklehill. Cows move to straw-bedded courts just before they are due and heifers join the milking herd at two years of age.

Everything gets two chances of sexed semen, after which cows are AI’d to beef sires, with the resultant beef calves sold at two months of age through Craig Wilson, Ayr.

“We were sick of getting bull calves that were not worth anything – the idea now is that every calf is worth something,” said Shaun, who on average sells five or six beef calves a month.

Dairy farming takes up a huge amount of everyone’s time, but the family also enjoys exhibiting in the show ring when they have a spare minute. Even without the restrictions, they can’t, attend as many shows as they used to with just three family members working at home.

Instead, they concentrate on UK Dairy Expo and Agri-Scot along with their local shows. One of their biggest achievements was further afield, winning the Ayrshire championship at the Royal Show on no fewer than five occasions as well as being former Gold Cup winners.

“We do enjoy showing, but we also enjoy what we do on the farm. Working with the cows is what we all enjoy most which is why we were confident robotic milking was the right investment for the future of our herd.

“Dairy farming is looking a bit brighter now, the industry is more positive as a whole, hopefully this will continue and help to ensure the future is strong for everyone.” concluded the Rennie family.

Fullwoodhead will be hosting a Virtual Open Day on the farm in the next few weeks, keep an eye out on their social media for a digital walk around the farm!

The Scottish Farmer:

Farm facts:

Livestock: 220 cows including dry cows with a mixture between Holstein and Ayrshires.

Acreage: 340 owned and 40 rented.

Involved: Very much a family run business of Keith, Irene, and their son, Shaun.

The Scottish Farmer:

On the spot questions:

Best advice? Stick to what you know and what you are good at.

Best investment? Robots. It has been easier than expected we can’t believe how quickly they have settled in.

Achievements? The family is proudest of the progression of the farm and herd since their first modernising step in 2014.

If you could change one thing, what would it be? No coronavirus.

What is the first thing you will do once lockdown restrictions are lifted? Go to the pub and go on holiday!

The Scottish Farmer: