New Blyth Hallahan barn brings technology to operation - Nov. 9, 2017
BY DENNY SCOTT
The Hallahan family is practising some new and unique farming techniques that are helping to save labour and energy costs with a new robotic milking parlour.
Steve Hallahan explained to The Citizen that a new barn near Blyth, that was the subject of a grand opening earlier in the fall, saves them $1,000 in electricity per month alone and, thus far, only costs an additional $40 monthly in gas usage.
The barn, which is stall-less, features a single robotic milker and is designed for maximum airflow in both the summer and the winter. The large fans installed in the barn and absence of stalls allows for the space to be heated efficiently in the winter. In the spring, summer and early fall the barn transforms to promote air flow in the most energy-conscious and environmentally way possible.
“We can open [the walls] and end doors and, basically, the cows just have a roof over them,” Hallahan said. “The barn is wide open all the way around.”
Energy costs are reduced by keeping the cows shaded and allowing natural air flow, Hallahan said. Other initiatives helping to save costs include LED light fixtures, which he said give huge savings, and gas water heaters which replaced more expensive electric models.
The LED lights are also the closest-to-sunlight artificial light that can be found at a reasonable price point, Hallahan said.
“The cows feel like they are outside with the quality of light,” he said.
The fact that the site is robotic also helps with costs significantly, Hallahan said.
“With time-of-day electricity use, we were milking on peak hours both morning and night,” he said. “With the robotic milker, we can run through the night on cheaper hydro rates.”
The Lely Milking Robot utilizes sweet feed and laser guidance to allow the cows to be milked completely autonomously Hallahan said.
“The cows enter the stall one at a time and the manger drops down ‘candy’ feed, or sweet feed,” he said. “One hundred grams of sweet feed is dropped at a time and the cow eats while the milker is being put on her.”
Hallahan said the end result is the cow isn’t paying attention to the milker, which first cleans the teat for 30 seconds before a laser apparatus measures udders and teat location.
“That information goes to the system which then lines the vacuum up and starts milking the cow,” Hallahan said.
Hallahan said that, instead of going in and milking the cows himself, he only has to go in twice a day to clean the robot arm and laser apparatus.
“If the laser gets dirty, the whole system shuts off,” he said.
The cows are anxious to get into the milker when it’s time to be milked, Hallahan said, and the only time they need convincing is right after calving.
“For about two days after a cow calves, we have to push her in to get her trained,” he said. “By the time third or fourth day, they are eating the candy. Right now we’re averaging three milkings a day. When they get to feel full [of milk], they will walk up and gladly enter the machine.”
Right now, the family has a herd of 55 cows, five more than they had in the barn they replaced, however the new barn was built with an eye to the future Hallahan said.
“The barn can hold 100 cows and we have a second site prepared for another robot when we look at increasing the size of the herd,” he said.
The system has allowed Hallahan to operate the barn himself, whereas the site used to require several other sets of hands to make things work.
“The labour savings is a big thing,” he said. “When you start comparing to traditional parlours, there isn’t a huge price difference, but the labour savings are substantial.”
He said that, with his father Frank now 77 years old and his own wife having a full-time job, the fact that the farm can now be a one-man operation makes all the difference.
Hallahan said the research that went into planning the new structure was extensive, taking three years before the current structure was considered.
“We did a lot of research and homework,” he said.
Their open house for the barn proved that others in the industry are taking just as much time in preparing to move forward with robotics and automation.
“The day of our open house, we had six people, that have plans for building a barn similar to this, come through,” he said. “Dealers want to put on these open houses because that’s how they sell the barn and that worked for us.”
Hallahan said the current trends in the dairy industry are intriguing to watch with new equipment and new facilities focusing on labour efficiency and cow comfort coming to the forefront.