Matthew and Alison Cahill installed a DeLaval VMS to reduce their reliance on employed labour and to provide a more attractive work environment.
“From a labour point of view, the VMS has been extremely successful. Now one person can operate the whole farm, not just milking. And the system has the flexibility to balance labour and lifestyle depending on the circumstances,” Matthew says.
The Cahill’s were the first in Australia to install automatic milking combined with a total mixed ration (TMR) feeding system. The cattle do not graze, instead moving between the milking robots, the feedpad and two loafing areas. Their system is similar to the European barn-style VMS, although on a larger scale as the Cahill’s herd peaks at 300 cows. And being located near Beaudesert in south east Queensland they also operate in a very different climate to Europe.
Matthew and Allison initially installed three VMS boxes, but after about a year of automatic milking they added another two to allow them to milk more cows.
The old 12-aside herringbone dairy required 12 man hours a day just to milk the herd. Running the farm involved two men full time plus a casual. Finding and keeping reliable labour was an on-going challenge.
Not only has the VMS liberated Matthew from the twice-daily commitment of milking cows and managing staff, it has freed up time to grow most of the feed for the TMR. The 365ha property has 80ha under irrigation, which grows maize for silage, Lucerne for hay and a small amount of oats or barley for winter feed.
“The only feed we buy in is the concentrates that are fed at the robots and protein meal for the TMR.”
The original plan was to run the farm with Matthew and a full time employee, providing the family with a better lifestyle.
“However we now have a farm that can operate with just one labour unit – me – if needed.”
“Working on my own is tough but the flexibility of the AMS gave us more options than a conventional dairy. Firstly we did have the option of operating on less labour. And although I was working long hours, I was able to structure my routine to be home for breakfast with the girls (daughters Madeline and Isabella) before they went to school,” he said.
“The flexibility of labour requirements means I can work around family activities. On the weekends I get up a bit earlier to get the jobs done so that I can go to the kids sporting activities. You can’t put a value on that,” Matthew said.
And when milk prices improved a bit, the job Matthew was offering was more interesting than putting cups on cows.
“Our farm is a much more attractive workplace now, and the hours are certainly more friendly. But we do need someone more multi-skilled these days. The job involves a lot more variety – from working on the computer through to more physical tasks. It might be a bit harder to find the right person, but when you do find them, they are more likely to stay,” Matthew said.