Kirkton of Beath Farm is a dairy and arable enterprise, started in 1894, which is today run by David and Alice Thomson and their son, Fraser. The family were previously milking 135 cows when they began experiencing labour cost challenges and mounting pressure to spend time in the dairy while balancing other tasks during seasonal busy periods. In 2016, they started looking at automation as a way forward and possible solution to these problems. In 2016, they started looking at automation as a way forward which would be able to solve these problems.
Our goal starting this project, and primary reasons for investing were to increase milking from 2 to 3 times a day, increase capacity and reduce our labour costs.” - David Thomson, Kirkton of Beath Farm
The project included refurbishing their dairy and switching from straw bedded courts to cubicles, as well as adding automated milking robots. The family looked at the competitive market and what was on offer, including local dealer support. They built a close relationship with GEA dealer, DairyFlow, and flew all the way to the Netherlands to see the GEA DairyRobot R9500 for themselves. Impressed by its fast attachment, yet simple operational design, and confident in the support they would receive from DairyFlow, they quickly realized that the robots would be more than just a purchase.
David believes the flexibility that the technology provides is an important consideration, especially for mixed farms like theirs.
An automated milking system just makes life easier. That’s a very good thing for family farms.”
- David Thomson, Kirkton of Beath Farm
An added benefit was also that 1 supply unit can connect to 3 robots, therefore reducing costs. The biomass boiler provides free hot water and the milk cooling costs are minimal because of high capacity plate cooler with a slow steady throughput.
So they made the decision to invest in the future of their business and go from their 10 x 20 Westfalia SwingOver parlour to purchasing three GEA automated milking robots.
As David says "It’s been a lifestyle change". First milking was in January 2018 and after months of hard work, they now look back at the decision as most definately the right one. The robot has reached its targets in reducing cell count and mastitis rates on farm while increasing milk yields. Now they are milking on average 3.4 times a day and bactoscan averages 11 and cell count 165.
As this is still a project in its first stages and certainly an adjustment, there’s still room for improvement. Challenges came from working around the building work and training the cows to using the robot system. Initially, the milk output had dropped, but after 2 weeks recovered to starting levels, thereafter rising steadily. The balance between feed in the robot and at the feed fence is crucial to get visits and output.
Considering his thoughts on the future of the farming industry he’s been part of for 40 years, David feels that he’s made the right decision for his business and family. "No one is going to be a millionaire out of it," he says. "But I’m glad to be in the milk industry over any other. We are delivering a fresh product supplied to local Sainsbury stores. A lot of challenges are potentially on the horizon, but also opportunities there to be made for a lot of people."