Dairy farmer Paul Grinter explains how he’s turning milking cows into a hands-free operation

Riverina Fresh

Riverina Fresh dairy farmer Paul Grinter explains how he’s turning the laborious task of milking cows into a hands-free operation.

As Paul Grinter speaks to BeanScene, he observes a sight most dairy farmers could only dream of: hundreds of cows lining up to milk themselves. This isn’t some sort of magic trick.

It’s the result of Australian dairy and food services company Riverina Fresh collaborating with its dairy farmers to adopt technologies such as automation and robotics to produce consistent, high- quality milk, and sustainable outcomes for its farmers. In November 2023, Paul and Claire Grinter’s multi-generational dairy farm in Muckatah, northern Victoria, installed 14 robotic milking units, a one-of-a kind system designed for their own operation. Paul says the units are a “game changer”, and has left room for another four units for future proofing.

“It’s quite a large investment, but we see it being very significant for the dairy industry,” says Paul.

Each robotic unit has a sensor that registers a cow’s electronic tag when it enters the space. The machine’s computer then uses a camera to locate the udder before extending robotic arms to milk the cow. According to Paul, having the most up- to-date milking technology has already had a positive impact on efficiency, production, milk quality, and cow health.

“The milk runs through a meter, which measures all elements of the milk’s quality while the cow leaves the stall and goes back to eating,” he says. “If a cow has any health issues that need attention, the technology will tell me immediately.”

Paul has worked in the industry since the 1970s and says the move to automation was a big decision. The Grinters have four young adult children, who work on the farm or within the dairy industry, who were all involved with the design of the milking system.

“Because it is modern technology, the younger generations tend to know it better, so I’ve consciously stepped back and let the kids take control because I want them to learn how to manage it in the future,” Paul says.

Ultimately, the decision to move to robotic units came down to resolving the issue of skilled farm labour, which has become increasingly difficult in recent years, resulting in having to rely on international workers for the majority of the milking staff.

“We’re trying to eliminate this by going down the automation route, which we hope will make the dairy industry attractive for future generations,” says Paul.

“We’ve opted to keep a staff member at the dairy during the day, but that’s not necessarily for milking, rather to monitor data and reports. It’s also freed up staff to do other tasks around the farm, including irrigation, maintenance, and general
farm work.”

The robots at Paul’s farm have the capacity to milk more than 1000 cows up to three times per day. He says the cows have taken to the new technology quicker than anticipated.

“The cows adapted to the new system in only three days,” says Paul. “After they became comfortable with it, they loved it.

“Cows are creatures of habit, and the greatest strength of these new machines is that they are consistent. The cow gets the same treatment every time it walks in, so they stay relaxed.”

Paul says the switch to automated milk stations has made the cows noticeably happier and quieter. Now they’re the ones that decide when they need to be milked by joining the queue to the robotic stations. This means more freedom for the cows and less hands-on work from farmhands.

“From an animal welfare point of view, it’s as good as I can do for these cows in terms of milk production and cow health,” he says. “This system has given us two or three extra litres of milk per cow with much higher quality because of how stress-free they are.”

Paul says he is thankful for the support he’s had from Riverina Fresh since installing the machines, as the company remains committed to working closely with its farmers who are investing in technology that will help uplift the dairy industry for generations to follow.

“I can’t stress enough how good Riverina Fresh has been to us throughout this process,” says Paul. “They have been very positive, patient, and supportive.

“The relationship we have has given us security around our milk supply and allowed us to take risks and invest heavily into new projects, which helps us ensure we’ve always got the best quality milk.”

For more information, visit www.riverinafresh.com.au

This article appears in the April 2024 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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