Former Olympian Jamie Costin admits to being a bit nervous about the logistics of installing a new rotary milking machine to replace his tired herringbone system.
“It was a big undertaking, I had electricians, plumbers and all sorts around our farm. I’m not a building site manager but I just took a lot of advice and learned on the job,” Jamie said.
“In the end the installation was done efficiently and quickly, so I was happy.”
The foundation for Jamie’s new shed and 54-bail Orbit Concrete Rotary Platform, from Waikato Milking Systems in New Zealand, was set in February 2019.
The completed dairy parlour, at his County Waterford property in south-east Ireland, was commission in June, 2019.
Like other farmers in Ireland, the abolition of milking quotas opened the doors for Costin to increase his herd.
“We were milking about 150 cows on a 20-unit herringbone but we slowly moved our heard up to 350 cows after the quotas finished.
“I was milking three or more hours in the morning and then three hours in the evening, without any feeders in the parlour.
“It was getting tough so I knew things had to change and I started researching what the options were.”
Jamie thought about expanding his existing herringbone but ideally wanted to be in a situation where he could run the milking parlour by himself, if needed.
“I started researching rotary platforms. I had no experience working with them so I decided to educate myself and took a look at other farms that were using them.
“I spent a couple of months in the spring actually milking on other farms’ rotaries to see what it was like for myself.
“I was just impressed with the efficiency and the number of cows that you could milk on a rotary platform, in a short time.”
It was for that reason Jamie decided to select a rotary parlour and took some advice from Waikato Milking Systems European Sales Manager Gillian Fullerton-Smith.
“The installation was a big undertaking but it was good to have someone like Gillian to work with, who was able to take me through the process.”
Rotary parlour technology is likely to be a talking about at the Irish Ploughing Championships in September.
The Waikato Milking Systems team will be there, among other topics, to talk up the advantages of switching over to rotary machines to manage larger herds.
Jamie’s Orbit rotary has allowed him to cut down each milking session from about 3.5 hours to an hour and 10 minutes.
He said the farm started using the new rotary in June 2019.
He was very selective when it came to adding technology to the new parlour.
“Again, I tried to educate myself around the options, with the aim of making it a one-man operation.”
He selected three options, including BailGate Control, to help him manage the animals on the platform; SmartSPRAY to ensure the health of the cows’ teats, and ECRs, to reduce time removing the cups.
“Those are the three things I needed to be able to run the parlour by myself.
“I don’t need the other technology options yet but I know that somewhere down the road I can add on, that should be easy.”
Jamie said it took a bit of work to get the herd used to the rotary platform the first time.
“They’ve got their own pecking order and it took a few days for them to get used to the rotary.
“Once they got a sniff of the feed in the parlour, it was easy.
“Now the cows are walking onto the rotary platform themselves, doing their laps and walking off. They’re really happy.”
Jamie said there was plenty of interest in his Orbit rotary during the first month of its operation.
“There will be plenty of farmers like us, who are milking on their 24-30-unit herringbone, and looking for something more efficient.
“There are a lot of farmers growing their herd up to 300 or more, and they’re converting to a rotary to make milking easier.”
Jamie said his work with Gillian Fullerton-Smith during the installation showed there was keen interest from others in the Waikato rotary platforms.
“I know that Gillian has been very busy meeting with other customers. There are others looking to move to rotaries who are about six months behind us, in their planning process.”
Jamie said switching milking platforms can be an expensive move but his advice to other farmers is to plan correctly and “know what you want first”.
“I know it’s not for everyone, there is a margin of gain. If you have 200-250 cows you might be better off with a Herringbone but for us, a rotary suits us well.
“I wouldn’t rule out increasing our herd in the future, that’s why I went with a 54-bail rotary system. I’ll be able to get more cows through, it’ll be more efficient.
“One person can operate the machine, milking the cows quickly, without being under so much pressure.”
Jamie represented Ireland at the Olympics, European and World Championship level in athletics (walk racing), for more than a decade before returning to the family farm.
“That (athletics) was my fulltime occupation from about 1998 to 2012. I spent a lot of time in New Zealand, in Hamilton and Auckland, training during the summer there.
“It was a different experience but one which I’ve been able to take into farming because sport is a high level activity where you have to plan well and have an optimistic attitude.
“So I think that’s helped me a lot with planning, setting goals and achieving on the farm.”
Jamie said he was happy to be able to take over the family farm from his father when he finished his athletics career. He has three workers helping in the spring and two during the rest of the year.
“My father is retired now. I appreciate the encouragement he gave me and the way he accepted me, when I came home to take over the family farm.”