Mark O'Malley

Farming with computers

For generations the O'Malley family farmed sheep and beef in the upper Grey Valley, as well as running their successful thoroughbred stud concern, but in June 2016 Mark O'Malley converted 390ha of the existing farm at Ikamatua into a highly mechanised dairy operation.

Since then the farm has been running a 628-herd of Friesian and Jersey-cross and will look to progressively increase.

The dairy shed has capacity for a 60 but the rotary milking operation has been built as a 54-bale rotary capacity with pumps and electronic monitoring providing a top of the line hi-tech operation. All cows added to the herd are microchipped, scanned and then monitored during milking, providing an up to date report on each animal.

An office is located close to the rotary milking operation, with computers collecting all the relevant data on each animal. The database records a cow's milk production, feed and nutrient needs and overall general health.

"It provides information on what the cow is producing, it's milk litres and solids," Mark says. "Every fourth bale has a cell sense, which picks up an animal's cell count, meaning the whole herd is being tested on a 10-day average."

The milking operation has mating cameras installed which pick up when a cow is on heat, identifying the cow in the bale and automatically draughts the information to the computer. Photos are taken of each cow and filed directly to the computer database at each milking.

"Everything is picked up on the scan. It's very sophisticated but that's how it is today -- modern technology."

The large yard or holding pen has high pressure water pumps fitted for automatic washing of the yards, and two large individual holding yards which hold split herds prior to milking.

The rotary shed came as a giant kitset from Rakaia Engineering and runs a Read milking system.

Mark says technology ensures a modern process for effluent disposal as the wash is pumped from the shed and yards to a filtering process, to a stirrer and then pumped to a holding section, while solids are separated, with remaining effluent -- a greenish water -- pumped to a large pond and later sprayed over the farm.
The Ikamatua dairy operation milks twice daily, with a focus now on expanding the herd up to 800 cows.

"We downsized the herd to 540 last year, dropping the numbers due to the drought, but eventually we will extend and get bigger once the pastures have had time to fully recover."

by Paul McBride