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Dairy farming has been in the Steele family for four      
generations now. Today, ably assisted by his mother, father and brother Samuel,
Thomas Steele now has ten years under his belt at the helm of this successful
dairy venture, at Rowreagh Farm outside Newtownards.

The 600 acre farm is located on Northern Ireland’s eastern
seaboard, in the fertile landscape that is County Down’s Ards Peninsula. The
Steele’s already have expansion plans afoot to increase footfall to 500 from
their current 375 strong herd. The herd is TMR fed with feed to yield in the
parlour with concentrates.

Thomas also includes home grown forage on site as a way to
manage the farm’s feed outgoings.

“The Ards has quite a lot of cows located in it. We also
grow around 80 acres of cereals for feeding to the herd and the straw is also a
valuable asset for bedding as arable farms are very scarce in the area. To feed
the herd during the winter months about 90 areas of forage maize is grown in
the open along with 1st cut silage. These two forages make up the basis for our
milking herd.”

With an eye on future growth Thomas and Samuel decided to
look at installing a new parlour. After a lengthy search, the family decided on
Fullwood 60-point rotary. A new build on a greenfield site allowed more flexibility
in the design phase and the installation began at the beginning of June 2009
and was completed by December 2009.

“We really needed a change from our old facilities as they
had been on the go for the past 30 years. Also the old parlour was put in when
our herd stood at 80 cows. With a 375 head count, it was starting to affect the
performance with animals spending too long waiting to be milked.”

“It’s a life time commitment and not something to be taken
light-heartedly. We looked at various options for approximately one year,
travelling extensively within Northern Ireland and further afield to Southern
Ireland, England, Germany and South Africa in our quest to research different

“After looking at different companies and parlours on the
market Fullwood was the only one that could meet our needs. Technology has
changed over the years and Fullwood has embraced this which will help with herd
management, we opted for the Afifarm Herd management program provided by
Fullwood, which gives a wide range of reports to high light cows with suspected
ketosis, Activity, Conductivity and general health problems assisted by weight
recording on every milking, also the Pedometer Plus records activity, Rest
periods, restlessness & erratic behaviour. Also the local dealer is
fantastic, with a wealth of knowledge and experience.”

Thomas believes the biggest saving of all afforded by the
new parlour is one of the most precious commodities we can never have enough of
– time!

“The greatest saving would have to be time. It used to take
us 4.5 hrs to milk in our old parlour twice a day, with a total of 9hrs just
milking! Since we started milking in the new parlour from we go in to start
till we leave again is 2hrs, so just 4 hrs milking every day.”

“The actual milking process only takes about 1hour and 30
minutes. This is a lot easier on both the cows and operators. The cooling
system for the milk also is saving us money. Before it used to be a couple of
hours after milking before our milk was cooled but now it is cooled even before
the plant has finished its wash cycle. The variable speed vacuum pump is also
saving energy by only supplying vacuum on demand.”

Indeed the new system means reduced labour. While mum looks
after the paperwork side of things, Thomas, his father and his brother,
alongside two full time workers manage the parlour.

“One operative is foaming and wiping the cows, one puts the
clusters on and one to check the cows and look after spraying when leaving the

“Absolutely first class.” This is how Thomas rates
Fullwood’s team on the ground, local dealer SM McKee Ltd.

“They have a brilliant track record for installations and
service and this was one of the major deciding factors in going with Fullwood.
Problems can arise but it’s nice to know that help is only a phone call away

“Regarding the installation I have nothing but praise for
the McKee team. We like a nice neat tidy job but their work was way better than
we’d have wanted it done. Things were done the awkward way just to make sure
thing worked the way they should. Nothing was a bother to them even helping
other tradesmen on site! The whole job is a credit to the team and the first
night milking went with no hitches which says lot about the care they put into
getting the installation right.”

When asked about the future of farming and his advice to
others in the same dilemma, Thomas said:

“I believe dairy farming over the next few years will be
very uncertain. It seems to take spells of highs and lows. The future of the
dairy industry needs more young blood with determination and passion for the
job. I feel it needs to be emphasized more as a career to the younger

Thomas believes as margins get tighter the only way to
survive is to be as efficient as possible. Fullwood parlours affords farmers
time to become more dairy-focused, treating cows as individuals and giving them
the attention they deserve.

“I would have no hesitation in recommending Fullwood as an
excellent company to work with. From the design team to the technical team in
the factory, the salesman and installation team have all been a pleasure to
work with. They are always looking to improve ideas and I think this is the key
to a successful company nowadays. They take care of their customers and value
their opinions and that means a lot at farm level. With good technical people,
sales people and installation team Fullwood is hard to beat.”

Picture: Turnkey parlour solution for the Steele family

(L-R) Samuel, William and Thomas Steele in their new parour


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Robots allow for a flexible lifestyle

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Farmer                     Roger Graham

Farm location            Dromore Co. Down

Herd                        Holstein and Fleckvieh

Milking system          Merlin M4

Date of installation    January  2014

Roger Graham’s farm near Dromore, County Down consists of 45 milking cows, a flock of free range hens and a small number of beef cattle.  Traditionally a beef farmer, he has recently installed a Fullwood Merlin robotic milking unit which automatically milks his herd of Holstein and Fleckvieh cows.


The Fullwood Merlin robot was installed by SM McKee Ltd. of Moneyreagh, County Down who also provides a full after-sales care and support service for robotic and conventional parlours. SM McKee have established a long standing reputation for dairy engineering in Northern Ireland serving dairy farmers for over 50 years.


Roger chose to install a milking robot on his farm after visiting a number of similar sized units.  “I was struck by the calmness of the cows on those farms and was also impressed by the amount of milk the cows were giving,” Roger explains.  “My best cows are milking as many as six times a day with the herd as a whole averaging of 3.4 milkings in 24 hours when housed and 2.8 milkings when at grass.  We’re gradually buying more cattle with the aim of reaching 60 cows later this year.”


The Fullwood Merlin was installed in January 2014, and after a short settling in period, is performing as Roger expected.  “I am very pleased with its ability to milk and manage the cows with minimal input from myself,” he says.  “The robot gives me the freedom to continue to work off farm whilst still being able to keep informed of everything that is happening on the farm via the phone and internet.”


“The robot is easy to use and has proved to be totally reliable.  It has performed brilliantly which makes the whole system very simple and efficient to manage.”


The photograph shows Roger with his daughter, Lauren, who works with her Dad on the farm.