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Graham Heath Construction takes a look at the inner workings of one of their clients’ most revolutionary farms in Barbridge, Cheshire.

Nestled in the Cheshire countryside is one of the UK’s only farms fully operational by robotics, owned by farmer Andrew Griffiths. From the milking parlours, a voluntary milking system for cows, to feeder dispensaries, the 600 herd farm is fully equipped with Lely robotics and represents a new era in milk production. To house this very unique milk production unit seamlessly within the existing farm, Graham Heath Construction worked closely with Andrew to create high quality grain stores, livestock sheds and milking parlours.

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Robotic Farm

GaDiscussing Graham Heath Construction’s involvement in the project, Andrew Griffith’s comments, “I wanted a firm that was able to carry out the entire project from start to finish, rather than outsourcing particular buildings to other contractors. I was impressed they could convert my existing farm buildings with such ease, making the most out of the farm space.”

Since installing the robotics, the farm has seen a vast increase in yields largely based on the feeding techniques. As farmers will recognise, traditionally more timid cows generate a lower yield due to the ‘bully’ cows consuming the food. However now with the robotic feeders, which frequently deposit food in small amounts, the cows have a much more balanced food consumption. Much like athletes, a consistently balanced diet is needed to deliver the highest performing livestock.

The feeders calculate a perfect balance of feed; with roughage, proteins and minerals measured according to the farmer’s exact specification. Once the feeder has loaded, it deposits the food around the farm, continuing its circuit back to the grain store. It then relays the information of its route to the alternate feeder, to ensure no over feeding and little wastage. The calf feeders combine with a weighing scale to measure and record the calf’s weight numerous times a day. This provides immediate recognition of a current or imminent issue the calf may have.

In the milking parlour, the Lely ‘Astronaut A4’ ensures that as soon as the cow feels pressure to be milked, it simply walks over to the machine. The robot then recognises the cow due to the micro chipped collar and uses lasers to measure and latch on to the teats. The pressure is immediately relieved ultimately leading to a much more relaxed herd.

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Robotic Farm

During milking, the yield is measured per quarter by the litre on a computer screen, as well as finer details such a protein- fat ratio in the milk and somatic cell counts, a milk quality indicator. This information is also available to download and will link to a farmers smartphone via an app. This transfer of information means that any issues with yield can be recognised immediately through computer alerts.

Essentially the farmer is able to recognise when the cow could have an infection before the cow itself is ill. Not only does this speed up precious time, but it also means costly vets do not have to be called out to do the guess work, again easing the cost and management of the farm. Once the cow has been milked, it is then cleaned and fed and the milk is transferred to vats. These vats use cool plates instead of traditional ice jackets, which reduce energy consumption by a third.

Not only is the yield up at Barbridge, but the farmer is now able to spend more time with the herd, which many believe to be unusual for robotics. This is due to the fact the technology allows the farmer to constantly monitor the herd, aiding the welfare and management of the cattle.

Spokesperson for Graham Heath Construction, Alec Fowler comments, “Whilst there have been a few examples of fully robotic dairy farming in the UK, Barbridge is only one of two that are still fully operational and to great success. The key to this is investment; substantial money has to be put in in order to generate the success that Barbridge has seen. Equally, as well as investment, planning is paramount in creating a successful robotic parlour.

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Robotic Farm

“The development will not happen quickly and so it is important to work with a builder who has done a similar project before. The regulations are very different when it comes to constructing these buildings and so you want someone who knows them inside out. It is also important to make use out of existing buildings to keep costs down and efficiently use the space at the current farm. Perhaps most vital is also to plan for future expansion, again using an experienced contractor will ensure that the farm space is best utilised for forthcoming projects.”

With approximately 5% of farms now using some form of robotic farming, many have commented on how robotic farms may be the key to draw ‘new blood’ into the business. With such high yields and low livestock loss as Barbridge, it is clear to see why many farmers are looking to robotics for the future of the industry.

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