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The Lely Astronaut is still proving to be the icing on the……ice-cream at Westertown Farm.


Taking a trip down memory lane with the Mackie family of Westertown Farm, one of the first robotic milking systems to be installed in not only Scotland but across the United Kingdom.

Running side by side, Mackies Ltd, notorious for their delicious ice-cream and Westertown Farm, where the entire milk production is used to produce the ice-cream. Mackie’s is a fourth generation family business which has been on the farm since 1912 – and making ice cream since 1986. They now produce over 12 million litres of ice-cream a year and this figure is on the increase year on year with increasing sales throughout the UK and export to several countries such as Asia. The company have broadened their farm produced range to include chocolate, ice cubes and have been making Mackie’s crisps in a joint venture since 2009.

Back in 2001, the Mackie Family made the move to robotic milking when they installed one A2 Lely Astronaut robotic milking system in their old byre. They were getting good results in their low tech set up, but to keep up with production demand they progressed further.

In 2002, the Mackie family erected a new shed and installed five of the Lely A2 Models. A year later, in 2003 a further four A2 Lely Astronauts were installed to complete the dairy setup.  In the early years it was solely a Jersey herd to provide the higher fat content benefit for the ice-cream. However, over the years they began to crossbreed and now have a mainly Holstein herd of cattle which is providing the whole milk requirements of the ice-cream business now.

After ten years of the A2 model and the positive results from robotic milking, the decision was made to upgrade further in 2013. Five of the A4 Lely Astronaut models were then installed. 

Farming in the Aberdeenshire countryside, the Mackie Family currently have a herd of 320 Holstein cattle with 270 of these in milk production. At present, the cows are averaging in at 10,500 litres per day, however, to keep up with the production in the ice-cream factory the goal for production is to increase this up to 12,000 litres and invest in an additional thirty cattle in the spring to help meet the demand.

Within the last 18 months, David Smurthwaite has taken on the role of herd manager at Westertown Farm. After taking a career break and working with beef cattle he came back to the dairy industry with a bang to manage the herd for the Mackie family. David added; “I couldn’t have come back to the dairy industry if it was conventional parlour”. With the Lely Astronauts, the main benefit is the flexibility on the farm. “Labour isn’t necessarily reduced; we have one dairy man on call for the robots on a rota-based shift pattern. However, we are able to get on with other important jobs on the farm instead of being stuck in the pit of the parlour for a number of hours. We are able to give the cows more individual attention with more time in the day to day running of the farm”. More recently at Westertown, David added; “We have more time to do maintenance to the sheds, we have replaced cubicles and matting, removed gates, giving the cows better access to the robots”.

The company also grow their own crops, which they can incorporate into their feed blend for the cows. This consists of silage, barley and added draff from local breweries. David is pleased with the yield increase in the last fifteen months and with using the heat time system it is improving the fertility in both the milking production herd and the maiden heifers.

To add to the package, the ultimate feed pusher, ‘The Lely Juno’ was installed along with the robots.  The Juno works day and night to ensure the feed is pushed up to the feed barrier to allow ease of feeding for the cows. This increases the cows feed intake which then promotes an increase in milk production. With the Juno working away 24/7 it has the added benefit of saving time on labour.

Just last year, the final piece of the jigsaw was added, an A5 Lely Astronaut. Already, just a few months on, the team at Westertown are seeing the added benefits of the A5, with quicker teat attachment.

David concluded, “When the cows are happier it makes me happier as well – as we are all then able to have a happy work and life balance”. We look forward to seeing what the next twenty years bring for the Mackie family of Westertown.

  • Increased yield
  • Improved health
  • Enhanced cow welfare
  • Better quality of life