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Andrew & Di Heard farm a 174-cow dairy herd near Barnstaple in North Devon and made the successful transition from a 20-year-old milking parlour to a modern 3-robot Lely Astronaut milking system in 2022.

LC Holsworthy - Andrew & Di Heard.jpg

Farm Facts

  • 3 x Lely A5 robots
  • 174 cows / 154 milking at any time
  • Yield increase from 27 litres to 35 litres*
  • Installed March 2022


THEN: Farm goals pre-start-up (2022)


NOW: Farm Achievements 16 months after start-up (July 2023)


1) Improve udder health, milk x3 a day to potentially relieve some of the pressure and improve udder structure


  1. Udder health improved
  2. Average number of visits to robot: 3.1


2) Reduce lameness currently suspected from long standing and waiting time for milking. At foot trimming seeing predominantly sole ulcers.


2) Lameness and sole ulcers reduced by 75%*


3) Achieve an extra 1000kg Herd to be at 10,500 kg production from 9,500kg


3) Compared to the same time last year in April, cows were yielding 27L (27.8kg), now 1 year on for the same time period cows are yielding avg of 35kg. Increase of >7kg of milk avg.*

  • Maintaining 35kg vg on a 305-day yield will reach the 3rd long term goal of achieving 10,500kg in the first 2 years.


“I had fallen out of love with dairy as I was sick of the daily grind associated with the parlour”.

Andrew and Di always told their children, Grace and Thomas (aged 20 and 17), that they needed to experience life off the farm before making any decision to join the family run business and stipulated they stay off the farm until they turn 21. But this philosophy meant the couple were bearing the burden of the twice a day miking regime and neither Di or Andrew could face the thought of 3-5 more years of milking through the parlour before one or both children came back to the farm.

“We were exhausted; we had two options, either sell the cows or install robots. One year on and we 100% made the right decision to remain in dairy”.

Within 12 months of making the decision to move to automation, they were milking through robots. Andrew and Di visited a couple of robot farms to aid the decision-making process and the truthful feedback from fellow farmers, including many alternative perspectives, cemented in the Heard’s minds that automation was the correct route to take.

“Our old parlour was 20 years old, and we spent 3.5 hours milking each day; Andrew and I were completely cooked and exhausted and there was no way we could carry on. We were also experiencing a few staffing issues and we knew that this would only get worse as reliable herdsmen are increasingly hard to find.” Di remembers.

“The way we looked at it, is that you need to spend money to make money and the robots will pay for themselves in a few years. The finance payments on the robots are what you would pay in wages and the robots will eventually be paid off whereas the outgoing on wages is never ending…”

 “Going down the robot route put us back in control of our farm and lives”.

With the family now milking through robots, they can clearly see the difference in their workloads. With more time in the afternoons and evenings for farm work, Andrew thinks even the morning routine is easier. And, with the time to reflect, Andrew has realised that he hadn’t really comprehended the number of hours in a week it took to drive the cows out of the shed into a collecting yard, “leave aside the fact the cows are stood in a yard for 2-3 hours – which is bad enough for them - but the actual time it took us to go into cubicles and drive them out. It’s insane how much time we lost each day”.

“There was no way we’d milk in the parlour again due to time lost each day and workload.”

Andrew is dismissive about anyone who thinks that installing robots will remove the need to ‘farm’… “You still have to be a dairy farmer. This is not a 9-5 profession, but the robots have given us time in a different capacity; we have time to be with our animals. You still must be on farm, but the robots allow flexibility to do jobs when we want to do them. If we want to go out at 5pm, we can as we can do all the jobs around this timeframe. Every time we roll out of the farm at 5pm, we think ‘why didn’t we do this before’”.

Horizon Data Management System

16 months after starting up, Andrew is already seeing significant yield increase and says they are “flying” before adding that “if we stay where we are, I’ll be happy although I think we’ll continue to improve and increase yield.”

Andrew and Di aspire to be in the top 10% of herds meaning they need to keep pushing and tweaking to see these improvements. The robots and the Horizon data management system is not only helping Andrew make these tweaks to allow him to keep pushing forward, but the data generated is also changing the decision-making process as the information means the couple can be proactive rather than reactive. The Horizon reports are proving to be handy for early intervention as they allow issues to be identified earlier; Di especially appreciates seeing cows pop onto the fetch list who aren’t normally there as she can use this as an indicator that she may be unwell.

“I wouldn’t be without the Horizon app – it’s perfect for fetch cows” (Di Heard)

The beauty of Horizon is that it treats the cow as an individual so when she goes to the robot, she is getting rations specific to her. The Heard’s are constantly learning and tweaking cow settings in Horizon which has resulted in an increase of milk produced. 

Animal welfare, a massive benefit of robots

“For us, the benefits have been noticeable - udder health, legs and feet are improved, cell count – which was always below 200 pre-robot - is now down to 147 scc average. Additionally, mastitis has improved and is now very minimal as the data we receive from Horizon is more accurate so we can catch everything earlier.” Said Di.

In conclusion, Andrew states, “we installed robots for these reasons: to achieve a higher yield, to be more self-sufficient and to reduce staff reliance. A little more than a year after making the switch and we are achieving all objectives. There are no regrets. We would never go back to milking in a parlour. We’d sell the cows before doing that.”

Di agrees and adds “The benefits the cows get from the robots are clear to see; they manage themselves. It’s a far more natural system for them. We definitely wouldn’t go back.”

*The results mentioned are specific to this farm; calculated data will vary depending on specific installation conditions