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Family illness forced the Butland family to install a milking robot and they wouldn’t go back.

Dave Butland has a 70-cow dairy, young stock and beef rearing unit based at Cuxton Farm, near Tavistock in Devon. Dave milks a 3-way cross of Brown Swiss / Holstein / Montbéliarde and has one Lely A4 robotic milking system which he installed in 2011.

Lely Holsworthy Dave Butland.jpeg

Farm Facts

  • Cuxton Farm, nr Tavistock, Devon
  • 1 x A4 robot
  • 350 acres
  • Family farm – 4th generation – Great Grandad moved to farm in 1908
  • 2.8 milking per day on robot vs 2 milkings in parlour
  • Yield was 7500 and now 9000
  • 3-way cross cows: Brown Swiss / Holstein / Montbéliarde

The idea of automating milking came after Dave did a university project whilst studying at Duchy College where he compared milking by robot to milking in a parlour. His findings concluded that robots paid better in the long term. After listening to his presentation, the seed was planted and although Mr Butland senior was not keen on the idea of installing a robot, with the onset of health issues, the family were faced with three options:

  1. Employ staff to do twice day milking (not viable)
  2. Sell cows (not keen)
  3. Install robot to reduce stress on Dad (this idea was explored the most out of the 3 as it was the only way to stop the family having to sell their cows)

Part of the decision-making process involved visiting existing Lely robot farmer Fred Harvey in Cornwall to see his Astronaut A3 robot and to hear his honest opinion – pros and cons – around robotic miking. This visit heavily influenced the Butland’s decision to go into automated miking and Lely were always the only name on the table.

Before any work could start, Dave and his father had to get planning permission and the Lely team of project coordinators and engineers redesigned the yard to accommodate the robot.

The project was fast moving once planning was approved:

  • Received planning permission in July 2011
  • Starting building works in August 2011
  • Started milking 11 October 2011

Dave confirmed that moving to automation was the right decision to make due to the family health concerns centred around his father; by installing the robot, the pressure was taken off everyone, Mr Butland senior could cope with looking after the cows and overseeing the robot and Dave could go back to contracting which he relied on at the time.

Being only the second A4 robot to be installed in Devon or Cornwall, Dave hosted numerous farm visits from farmers interested in installing robots and he still acts as an ambassador for Lely telling anyone who is on the fence about automation that,

“Lely robots are the only way to milk cows in my mind; that’s what I always tell everyone”.


The cows can now make their own decisions – when to milk, eat and relax. Dave confirms that apart from cost savings and solving labour issues, since installing the A4 in 2011 he has been able to improve overall herd performance and health:

  • Cell count decreased – consistently running below 200
  • Body conditioning improved due to the robot feeding cows appropriate amounts based on yield and stage of lactation
  • 50% reduction in mastitis cases
  • Yield increased from 7500 to 9000 litres


Milking used to take 5 hours a day, whereas nowadays Dave and his two-part-time staff, who are supported by Mum Helen, manage the entire operation. Working days have been reduced to a reasonable eight to 10 hours and everyone has more time to spend on other jobs. The robot has also given Dave and his family a greater degree of flexibility allowing time off farm safe in the knowledge that the cows can freely access the robot to milk themselves, “robots give me more flexibility in my day. Whist I still need to be within a 30-minute radius of the farm, I can at least leave the farm and go into town or out for the day”.

“If something does go wrong with the robot, the pressure is slightly reduced as I don’t have to be up at 6am to milk the cows, there’s flexibility within the daily routine to have time to sort the problem”.

Management and herd health* 

Dave feels he has become a better herd manager because he’s seeing the cows more often than when he was putting on cups in the parlour. Each morning, Dave logs on to Horizon, Lely’s software programme, to check the health report, udder health and heat detection for each herd member; any issues are immediately flagged so he can respond.

“The Horizon app is very handy actually.  Using the app, you can keep an eye on things 24/7. “We rarely have a ketosis case, we have seen mastitis incidence reduced by over 50%, and SCC has significantly improved.” 

Lely Center Support 

“I can’t fault the back-up or the Lely specific and Lely trained engineers who are experts on this product. They are always on the end of the phone night or day and always willing to jump in their van if needed and come out in person to fix the issue”.

“The FMS offering is what I feel differentiates Lely from the opposition. The FMS team give good back-up advice especially on the Horizon software package and they work really well with our vet and feed consultants”.

“Any issues we (as farmers) identify with a Lely product, we can feed back knowing it will get sorted or upgraded by Lely themselves; they are always innovating and improving their offering to farmers and their customers. It’s reassuring”

In conclusion, Dave states, “installing the robots has enabled me to move the farm on and I am now seriously looking into expanding both the herd and installing additional robots in the near future. I wouldn’t go back to a parlour.”

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