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Joost and Annemarie Spierings were so keen to achieve their dairy farming dream that they left their Dutch homeland, bought a Cornish farm, and have since installed milking robots with the view to protecting their business into the future.

Annemarie and Joost Spierings.jpeg

Farm Facts


  • Talvan Farm, Lanreath.
  • Run by Annemarie and Joost Spierings
  • Son, Giel Spierings runs The Cornish Gouda Company, using milk produced by the herd. Eldest son, Jan is an agronomist and manages the farm’s crops.
  • 59ha (145 acres) including grass, maize, fodder beet and wholecrop barley.
  • 80 cow herd of pedigree Holsteins (target of 100 cows in herd, subject to TB).
  • Milked through two Lely A3 robots.
  • 2.8 robot visits per day.
  • 8,500 litres a cow a year at 4.5% fat and 3.45% protein.

Moving to the UK in 1998 allowed them to secure milk quota for 35p/litre compared to £1.35/litre in The Netherlands. This meant they could afford to buy the farm, cows and land, compared to just the quota.

It’s fair to say their journey hasn’t been easy since their arrival. A small farm with no room for expansion, milk price woes and limited funds have meant the pair have had to fight tooth and nail to keep the farm going. Ongoing TB challenges form the biggest headache, with 25% of the herd lost to TB four years ago.

Two sons with a passion for Cornish farming life add another dimension, creating challenges around how they can make the farm support three families.

Annemarie says the crunch point came with the milk price crash of 2008. “Milk price and everything was dire. We were milking here at 16ppl at one point and our parlour was falling apart,” she recalls.


Robot value

The parlour was around 45 years old, capable of milking 10 cows at a time and in desperate need of replacing. The Spierings were unsure whether they could continue farming, so investing in a new parlour made them nervous.

“Our farm is quite hilly and small so it might have been sold to a lifestyle buyer so we were told we’d never get the money back for a parlour,” Annemarie explains.

At one point they even put the farm up for sale, but their heart wasn’t in it. “We didn’t really want to sell and the kids didn’t want to move,” Annemarie reflects.

They started to look at ways they could keep the farm, and thought back to the Lely milking robots they’d seen in operation in The Netherlands.Joost said if he ever went to a robot it would never be a discussion, it would be Lely,” says Annemarie. “The main thing is the robot would retain its value and be easy to sell if we went out of milking."

So in 2008 they worked with Lely Center Holsworthy to install their first Lely A3 milking robot into their existing shed.  At the time, interest rates were low and the family believed the robot would build flexibility into the system. Installation was fairly straightforward, with 10 cubicles ripped out to make room.

Limited funds prevented them from installing a second robot, with the Spierings recognising that the system was “really pushed” with the then 70 cow herd milked through just one. In 2011 they were able to invest in a second A3 which revolutionised the system. “It just didn’t work with one. It was too much on one robot. There wasn’t enough flow,” Annemarie explains. “With the second robot everything fell into place and we had more free time.”


Cornish Gouda

The installation of the second robot coincided with Giel leaving sixth form, keen to set up a business making Gouda cheese to a traditional Dutch recipe, using milk from the herd. This would add another income stream to the farm.

“With the cheese, we could sell the milk at a better price. We could make our own, and fair milk price essentially,” Annemaries explains. This added income has created an “extra buffer” for the business.

Giel now produces Cornish Gouda cheese by hand, all year round. The cheese is aged for between three months and three years to produce semi-mature, mature, extra-mature and flavoured Goudas. It’s proved so popular that Giel struggles to keep up with demand, especially following peaked interest after appearances on programmes such as Rick Stein’s Cornwall.

Milk production is now focused on producing constituents, as Joost explains: “We don’t push the cows, we are a low yielding herd but we like to keep the fat and protein up for the cheese.”

The data available through the robot helps the Spierings to produce the best quality and hygienic milk possible for their milk contract and cheese making. For example, milk conductivity information is used to identify the early signs of mastitis so cows can be checked and if needs be, treated promptly and kept out of the tank.

Joost also believes the robots have created a calmer working environment. “I think we do the same time, but we’re a bit more flexible and a bit more relaxed,” he says.

With son, Jan keen to take over the farm when Annemarie and Joost choose to retire, automating the milking builds flexibility so he can continue working as an agronomist. “With a parlour, there’s not enough hours in the day to do something else,” Joost says.