We visit Aaron, Sally and Edward Spence and Sally’s mother, Yvonne Liggins, who manage a 120-pedigree cow Jersey grazing herd near Cosby, Leicestershire.
“Mum and I used to do all the milking,” says Sally Spence. “It was a job I’d always done and I really loved; I enjoyed the close connection with the cows. However, it was both tiring and tying work. We were milking cows through a 30-year-old parlour when we made the decision seven years ago to invest in two Lely A4 robotic milking systems.
“I’d seriously questioned if I could trust a computer to milk our cows. How would the cows learn what to do? What would happen if we had a mastitic cow - would it dump the milk? However, it was Dad who was interested in innovation and saw the benefits of robots.
“Once we’d seen the light, I now consider I’d over thought things. I had to change my mind-set and start to trust T4C, the software management programme. Yes, the first six weeks were challenging whilst the herd got used to the system, but once they’re trained, they’re trained and they love the robots. The cows are much calmer and relaxed.”
Aaron continues: “We think the robots are great too. Despite working 24/7, they’re exceptionally reliable and if there is an issue we can usually work it through on the phone with a Lely service engineer. In fact the backup was the game changer for us, the reason we chose Lely robots.” Apart from the herd’s performance benefits, the couple say they’re now able to manage their own time. “The robots have given us flexibility,” says Sally. “We can have time away from the farm and don’t have to rush home to milk; we can have family time. I used to spend six hours a day in the parlour, prepping and washing down, nowadays it takes me just 1.5 hours with routine robot duties which don’t have to be completed at a precise time, and then I micromanage the cows throughout the day from my T4C phone App which is providing live data.”
The milking robots have been such a success for the Spence’s that they have since introduced a Lely Juno which pushes up feed 24 times a day during housing and replaces hand forking and brushing; a Lely Collector slurry vacuum which cleans the passageways 16 times a day replacing a tractor and scraper, and a Grazeway gate to enable the herd to graze six months of the year. Investing in innovation has also provided opportunities to secure the farm’s future for the couple’s sons, Edward aged 16, and William, 13. “Whilst we want them to have a career choice, I know they wouldn’t want to milk cows through a herringbone parlour,” says Aaron.
The system has even allowed sufficient spare time during lock down to build a milk vending machine business at the end of the farm drive, Sally explains. “It’s been hard, yet very satisfying work. We are proud of our milk and are thrilled to be able to share it along with our story, with so many people, fresh at the gate.”
Herd performance benefits
- 20% yield increase; current average 7,500 litres
- Constituents maintained, 5.5% butterfat and 3.8% protein
- Mastitis incidence reduced to six incidents per year
- Calving Index reduced from 405 days to 390 days