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Robots revive family business

Quality of life was the driving force behind the decision to install robots for one Gloucestershire family who had previously struggled to find part time staff to cover twice a day milkings.

The Bennett family’s previous dairy system was not broken, but something needed to change as Jeremy and Vicky approached their 50s and were working all hours of the day. Having toyed with the idea of switching to robotic milking for several years, they installed four Lely A5 Astronaut robots in August 2023.

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“Our teenage children could just see their tired parents working all hours, so it was not attractive to them at all as a business to take on in the future. Why would they want to be a farmer if they see that?” says Vicky who farms with her husband Jeremy on their family farm in Gloucestershire. “Jeremy was missing out too much on the children and physically couldn’t keep doing the milking for many more years.”

The decision to go with Lely was straight-forward. Vicky’s agricultural accountancy experience proved useful in working out the financial budgeting and several neighbours in a local farming group had existing Lely robotic systems which installed confidence in the backup support available from Lely Center Yeovil.

TB was also a driving factor to change to the robotic system, having lost a large numbers of cows to TB over recent years. Cows previously grazed through the summer months are now fully housed with a fence around the buildings to protect them from wildlife, which should help improve the ability to select only the best cows to breed replacements rather than breeding as many to sexed semen as an insurance policy against future TB outbreaks.


Before the installation of the robots, it had always been a frustrating and stressful task to attract and retain skillful full and part-time staff, largely because they didn’t have accommodation available to offer. Consequently they were finding that Jeremy was milking up to 280 cows every morning and three afternoons himself through their Westfalia 28/28 parlour, getting up at 2.30am every morning and finishing at 7-8pm at night.

Fast forward to now and life is very different. “Jeremy now gets up at 5am so that’s already two and a half hours extra sleep he gets a night” says Vicky. “It has made a massive difference, and he looks different!”. They have since been able to cut down one unit of staff and their relief herdsman’s role has changed into a much more manageable, less physically demanding and enjoyable job for him.

Quality of life

The family has already benefitted from a much more flexible lifestyle since having the robots. “In the first week of having the robots we drove down to a rugby match in Taunton on the Saturday afternoon, which was amazing having never done that before. The traffic was awful on the way home and if it had been 2 weeks prior, we would have been really stressed to get back to milk, but this time it didn’t matter because the robots were there milking and we could monitor what was happening on our phones” says Vicky.

“Jeremy has since been to all of his daughters horse shows and every one of his sons’ rugby matches - we’ve never been out so much!”.

The time saved by not physically milking cows every day has provided Jeremy with more time to focus on other tasks and provides a lot more flexibility throughout the day.

The system has proved much more inclusive for the family as the children, William, 14 and Evie, 16 have become more involved, visiting the robot rooms, checking the computer and fetching cows. Vicky says “although we’re all out on the farm, it’s still family time. The kids often text us whilst they’re at school or college to check that we’ve fetched or served their favourite cow as they both have the Horizon app on their phone”.


Vicky and Jeremy are firm believers that “if you look after the cows the cows will look after you” and are conscious not to push too hard for yield. Though still only months into their switch to automation, yield has already picked up from 31kg/cow/day in November 2022 to 35kg November 2023. Their aim is to further increase yield by 8-10% and get the same output from less cows to fulfil their contract with Cotswold Dairy, and Vicky is confident that they are on the right path.

“The change has been great for the cows; they have adapted quickly and are much more relaxed. You can really notice their individual characters shining through.” Vicky also comments “It’s amazing when you watch the Lely A5 Astronaut, you notice that one quarter might be milked for an extra two minutes, and in the parlour all four quarters would have stayed on for two minutes. It makes you wonder what damage that does to the other three quarters”. “We’re passionate about the welfare of the individual cow and this system enables you to monitor individual health”. 

Jeremy would always pick up issues on cows that the staff had missed, which was time-consuming and not best practice for the cows. Now, rumination monitors help identify illness promptly as the collars tend to flag up illness 24 hours before a problem can be seen which means that they can be treated sooner. Foot health has also improved as cows are not standing in muck for so long waiting to be milked, as well as two Lely Discovery Collectors keeping the yard clean and dry.

Identifying bullers has also been much easier to manage with the heat detection system. Vicky comments: “With the robot system the cows seem to bull a lot more prominently because they are much more relaxed and can do what they want when they want so you can really spot changes in their behaviour and then look on the Lely Horizon app”. Whereas in the past it wasn’t always obvious which cows were bulling and training staff to look for signs was also a task.

All in all, Vicky and Jeremy are delighted with their newfound freedom and although they are still busy, they feel much more relaxed about the future of the business.

Farm Facts

  • Family farm run by Jeremy and Vicky Bennett
  • 67ha (168 acres) farmed plus 60ha (150 acres) maize growing agreements
  • 250 Pedigree Holstein Friesians, 20 Norwegian Red X and 10 pedigree Jerseys calving all year round
  • Milked through four Lely A5 Astronauts robots
  • Previously milked twice a day through Westfalia 28/28 parlour
  • 26 cases per 100 cows of mastitis
  • Average fat % 4.1, protein 3.55 %
  • Cell count 160