Year-round milking now possible at the Hexters'

Mark Hexter leases his family’s 76 hectare dairy farm between Gordonton and Morrinsville and since installing the Lely Astronaut A4 robotic milking system 5 months ago, has been experiencing a whole new realm of dairy farming.

Feb. 27, 2017



Mark has always been interested in robotics and was a little surprised when his father agreed to let him convert their 26 aside Herringbone shed to a Lely robotic milking system. But he was also surprised with the extra time he now has to pursue his passion for sports and photography. He even stated he “was able to watch the world cup final” from the comfort of his home, not the cowshed.


Currently milking 195 pedigree Holstein Friesian cows with over 50 years breeding history through 3 Lely Astronaut A4 robots, Mark states that the driving factor behind changing to robotics was he wanted to commence a winter milking plan “I didn’t want to milk all year-round. Labour is trained, and then they leave so the Astronaut completely knocked that problem out” states Mark. Mark can now easily reap the benefits of milking 365 days a year, without having to do any physical milking’s, or worrying about staffing issues.

Thanks to the Lely T4C herd management system Mark is alerted when a cow may have a health issue, such as lameness, “if a cow has an issue, it’s usually the cow that hasn’t left the paddock to be milked for around 12 hours. I can now see which cow it is and treat the issues on a per cow basis”. This means Mark can now treat cows as individuals, instead of a whole herd and in turn means less money on vet bills and drugs to treat health issues. The Lely T4C management system has also shown Mark his key producers within the herd which he states “has been surprising. Carry-over cows I thought weren’t producing are in-fact producing 20 litres, so the system has stopped us sending good producing cows to the works as culls”.

The Lely T4C herd management system has also given Mark the ability to monitor individual cow’s production, Somatic Cell Count (SCC), and has even enabled him to save on replacement milk powder costs, by diverting colostrum and other separated milk to feed his replacement heifer calves. “I’ve noticed every cows SCC naturally rises and falls, and the Astronaut diverts this milk. So now I can feed my calves this milk, without having to buy milk powder”.

Lely T4C herd management system collects and records all data provided by the Lely Astronaut robots through its many sensors including; cow weight, rumination minutes, cow activity, fat/protein indications, milk production, feed intake, milking speed and number of visits to the robot to name a few. It analyses and presents only clear and useful information, making for more control and more freedom when it comes to managing your herd.

The Lely Astronaut has also allowed Mark to introduce winter milking on-farm, a new venture for the Hexter family and after only 5 months into the new milking system the cows are well adjusted and producing. “… heifers were synchronised to go through with the herd, as one mob, and they learnt to use the robots off the more experienced cows… it only took 2 weeks to train them” says Mark. Thus, emphasising the automated milking process is an enjoyable one for the cow.


Utilising a pasture management system, the Lely ABC grazing system, cows alternate between three races within a 24 hour period, meaning less pressure on pasture and more recovery time for paddocks between grazing’s. Mark states that the Lely ABC pasture based system has made “managing grass easy, we can allocate the herd half or full paddocks. The grass is definitely growing better, and for the first time in 12 years, on this farm, 15 hectares is shut-off for silage” with Mark stating “we’ve never been able to do that before”.

24 hour grazing, with three races - ABC grazing system

Mark chose Lely because he trusted the name, the longevity of the Lely brand and the Lely Astronaut robotic milking system. When we asked Mark if he had anything else to add about the Astronaut he replied “It has loads of benefits. Like how it takes a quarter off when the cows finished. The Herringbone system caused teat damage and now we don’t have that problem. [Plus the Astronaut] cleans the teats and sprays them. It’s a feature that I think is really important”.

5 months into milking his cows with the Lely Astronaut A4 robotic milking system Mark is extremely happy with what the Astronaut can do and that Lely staff members are available to support and answer questions when required, 24/7.