Robotic milking helping to make cheese for South Caernarfon Creameries

Cutting edge technology is being used to help make cheese in North Wales thanks to a £350,000 investment in a robotic milking machine that allows cows to milk themselves, at a pioneering Ceredigion farm.

Award winning farmers James and Alec Cowan are among the newest members to sign up to Wales’ largest dairy farming co-operative, South Caernarfon Creameries (SCC), which makes Dragon cheese on the Llyn Peninsula.

The brothers have installed a robotic milking machine which learns the identity and individual characteristics of every cow in the 120-strong herd, at their mid Wales farm Blaencwmpridd in Llandysul, Ceredigion.

The machine, developed in Holland, is designed to milk cows when they are ready, so when their udders are full they can walk into one of two milking pens of their own accord – resulting in happier cows and increased production.

The automated system identifies cow by its electronic tag and if it has been milked too recently, an electronic gate leads it out.

If the cow is ready then the udders are brushed and cleaned before a built in laser pin points exactly where to attach to them. The robot’s technology build an electronic image of the shape of each cow’s udders so the grip is as gentle as possible.

The technology is predicted to increase milk production at the JH Cowan & Sons farm to 1.2 million litres a year at, with milking going on 24 hours round the clock and cows being milked up to five times a day.

The milk is then collected by South Caernarfon Creameries and taken to the co-operative’s cheesemaking plant at Chwilog on the Llyn Peninsula, where it is turned into cheese for distribution across the globe, including the Dragon brand.

James explained the technology has enabled the farm to make the move into dairy as an SCC supplier, having previously specialised in beef production for which the brothers have won awards including the 2012 Welsh Charolais HCC Suckler Herd of the Year.

He said: “It is fascinating to watch how it works, the cows wander in and it picks up the teats every time.

“The robot uses lasers to learn the shape of the individual cows so it knows how to fit best with each one. It is better for the animal welfare, because they are milked when they are ready.

“It works on all levels. Happier animals provide better food. It will increase milk production too because we are milking when the cow is ready.

“We produce between 4,000 litres and 8,000 litres a day so overall we will increase production to 1.2 million litres a year.”

He added: “It’s amazing to think that when my father came to Wales in 1948 as part of the war effort he was 14 and they were milking cows by hand, now I am milking cows with robots.”

South Caernarfon Creameries has 130 farming members across North and Mid-Wales andprocesses more than 100m litres of Welsh milk each year to make a wide range of cheeses for the retail and wholesale market.

Alan Wyn Jones, MD at South Caernarfon Creameries, said: “We are delighted to welcome James and Alec as members at South Caernarfon Creameries.

“Our farming members are at the heart of everything we do to create high quality cheese here in Wales and it is fantastic for us to be able to work together with them to help secure the future of dairy in Wales.”

James and Alec are among around 5% of UK farmers who currently use robotic milking.

They signed up as members with South Caernarfon Creameries after deciding to switch from beef production to dairy, to secure the long-term future of the farm. The investment has also funded a 10 metre extension of their milking shed to create 132 stalls.

James said: “It’s been a significant investment for us but we care confident we can make it work. We were keen to diversify into dairy as it just makes good sense economically for us as a business.

“We have a very good partnership with South Caernarfon Creameries. When we were looking to switch to milk production we liked what they offered to members because they are a co-operative, but also because they have good supply contracts that will help secure our future too.”