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May 30 2003

By Kevin Donald, The Journal

A radical new milking method has not just saved time but increased yield, the farmer trying it claimed yesterday.

Tim Gibson spent £60,000 bringing the Dutch Lely Astronaut to his North Yorkshire farm, but believes the gamble has paid off.

The machine allows his 140 cattle to effectively milk themselves as often as they want to.

Once inside, the animals receive a measure of feed, have their udders washed and sterilised by a robot arm and computer-guided suction cups attach themselves to their teats.

Their milk is tested for impurities before a gate opens, allowing them to walk back to the field.

While Mr Gibson initially had to coax his cattle into the milking booth, he now claims animals wait in line and some have doubled their yield.

He said: "By allowing the animal to express milk when it wants to, it takes away the discomfort and a lot of the health problems caused by infection.

"My cattle are more relaxed and are giving milk up to four and five times a day, instead of having to wait with heavy udders to be milked.

"The yield is up and they are going into calf more easily, which is a sign that they are happy and content."

Each of Mr Gibson's cattle were producing around 7,000 litres of milk per year, but since the introduction of self milking, many are now producing 9,000 litres.

He says the self-milking system has improved the health of his herd. Irregular milking can lead to diseases such as mastitis and reduce the chances of calving.

His success has already prompted interest in fellow dairy farmers, with 700 turning up at an open day at his farm at Hunter's Hill Farm, Crakehall, North Yorkshire. Mr Gibson said: "I had agreed to lay on food for all the visitors and it ended up costing £4,000.

"It has really caused a stir, because people have seen how much it could change their lives. Farmers are very hard-working people, but there are ways to make the job easier.

"I have always wanted to try new things and the more people tell me they won't work, the more determined I am to prove them wrong." The machine has also had a welcome spin-off for Mr Gibson, 23, who used to get up at 5am and spend nine hours a day milking.

He said: "I just don't know what to do with my time any more. Now the cattle are looking after themselves, I can stay in bed.

"Any farmer will agree that the hardest part of the job is getting up before dawn to start milking.

"No-one looks forward to spending up to nine hours a day looking at a row of cows' backsides in a milking parlour.

"It is incredibly time consuming and labour intensive.

"The cattle have to be herded in, guided into stalls and the cups put on by hand. It takes hours to get through the entire herd.

"It is a joy to see our cows being milked without having to lift a finger.

"It has made a huge difference to my life."
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