From milking robot to on-farm processing plant with Lely

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WITH a main goal of forming direct food supply links with consumers, farmers strive to find the new technology that can make this happen. All too often farmers lose out to middle men in the food chain who take the lion’s share of the profits leaving them sometimes only breaking even or losing money.

Consumers want food as fresh as they can get it and there is no place better to buy fresh produce than direct from the farmer. One company that is addressing this issue is Dutch based livestock equipment specialist Lely which has developed an on-farm milk processing plant to allow dairy farmers to sell their produce direct. Lely’s ambition is to create a circular future dairy farm that utilises its own outputs and inputs which is exactly what the Orbiter does.

Orbiter milking system already in use

The Lely Orbiter is an automatic milk processor that is based on the dairy farm right beside the milking unit and can operate 24/7. Right now, in 2020, Lely has three Orbiter systems in operation on farms processing the milk which is sold directly to customers and there are solid enquiries for more systems to be installed.

The Lely Orbiter is an automatic milk processor that is based on the dairy farm

Designed with the highest food safety standards in mind, the system processes milk directly from Lely’s Astronaut milking robots to the bottle. These walk in milking robots are designed to make the milking process as natural as possible.

How do the milking robots work?

As you can see from the video above, cows are free to walk into the open box to be milked by a robotic arm which remains underneath the animal and tracks its position using a 3D camera. Arm design enables the Astronaut robot to milk all kinds of teats on all kinds of udders on all different types of cow. Nothing ‘squeezes’ or constricts the cow and nothing pushes her. The cow stands comfortably and naturally.

Each animal wears a collar which identifies it to the milking robot as it steps up to be milked. The robot is able to access unique information about udder positioning for the cow and estimate likely milk ration availability since the previous visit. Visits by cows can be made several times each day as the cow is fully in charge of when it steps up to be milked.

Should a cow become in any way nervous the Astronaut’s arm is built to withstand a powerful kick

Should a cow become in any way nervous the Astronaut’s arm is built to withstand a powerful kick by absorbing the contact with a hinging system in the arm consisting of two gas springs. This system gives way for the arm to move, saving the cow and sparing all electrical components. The arm will always return to the milking position by itself.

New opportunities for dairy farmers

The Lely Orbiter system will get milk directly from two to four Lely Astronaut milking robots and has been especially designed to handle a low flow of milk. This enables the system to start processing the milk fast, directly after milking, by cooling it down to 4 degrees Celsius.

The closed set-up of the system, coupled with the fact that there are very few processing steps and little time between milking and processing, guarantees both milk quality and food safety.

In conjunction with the Astronaut milking robots, Lely’s Orbiter offers new opportunities for farmers to market their own milk, support their sustainable future and to meet the demands of today’s increasingly discerning consumers.

Lely said: “This on-farm dairy processor matches the high quality standards of large industrial-scale processors. The quality and taste of milk are safeguarded, because direct on-farm processing is much faster and offers a shorter route from cow to consumer.”

This innovative system is able to process the milk of small batches of cows separately, offering the farmer flexibility and efficiency. Consumers will be able to trace the produced dairy products back to individual cow family level.

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About Author

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Chris McCullough is a freelance multi-media journalist based in Northern Ireland and specialises in all aspects of agriculture. He has spent the past 18 years travelling the globe hunting for the best stories in food, farming and politics. He has reported extensively from overseas, mostly throughout Europe but also from USA, Canada, India, Australia and African countries on various topics. He has won a number of awards for his photos and journalism and is always on the lookout for his next exclusive.

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