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21st February 2015 - Down on the Farm

Now I know we all had a bit of a laugh when Ron posted a ‘selfie’ of Dolly the cow in our Christmas fun competition and followed that up with all kinds of feeble cow puns.
However, Ron bettered that when he arranged a visit for a group of us to see James Read’s modern dairy farm in Taunton. This was such a great visit that I will do my best to avoid lowering the tone by avoiding any kind of cow pun.
James was a very welcoming host and after we all donned our wellies he took us through the farm showing us each stage of the robotic milking process – something which Ron introduced in the south west. The amazing thing about this system is that the cows choose when they want to be milked. They approach the milking robot, are let in if it judges they need milking, laser lights identify the teats on the cow’s udder and it then attaches the suction cups which start the milking. The milk yield is recorded on computer and when enough has been taken the robot sends the cow on its way. The machine operates for 24 hours every day so there is no pressure on the cows or the farmer to try to milk the entire herd in one daily session. Consequently there are a lot (around 200) of calm and contented cows on this farm. The farmyard was kept clean by a robotic ‘hoover’ which maintained clear pathways and disposed of slurry – a device which helped reduce infections.
We also saw some very cute calves that just been born and lots of other heavily pregnant cows who were shortly to give birth. The tour of the farm ended by climbing an overhead gantry to the equivalent of a control centre. Here we could survey the whole cowshed. In his office James showed us how each cow was monitored and not just for milk yields. Would you believe that it even recorded how many chews of the cud each cow did! In this way the farm could monitor its feeding practices and each cow’s welfare.
So that’s the technology – what about the photographic possibilities. Well this was a great place to take some shots of farm agriculture – lots of interesting shapes and unusual equipment. And then of course there were the cows many of whom seemed actively interested by gently nudging us, almost as if encouraging us to take their photograph. They were perfect models although it was interesting to hear from James that not all are so docile. There are, he said, several ‘bully cows’ who will try to intimidate the others so they are kept separately. Anyway I guess we will be seeing some shots of these gentle animals with their dribbly noses in due course at the club.
So many thanks to Ron for setting this up. You deserve a pat on the back though not of course a cow pat (sorry, couldn’t resist it).