Cheshire farm impressed with new generation Lely Vector machine

Anthony Oakes replenishes the feed kitchen with fresh forage every three days. Picture: Julie Hazelton
Anthony Oakes replenishes the feed kitchen with fresh forage every three days. Picture: Julie Hazelton

Seven years after its initial launch and the Lely Vector automated feeding system has received a facelift designed to make it even more reliable and efficient, writes Julie Hazelton.

The next generation Lely Vector boasts re-designed knife distribution, and a consistent auger rotation speed. It also features more durable components, including a stainless steel auger and mixing bin fitted with magnets, and a galvanised bumper for enhanced safety.

The Lely Vector mixes and distributes fresh forage at regular intervals. It uses ultrasound sensors to work out its location and distance from the barrier. Picture: Julie Hazelton

The Lely Vector mixes and distributes fresh forage at regular intervals. It uses ultrasound sensors to work out its location and distance from the barrier. Picture: Julie Hazelton

Jim Irwin, director of Lely Center Eglish said: “The new Vector has evolved from the proven principles of automated feeding, and focuses on animal health, reliability and energy efficiency. The drive and electrical components on the new model are easily accessible making the system more service friendly.”

The Vector is a self-contained, battery operated vehicle which has the capability of feeding up to 600 animals. Forage is stored at predetermined spots in a ‘feed kitchen’, and the grabber, which is mounted to a crane-type construction, selects the forage and puts it into the mixing robot.

Concentrates, minerals and additives are accurately measured and added using a dispenser. The system is linked to Lely’s T4C computer software, and can be adjusted and monitored using the Lely Control App on a smartphone or tablet.

The Vector uses metal strips buried in the ground to guide it along specified routes around the farmyard. Once alongside the feed barrier it uses ultrasound sensors to work out its location and distance from the barrier.

Dairy farmer Anthony Oakes can monitor the Lely Vector using the Lely Control App on a smartphone or tablet. Picture: Julie Hazelton

Dairy farmer Anthony Oakes can monitor the Lely Vector using the Lely Control App on a smartphone or tablet. Picture: Julie Hazelton

Lely’s new-look mixing and feeding robot has been operating successfully for almost four months at Stublach Farm near Middlewich in Cheshire – and is the first of its kind in the UK and Ireland.

Owned by Anthony Oakes, and his parents Alan and Caroline, the labour-saving Lely Vector will take centre stage at an on-farm Lely Open Day on Wednesday 21st August.

Farming 560 acres the family’s main enterprises are the 250-cow Alcar pedigree Holstein Herd with an average yield of 10,500 litres per cow per year; and an anaerobic digester (44kw) which utilises slurry and generates the farm’s energy requirements, with surplus sold to the national grid.

Labour is getting harder to find, and while his parents are still actively involved in the family business, Anthony is gradually shouldering more of the day-to-day management and responsibilities.

The Lely Vector is a self-contained battery operated vehicle designed to reduce labour. It uses metal strips in the ground to guide it on its route around the farmyard. Picture: Julie Hazelton

The Lely Vector is a self-contained battery operated vehicle designed to reduce labour. It uses metal strips in the ground to guide it on its route around the farmyard. Picture: Julie Hazelton

“I am focusing on making the business as efficient as possible,” explained Anthony, who purchased two Lely A4 Astronaut milking robots in 2013. “My long-term goal is to make the whole set-up fully robotic. Modern robotic technology offers accuracy and consistency, a key factor in maximising efficiency and productivity.”

Investing in the Lely Vector automated feeder took priority over additional robots in Anthony’s business plan. “My parents have worked hard to develop a business with strong foundations, and I want to build on that. Up until now I’ve spent a significant proportion of my daily routine on feeding, operating and maintaining machinery.

“In recent years we have outsourced more of the fieldwork to contractors, and this, coupled with the installation of the Vector automated feeding system, has given me more time to focus on farm administration duties.

“Mixing rations and feeding cattle is time consuming and repetitive work, requiring precision and attention-to detail. Prior to installing the Vector I was spending between three and four hours every day mixing and dispensing rations to various batches of cows and heifers.

The new generation Lely Vector at Stublach Farm features two vertical tub mixers capable of feeding up to 600 cattle per day. Picture: Julie Hazelton

The new generation Lely Vector at Stublach Farm features two vertical tub mixers capable of feeding up to 600 cattle per day. Picture: Julie Hazelton

“The specially designed feed kitchen is located near the silos, and I restock it with blocks of forage every three days. As well as saving time and having more flexibility, I’ve been able to reduce the need for expensive tractors on the farm, thus saving on maintenance and fuel costs.

“The system is fool-proof, and can be easily monitored and adjusted using the Lely Control App. My Vector produces TMR for up to eight batches of cattle every day, and the various rations comprise of wholecrop wheat, grass silage, rolled oats, haylage, concentrates and minerals.”

Since installing the Vector Anthony has noticed that the cows are performing better. “The cows are getting fresh forage at regular intervals which has been proven to increase dry matter intake, improve rumen health and productivity. My high yielding cows are up two litres a day since the new system was introduced.”

The Alcar Herd’s high yielding cows are managed on two A4 robots, while the low yielders and stale cows are milked twice daily through a 24:24 conventional parlour. The farm has also been able to reduce digital dermatitis using the Lely Discovery slurry collector.

- Lely Center Eglish is organising a trip to the Open Day at the Oakes family’s Stublach Farm, and anyone interested in finding out more about the Lely Vector is welcome to attend. For further details contact Jim Irwin on mobile: 07827 884639.

A grabber mounted on a crane-type construction selects the forage from the feed kitchen and puts it into the tub mixer.  Picture: Julie Hazelton

A grabber mounted on a crane-type construction selects the forage from the feed kitchen and puts it into the tub mixer. Picture: Julie Hazelton