Lely is already well-known for its keenness to automate those time-consuming tasks that normally have to be done by human labour, but its latest device take robotics a stage further.

The Vector is a fully-automated vertical mixer that works round the clock. Silage is stored in predetermined spots in what Lely calls a “feed kitchen” for up to three days at a time. A grab puts the feed into the mixer, picking the feed from the highest point.

As the grab is filling the 600kg capacity mixer, the Vector starts up. Mixing up the feed is the most energy-intensive part of the process, so a power supply is needed at this stage. This is also the point at which concentrates or minerals are added to the ration.

Four 12v batteries then power the Vector to the feeding barrier. The empty mixer weighs 1280kg and energy usage is 20kWh/day for 150 animals.

Once at the barrier, the Vector uses a metal strip for guidance and sensors for working out its location and keeping it at the right distance from the gate. This is the same system as the one used in the Lely Juno and Discovery.

Cows are fed at predetermined places, with the height of the ration measured by an adjustable laser. Once the amount of feed at the barrier drops, the Vector will automatically feed out again.

When enough feed has been dispensed, the unit can head off to feed other cattle. As it goes back and forward to the feed kitchen, the Vector also pushes the feed back to the barrier.

Users of the unit say that it provides a flexible way to feed cows, with very little wastage of feed. A complete installation of the Vector for feeding up to 300 cattle will cost about €100,000. Lely says it will sell the Vector in France, Belgium, Luxemburg, the Netherland and Scandinavia later this year, with UK sales starting in 2013.