Inside a new £2.3m state-of-the-art dairy

Dillington Farms’ new state-of-the-art dairy shed in Somerset has been designed to maximise the health and longevity of the 320-cow herd and includes some innovative ideas.

With buildings dating back to the nineteen seventies, in 2014 Dillington Farms were faced with a common problem in the dairy industry – decide to reinvest and expand or get out.

Old versus new

  • Original system: 200, autumn block calving cows, yielding 8,500 litres.
  • New system: 320 cows, now yielding 9,500 litres, 4.05% fat and 3.37% protein.
  • Target: All year round calving, over 10,000 litres a cow a year.

Having recognised the potential detrimental impact on cow health and performance in the dated set-up, the Ilminster-based estate decided to bite the bullet and commit to a long-term future in dairying.

With limited interest in grazing and a drive to manage a system with similar staff numbers, estate manager Chris Wilson decided a robot milking system, designed with cow welfare, longevity and ease of management at its heart, was the way to go.

See also: Five tips if you’re putting up new dairy facilities

The cost of the new installation was £2.3m, which included six robots, a clamp and a new road.

Numbers were increased, primarily by buying in heifers from Europe and in May 2015, milking began in the new shed. Here is some of the new shed design highlights:

cow shed interior

© Geoff-Pagotto

Transition yard designed for cow comfort

To reduce stress around calving, space has been prioritised in the transition yard.

There are 34 cubicles for a maximum of 21 calvings at once. To maximise cow comfort, mattresses and cubicles with a flexible polyethylene tube on the bottom of the stall loop have been installed to reduce body injuries.

Calving pens designed for cow flow and ease of handling

The system has been designed for ease of cow movement from the transition yard (pictured above) to the four calving pens and then to the robots (which are arranged in pairs).

Each of the calving pens have a padded rubber matt. Shavings are put down for each calving.

A slight fall on the floor gradient means hosing down and cleaning between calvings is easy.

Two of the calving pens have a locking yoke and gate to help secure the newly calved cow and two have a cranked gate .

This has been designed to enable any fresh cow checks or treatments to be carried out easily.

cow corridor

© Geoff Pagotto

An external cow corridor (above) also enables ease of movement of freshly calved cows down to the robots furthest away from the calving pens.

Chimney and unique insulated roofing

To prevent heat stress and optimise the environment for cows and staff, the roof is covered with insulated panels, usually found in cold stores.

The idea is to keep the building cool in summer and warm in winter.

The 50mm insulated polystyrene panels are covered in a moisture resistant plastic on the inside and are metal, coated in plastic on the outside.

air vent on shed

© Geoff Pagotto

Mr Wilson says the insulation stops a common problem seen in the old shed during the winter, where water would condense on the fibre cement roof and drip off the ceiling.

With the milkers housed all year and bedded on green bedding created by an existing on farm slurry separator, keeping a dry environment is even more crucial to prevent mastitis problems.

To aid air movement, a ventilated ridge has been installed. External air movement across the chimney helps draw air out of the building.

bird netting

© Geoff Pagotto

Badger and bird proofing

Badger numbers are high in the area and the farm wants to maintain their yearly TB testing regime.

As a result, a concrete wall around the outside of the shed is high enough to deter badgers from climbing over.

Bird netting then extends down each of the long sides of the shed.

Starlings and rooks are also a challenge.

To prevent contamination and feed losses, there are perforated metal sheets on the far end of the building and on the side doors and remote controlled roller shutter doors at the end of the feed passages.

Rubber mats round robots

rubber matting

© Geoff Pagotto

The slatted area around the robots is covered in rubber matting to aid foot health and comfort.

“If they ever have to hang about, it will be here. If they are bulling they might mill here and if they’re waiting to be milked or if there’s a tussle, it’s here,” explains Mr Wilson.

Footbaths and slurry scraper robots

Buying in cattle from various sources during expansion added to the digital dermatitis challenge. As a result, Mr Wilson chose to install permanent concrete footbaths.

“I didn’t want plastic footbaths that the guys had to continuously tip out, so we have permanent footbaths on exit from the robots. We footbath twice a week with formalin and sometimes copper sulphate,” he says.

cattle crush

© Geoff Pagotto

To limit labour, slurry scraper robots also automatically scrape the passageways.

In hindsight Mr Wilson says he would have preferred to have reduced the distance between slats to aid cleaning efficiency.

Foot crush on car jack

A foot crush is located with each robot grouping.

For ease of handling and to prevent back ache from bending down, the crushes have been put on a car jack which can be raised and lowered to a preferred height.

Automatic feed pushers

To promote intakes, robots push up feed ever hour. This ensures cows are always presented with fresh feed and also saves on labour by removing the need for someone to do it manually.

feed robots

© Geoff Pagotto

Segregation gates and special holding pen

Cows can be automatically segregated out after milking into a specially designed holding pen. The pen includes a loose pen with cow mats with foaling box rubber on top for comfort.

Cows also have access to the ration and automatic water drinkers.

Mr Wilson explains: “It provides the option, that if she’s lame or had a bad calving or you just want to see her, you can shed her out at 4am and then she’s there at 8am. And they’ve got water and feed in front of them.”


Lights are arranged in three blocks for each pair of robots. Each block is on a light sensor and provide 200 lux of light for 16 hours and eight hours of less than 5 lux for the milkers. This is designed to help drive dry matter intakes and yields.

Building design has been influenced by the farm’s vet Ed Powell-Jackson from Synergy Farm Health, Lely and building consultant Ivor Davey of CowPlan