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Robotic Farming

I remember farming as it used to be - what are you laughing at - I was reared on a farm out beside Edenmore School and I saw it all and had to do some of it myself. It was not like it is today with all this modern technology. I used to walk out to the field where the cows were grazing, take them in to the byre, help with the hand-milking sitting on a three-legged stool. Take them back out again to the field and make sure all the gaps were closed. Come back, get the grape and clean out the byre. Some of the milk was kept 'for the house', some kept for animal feed, some put aside for the churning and the remainder put into the Creamery Can and left at the road for Frank Murphy or Jimmy Treanor to collect and take to Monaghan Creamery. That was that job but then there were so many others like the saving of the hay with pitch fork and rake, gutting the corn, stooking it, getting it in to the rick, threshing it and building the straw. It all demanded good physical strength and long hours of labour. But all has changed and is changing more every year. Computers and modern technology has revolutionised farming practices and in most cases has made things easier. I visited the farm of Francis and Patricia, nee Hughes, Hughes on Tuesday, July 19th to see Robotics in action. The company responsible was Lely, Efficient Farm Solutions, based in Mulingar. The Hughes Farm, with Francis, Patricia and son Darren, have installed a robotic milking system for their dairy farm and Lely invited other farmers to come to an Open day to see the system in operation, with the hope of course that more farmers might take it on. It seems that some farmers are somewhat afraid of it as they think one would need to be very computer literate to operate it. The company had personnel there to explain, demonstrate and answer questions and many farmers turned out to see it for themselves.  I learned a lot myself from my visit as I never imagined that things had advanced so far. Speaking to Francis he told me that it is a great labour saving system as milking is all done automatically. The cow comes in from grazing herself, goes into the milking machine which attaches the cups to teats automatically, milks, gives food to the cow, separates, washes teats and cups, and allows the cow to leave and it then returns to the grazing - again of its own accord. Everything is recorded on computer and reports available to the farmer on the cows condition, milk yield, time to breed and other relevant information that the farmer would need. There are also checks built in to the system - for example a cow will not get out through the gate to return to the field unless she has been milked. She cannot go back through the milking part and get more food. However there are still some jobs that have to be done - like cleaning houses and areas around the farm and of course having food to feed them during the winter. The pastures have to be looked after so that there is a good yield and grazing areas have to be sorted for each day. No doubt there are advances in these areas too as I saw adverts for robotic cow brushes, and barn cleaners and calf feeders. One might say that these are all very expensive and expensive to maintain but listening to Francis I gathered that it was well worth the money as it does make life more bearable and easier for the farmer. It also takes up less space than is needed for a existing milking parlour for a big herd and easier to maintain. Using this system herd numbers can be increased as long as the land is there to feed them. Yes - all a steep learning curve for me when I compare it to my younger days on the farm. Thanks to Francis, Patricia and Darren and all their helpers for the hospitality. There too were Stands advertising their wares which tie in with the farming situation in one way or another and the Bank was there to assist with the finances.

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