Kevin and Winnie O’Connor have made the successful transition to a robotic milking system from their traditional six-unit herringbone milking parlour.

From what was deemed a very traditional family farm, the O’Connors now run a 70-cow mixed breed dairy farm with the help of an A5 Lely Astronaut just outside Killeagh in Co. Cork.

The O’Connor’s farm is first and foremost a family affair, where Kevin and Winnie live with their three children.

The move to a robotic system was driven by the will to future-proof the farm for the next generation, while also benefiting from the immediate flexibility a Lely robotic milking system offers.   

The farm was purchased by Kevin’s father in 1963 after he moved back from England and became home to Kevin and his eight siblings. In 1996, Kevin began actively farming the 19ha alongside his father.

The farm benefits from the best of free draining grassland with high lime and high phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) levels, and is easily capable of growing 13/14t of grass/ac, utilising an outside block to rear replacements and weanlings.

The farm is surrounded by several progressive dairy farms, and this brings a focus to the O’Connor’s, where they must work within the parameters of what they currently have.

Robotic milking

After a five-year decision-making process, Kevin decided in 2017 that moving to a robotic milking system was the right step for the future of the farm.

“When I first came across the concept of robotic milking it really caught my attention and I remember thinking it wasn’t something that would ever be achievable on our farm,” said Kevin.

“But when I look at it now, I see how it is the ideal solution for us. My wife Winnie was working full-time as a teacher, and we were trying to buy up some free time for ourselves and our children.

“There were lots of early mornings and late evenings, and with three small children we were becoming ships in night. I had 27 years done milking in an old parlour and so an upgrade was on the cards but was a matter of finding the best solution.”

The O’Connors were three to four years looking at the various robotic options before they settled on the Lely option.

“I fully understand why my father thought I was going a step too far when taking the plunge to a robotic system, but to give credit where credit is due, I could never have made the transition without the full help and support of my parents and siblings,” said Kevin.

“My niece and two nephews, Niamh, Jack and Darragh were huge help throughout the changeover.”


The installation of a single A5 Lely Astronaut began in 2017, following the retrofit and expansion of the cubicle shed.

“Once we had the work on the shed complete, we brought in the Lely crew to decide where we would position the A5 Lely Astronaut.

“We probably should have engaged the Lely team at an earlier stage as where I had intended on the robot going was completely unworkable,” according to Kevin.

Kevin explained how the support from the team in Lely Center Mitchelstown was second to none from the get-go.

“After extensive consultation with Lely Center Mitchelstown, we reworked the calving boxes and drafting gates from what I had envisaged. We needed to ensure adequate head space for the cows.

“We had the roadways in place but needed to integrate another small roadway to bring in the ABC system,” he said.

“The initial intention from me was to follow an AB system but in hindsight the ABC system as recommended by the Lely team is required for that extra 20% to take the pressure off in the mornings.

“The installation of the A5 Astronaut ran a dream and the start-up was so easy, with cows getting it by the second milking.

“The Grazeway system took about three weeks for cows to settle into it. It was hard to watch when comparing to the conventional system but again, once they got it, the benefits were clear to see.”

Kevin added:

“It has facilitated less poaching at gaps, less gathering on wet days and you will no longer see cows stuck to the wire on those wet days. All in all, the Grazeway system has been a great asset.”

Productivity and cow welfare

Kevin expressed that there’s always a worry when introducing heifers to their first milking, and as the robot had been installed in August, it was the following January before the O’Connors were faced with the situation.

“I need not have had any concerns, as the 17 heifers in that first year took to it straight away. Furthermore, those 17 heifers averaged 7,200kg of milk in that first year, something we never experienced before and held the same again the following year.

“While one might argue there was an increase in concentrate feed, that was only marginal in our case. In the second year, we set up the ‘feed to yield’ system, again with the help of the Lely Center Mitchelstown team, and it transformed the cows. Every cow was getting fed right.

“The herd is so content, and you can see that from how freely they come and go from the robot. We have headspace for over 120 cows and the dream would be another robot which is in the pipeline but maybe just not yet,” the Cork farmer said.

Kevin added:

“The single A5 Lely Astronaut is perfect for our current herd size and it has helped us make better management decisions, attributed to the data that we get back through the new Horizon app. Winnie plays an extremely active role in analysing that data.”

The Farm Management Support (FMS) from Lely is seen as a crucial service in the move from conventional to robotic milking.

“The support we get from the Lely Center Mitchelstown has been huge, from the internal layout of the shed for housing the A5 Astronaut, to the design of the Grazeway gate system, right up to the technicians that were on site and that continue to support us. The entire team have been absolutely brilliant,” said Kevin.

Adjusting to robotic milking

For Kevin it was only a matter of time before a changeover to a more efficient system would take place.

“We needed to change for the future generation coming through but also for our family unit,” he said.

“I can now attend our children’s matches and activities in the evenings. The lifestyle change has been massive.

“It has taken that stress of having to be around for milking time out of our lives and given Winnie and I a quality of life that allows us to have more family time.

“The biggest change moving from a traditional milking system to a Lely robotic system is the mind-set. It took the cows two days to adjust, it took me 18 months to finally relax and accept that I could fully trust the system.

“We can now enjoy a better quality of family life and know that our farm is now working for us,” Kevin added.

For more information on robotic milking and Lely robots, click here.

Open day

Lely are hosting two open days this month which will cover the following topics:

  • Why Robots, Why Lely?;
  • Grants & Finance;
  • Installation;
  • Back-up Support;
  • Collars;
  • Herd monitoring.

The first of the open days will take place on July 18 at 11:00a.m in Askeaton, Co. Limerick, with David Guerin to attend as a guest speaker.

The second of the open days will take place on July 25 at 11:00a.m in Killeagh, Co. Cork, with Kevin O’Connor to attend as a guest speaker.

Early registration is advised. All early entrants will be entered into a draw to win a €100 gift voucher on the day.