Udder massagers and cow fitbits: All in a day's work on a Clitheroe dairy farm

From massage-giving milking machines to cow pedicures, a Clitheroe dairy farmer has revealed the tricks of the trade and his role in a £10bn UK-wide industry in celebration of World Milk Day.

Wednesday, 6th June 2018, 4:55 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th June 2018, 11:32 am
Mason House Farm.
Mason House Farm.

A third-generation dairy farmer from Bashall Eaves, Ben Hartley (31) rents Mason House Farm, which has been part of the local landscape for 350 years and from which he produces 6,000 litres of milk every day for Arla Foods UK, making sure that the 95% of UK households which have dairy in the fridge are well-stocked.

Working full-time on the 325-acre farm with his father, John, Ben - who has a qualification in cow hoof-trimming and a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Leeds University - has embraced state-of-the-art technology to keep 200 cows, 170 heifers, and their on-farm stock bull Les happy and healthy, utilising everything from Dutch milking booths to bovine fitbits.

"After uni I was going to get a job away [from the farm] but I kind of missed the cows, so I came back," Ben explained, with Hartleys having farmed in Bashall Eaves for over half a century. "Working outside is very satisfying and because of the size of the farm, we all deal with everything: it gives us variety.

"There's a lot of highlights, but there are challenges; farmers can find it difficult in bad weather conditions and it's depressing if an animal is ill, just like when a family member is ill," added Ben, who lives in Chatburn with his wife, Heather - a teacher at Gisburn Primary School - and their four-month-old daughter. "But we have a lot of experience, so we can meet the challenges."

One of the main challenges in the dairy industry used to be its labour-intensive nature, a physically taxing problem remedied in East Lancashire thanks to a Dutch entrepreneur's bet with a friend.

"About 15 years ago, a Dutch worker in a research and development company was bet by a friend he couldn't make a robot to milk cows, so they developed a milking robot, and we have four," said Ben. "There's a small booth that sits in the barn with the cows, and each cow has a little necklace on with a reader on it, allowing the booth to know which cow has come in.

"If the cow is due to milk, the machine drops feed to keep it relaxed and then little brushes come under the udders and clean off any refuse and massages the udders, meaning the cow starts to drop its milk," he added. "The machine attaches pulsating cups onto the cow's four nipples, which slowly milks the cow."

With World Milk Day having taken place on June 1st the former Waddington and West Bradford Primary School student Ben, is keen to shine a light on local farmers who are passionate about their trade.

"I've grown up on this farm [and] both myself and my dad enjoy working with dairy cows," he said. "We care about our cows being healthy."