600 cows and robots to milk them are on their way to Chorley
Plans for a robotically-controlled milking shed containing 600 cows have been given the go-ahead in Chorley.
Councillors approved the scheme after concluding that it counted as an agricultural, rather than an industrial, development - and so was suitable to be built in an area of greenbelt.
The farmer behind the proposal - for land off Wigan Lane in Coppull - described it as “one of the most exciting projects on a dairy farm in the UK”.
Cows will “volunteer” to be milked, encouraged by a layout which links the process with being fed.
But a meeting of Chorley Council’s development control committee heard concerns from locals about potential noise and odour from the Yew Tree Dairy Limited site - which was compared in scale to the size of Wigan Athletic football stadium.
“This shed will contain calves and new mother-cows who have very strong maternal instincts and will bellow for their calves for days following separation,” local resident Jo Scott told members.
“We’re told that the slurry will pass through slats in the ground to be treated, but surely there will be more slats than gaps - otherwise the cows’ feet are going to fall through the floor. So the slurry will sit on top of the slats, emitting odour until it’s removed,” she added.
The proposed slurry system and open slat roof design were deemed sufficient to reduce odour to an acceptable level. The council's planning officer, Iain Crossland, admitted that smells could be expected, but added: “That’s the nature of a site in a rural area.”
Meanwhile, a noise impact study found that the plan would not cause disturbance to the farm’s neighbours, because the cows should be more content and less vocal than if they were herded to be milked together a set time.
The council’s member champion for animal welfare condemned what she described as a “horrendous” existence for the herd, in view of plans for cows to be allowed out for a maximum of 90 days per year.
“After giving birth, a cow will be separated from its calf and returned to the herd - and within three months, it will be artificially inseminated and the process starts all over again,” she said.
“So allowing them to graze in spring and summer isn’t too much to ask.”
But Karl Woodcock, the applicant for the development, said animal welfare would be at the heart of the new site and that there were already two similar-sized dairy farms in Chorley.
“It’s a great idea that we have cows skipping through summer meadows - but they are lazy animals and cannot cope with extreme heat or cold,” he said.
“For seven months of the year, it is too wet for them to graze, so they would have to be housed anyway.
“Cows like the shed environment because they can come and go as they please - if they are stressed, they don’t give milk.”
Committee member Keith Iddon, who comes from a farming background, said the industry had “moved on” from the days when it was possible to earn a living from a herd of a few dozen cows.
But ward councillor Steve Holgate complained that the nature of the dairy processing industry for which the milk was destined meant that consumers had no way of identifying products which used it - and no opportunity to boycott them if they chose.
The proposal was passed with a condition added by members that heavy goods vehicles should not visit the site between 10pm and 6am.