Buxlow Wonmil is a really delicious cheese but, more unusually, the cows it comes from milk themselves. Yes, really. Margaret Reeve, the Suffolk farmer and cheesemaker, explains that it’s all done via a computer chip put in each cow’s ear. The chip triggers the whole process as the cows saunter into the milking parlour, whenever they feel they need to be milked. When the cow has been recognised by its chip, its teats are washed and a sensor, programmed for each cow’s udder, puts ‘the cluster’ onto the teats and milks them automatically. Each cow is dribblefed to its own diet at the same time. Furthermore, the computer can sense if the cow is unwell with mastitis, for example and will put the cow into a holding area while summoning help via the farmer’s mobile.
‘It’s a very unusual, high-tech system,’ says Mrs Reeve. ‘We have the only one in Suffolk. We put it in six years ago; before, we had two major milkings a day and we had to stop work for them, so it saves a lot of time.’ It’s good for the heavy milkers, too, which, instead of waiting in discomfort to be milked, can come into the parlour three or four times a day.
Experts taught the cows how to come into the parlour to be milked. ‘Within a day, they had cottoned on it was harder to teach us than the cows. They seem to enjoy it, perhaps as they’re creatures of habit.’ The new system also discourages cows bullying each other.
The farm, at Friston, has 70 Friesian-Holstein cross cows. Mrs Reeve would have preferred the local Red Poll, but they weren’t tall enough for the robotic milker. The cheese is called Buxlow after a vanished parish next to Friston, and Wonmil is a Suffolk dialect word for cheese made from full-fat milk. ‘It’s an unpressed cheese. The milk is left to drain then lightly salted. It’s simple, with lots of flavour and very versatile.’