From Milk Routes to Robots: Getting the Lowdown on High Lawn Farm

Bon Appétiters with High Lawn Dairy General Manager Roberto Laurens and Farm Manager Aaron Creighton

Left to right: Lesley University Chef/Manager David Owen; High Lawn General Manager Roberto Laurens; Lesley University General Manager Ed Fogarty; Bon Appétit at Emerson Project Manager Larry Simpson; Emerson Sustainability Manager Carrie Cullen; and Farm Manager Aaron Creighton

Although High Lawn Farm supplies milk to almost all of Bon Appétit’s Massachusetts campuses, including Lesley University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (where High Lawn also supplies all the ice cream), Emmanuel College, and Emerson College, the farm’s two-hour drive from Boston means that few Bon Appétiters have ever seen the operation in person. Bon Appétit Manager of Strategic Initiatives Nicole Tocco Cardwell set out to change that by organizing a group visit to the Lee, MA, dairy farm.

A clear day at High Lawn Dairy

The Bon Appétit group experienced stunning weather for their visit to the equally stunning dairy

Nicole was joined by Lesley General Manager Ed Fogarty and Chef/Manager David Owen, Bon Appétit at Emerson Project Manager Larry Simpson, and Carrie Cullen, Emerson’s sustainability manager. High Lawn General Manager Roberto Laurens and Farm Manager Aaron Creighton showed them around the incredibly picturesque farm and its high-tech barns while explaining High Lawn’s history and the way things currently work. High Lawn started as a small dairy farm that delivered milk straight to local homes, but now has some of the best robotics in the dairy industry.

Producing and bottling milk since the 1920s, High Lawn now farms about 1,500 acres of land, which they use both for their 100 percent Jersey herd to graze on fresh pasture (when pregnant and not providing milk) and to grow almost all of the herd’s feed. They grow alfalfa, corn, and hay that they store for the winter, and buy some grain to supplement the cows’ feed.

Aaron walked the group through the open-air barn where the lactating cows reside. The setup is designed around the premise that “cows choose what they want to do,” he said. They have access to feed 24/7, and can walk around as they’d like or recline on comfy water mattresses.

A calf nuzzling Lesley University Chef/Manager David Owen

A calf nuzzling Lesley University Chef/Manager David Owen

The milking area of the barn is the high-tech hub. Here’s how it works: A cow enters of her own volition, incentivized by extra delicious feed in that area. She waits in line, and when she enters the milking area, the system scans her tag. From that the system knows how much milk she’s giving on average, what stage of lactation she’s in, and how much milk she’s already given that day. Then it dispenses the grain ratio that’s right for her, which she eats while her udder is cleaned and the milking machine attaches itself using laser sensors. Or if she’s already given enough milk for the day, it kicks her out. The process happens with zero human intervention. There are also two freewheeling robots; one of them was moving around the group as they toured the facility, brushing feed back into reach of the cows.

The whole business, including farming, processing, and milk delivery, employs 26 people – before robotics, they needed twice that many. Given the enormous financial challenges facing U.S. dairies, High Lawn Farm’s evolving position from traditional family farm to techno “dairy of the future” was fascinating to see and learn about in person.