By Debbie James

Farming is a tough physical job but fitness to work doesn’t include a stamina test on a running machine.

For dairy farmer Aled Lewis however, that is a level of fitness he must prove to continue in his post as a top level retained firefighter.

As a man in his 50s, Aled admits that the running machine challenge is one part of the job he doesn’t eagerly anticipate; to his advantage though is the level of fitness that the physical nature of farming provides.

Aled has been a retained firefighter since he started farming with his parents and brother at Penybont Farm, Tregaron, 28 years ago. He is now watch manager in charge of a crew of 10.

When an emergency requires assistance from the fire crew at Tregaron, Aled can dash to the station in under five minutes, discarding his overalls and wellies for a fire-resistant uniform and footwear.

He often faces difficult situations in the line of duty. His strategy on dealing with this is to do his best to leave the job behind when it is done, even though he will quite often know the people involved.

“When you live and work in a community it is inevitable that you will know the people you go to the aid of,’’ he says.

Aled grew up at 450-acre Penybont Farm, formerly part of the Hafod Estate, and had been keen to farm as a career. But that day came more abruptly than he anticipated, when he was 16, about to sit his exams and the farm herdsman left.

“My father told me to forget everything, 'You have to come home!'’’ he told me.

“I remember studying while carting slurry and we were shearing on the day of my geography exam – Dad told me to not take too long about it!’’

Aled enjoyed farming but to satisfy himself that he was making the right decision he decided to take a year away from the farm in 1989 to travel and to work in Australia, New Zealand, America and Canada.

He deliberately didn’t look for farm work in those countries, instead earning a living from driving excavators and setting up events.

He met his wife Larissa while travelling.

“She was also travelling but returned home before me and came to Tregaron to introduce herself to my parents before I arrived home!’’ he laughs.

The couple have now been married for 28 years and have three children, 12-year-old Elliot, and nine-year-old twins, Archie and George.

Aled and his brother, Lloyd, took out a loan to buy his uncle’s share of the farm when he retired and became partners in the business with their parents, Dan and Ann.

The core business is dairying; a herd of 180 Holstein Friesian cows are milked in three A5 Lely milking robots.

The robots were the first of their kind to be installed in Wales and replaced an ageing 12/12 Gascoigne parlour.

“That parlour had been there since 1982 and we had to do something because it kept breaking down,’’ says Aled.

Unusually for robot milking, theirs is integrated into a grazing system; cows come in from the field when they are ready to be milked.

The all-year round calving herd is run in two groups. One robot milks the high yielders for the first 100 days of their lactation while the mid and late lactation group are milked in the other two.

Once scanning confirms that the cows in the high yielding group are in calf they join the other group.

Aled enjoys technology and the robots satisfy that curiosity because they are a huge source of information.

“I can sit there for five hours studying how cows are performing. I go out at 10.30pm to check on the cows and before I know it is 11.30, you become obsessed with the data.’’

Another upside to the robots is that the technology appeals to the next generation.

“Elliot used to milk in the old parlour and said it was boring, now he is out there every night. At a push he could manage the robots if we weren’t here.’’

There is also another keen next generation farmer in the family, Aled’s nephew, Rhodri, who is studying agriculture at Gelli Aur College.