Now over half way through her year as a McDonald’s Progressive Young Farmer, Alice tells us all about her experience on an organic dairy farm and exactly what it’s like milking 550 cows in just two and a half hours.
In between my placements on a dairy farm in Staffordshire and at Arla Foods I was lucky enough to spend three weeks on an Arla organic dairy farm in Dorset. Lower Farm is a McDonald’s Flagship Farm which means that it’s one of the most progressive farms supplying McDonald’s, so it was a real honour. During my time there I learnt about everything from how to care for new-born calves to how to monitor data on the health of the dairy herd.
The farm has 550 Friesian cross cows, which are milked through a modern 50 point rotary parlour. Having only ever milked cows in herringbone parlours, I was fascinated to see how a rotary parlour works and really enjoyed the opportunity to get involved. I was amazed at how efficient this type of milk parlour is; milking 550 cows in just two and a half hours, therefore allowing the herd to spend more time grazing out in the fields.
The spring calving period was well underway when I arrived in Dorset, with 140 calves born in the three weeks that I was there! One of my favourite jobs was to check for any new-born calves first thing every morning. This was often the busiest time of day, with up to ten new-born calves to feed. All calves are given two litres of colostrum soon after their birth which provides them with antibodies as well as energy for growth.
As soon as they are strong enough the calves are moved outside and reared on whole milk in the fields with acres of land to graze on. The farm uses this system well and raises hardy, healthy heifers ideally suited to grass based milk production. The calves certainly looked happy out in the fields, especially on the sunny days!
In addition to milking the cows and raising the new-born calves, I also spent time working in the farm office to gain a better understanding of how to run a successful dairy farm. There are so many different aspects involved in running the business, from overseeing the collection of farm data in order to monitor animal welfare, to investigating feed to ensure efficiency of production. My placement really opened my eyes to the business element of running a farm, from carefully planned budgets to resourcing; all these things are part of running a successful business.
I also learnt more about the standards that must be adhered to in order for milk to be classified as organic. McDonald’s are strong supporters of the UK organic dairy industry, with organic semi-skimmed milk used in its teas, coffees, porridge and Happy Meal® milk bottles in all restaurants across the UK. In 2015, they used more than 27 million litres of organic semi-skimmed milk!
Now that I’ve finished my placement in Dorset I am returning to the dairy farm in Staffordshire, where I spent time last autumn. I am really looking forward to going back to the same farm again and can’t wait to put into practice all that I’ve learn at Lower Farm.