A £1.4 million investment in a greenfield site dairy on the edge of the Lake District National Park is helping future-proof one Cumbrian agricultural business. Jennifer MacKenzie reports.
Patrick Morris-Eyton’s family has farmed Beckside, Whicham, near Millom, in the south west corner of the county, for 300 years and the new dairy investment is set to secure the business for future generations.
At the age of 19, Patrick returned to work at home with his parents Robert and Rowena, and the 630-acre farm with common ground was then running 200 pedigree Holstein milkers plus a flock of Swaledales.
The family believes dairying is the most resilient of their livestock enterprises and the farm has the quality of land suited to it, so the decision to expand was made in August 2018.
After six months in construction, the new dairy unit became operational in September last year and, already, herd numbers are at 350 cows, with the goal of increasing to 400. In February this year, the herd moved from twice to three times-a-day milking.
Several months into the new system and cattle health and fertility are showing marked improvements. Cows are averaging 10,400 litres and producing 768kg of milk solids, with future plans to increase production to 12,000 litres. The long-term goal is to double herd numbers with further investment in buildings.
Integral to the efficiency of the new system is a 87kW on-farm hydro-electric power scheme, which runs for 11 months of the year. The Morris-Eytons also run a hydro-power and groundwork construction businesses, emanating from Robert’s expertise and work as a qualified land agent.
Energy consumption has gone up, with the new development now using two-thirds of the electricity produced when the previous system only used one-third.
Before working at home seven years ago, Patrick spent an 18-month apprenticeship on a sheep farm near Perth and he also worked in New Zealand milking cows for three months.
Patrick says: “In 2016 I got more involved with the dairy side of the business. I like figures and data and I thought I could do more to improve the dairy business.
“As I got more involved, we started talking about possible improvements within the system we had and expansion of the herd. We looked very hard at robots and nearly went for them, but as we would need five robots for the cows, which had by then increased to 250, we decided that the existing sheds would not accommodate them very well.
“On the advice of our accountant, we had a second look at other options, including rapid exit and rotary parlours. With the rapid exit, we would only achieve 150 cows milked per man-hour and we wanted to milk a minimum of 200 per man-hour, partly for labour reasons and also to reduce cows’ time in the collection yard and parlour.”
The decision was made to go for a rotary and build a new dairy unit and housing on a greenfield site on-farm, with the former housing being used for dry cows and youngstock.
Two new buildings have been erected. The parlour, collecting yard, handling facilities and hospital pen are in a 72-metre-long by 25m-wide concrete panel-sided building, while milking cows are in a separate 120m-long by 25m-wide open-sided building placed some 25m away to assist ventilation.
As the prevailing wind is from the west, the need for curtains at the sides of the building is not currently felt necessary.
In the cubicle shed, which can accommodate 350 cows, the feed area is outside on both sides of the building, protected from the weather by a 2.5m overhang.
The roof has a 20-degree pitch instead of the standard 17-degrees to aid ventilation through a capped, open ridge. There are no roof lights to minimise the greenhouse effect and the building is fitted with LED lighting, which is on for 16 hours/day, giving 200 lux at cow level. This is controlled by a light sensor to ensure the lighting level for that period of time.
The cubicle shed has three main passageways: the outside one is 5m wide; the inside one is 4.5m wide; and there are three cross passages.
The building has a 2% gradient and a telehandler-mounted 5m scraper is used for clearing slurry from passageways when cows are in the parlour.
Slurry storage is a large clay-lined six million-gallon lagoon, situated some 200m from the sheds, all fed by gravity through a pipe.
The Morris-Eytons have stayed with the Wilson C50 cubicles which were fitted in the old buildings, but the beds are now fitted with 40mm foam pasture mats for extra cow comfort instead of the 30mm thick mats used previously.
Cubicles are bedded twice-daily using a Bobman with fresh sawdust. Sand was considered but ruled out because of the gravity-fed slurry system. Bedding is treated with a lime alternative.
The new bedding routine takes 10 minutes while cows are out of the cubicles for milking and the new bedding has already reduced sawdust use by 50%.
The cubicle shed has 16 easy-to-clean Teemore stainless steel water troughs and eight cow brushes. The flooring is printed concrete for extra safety and foot health. Cows appear to be more relaxed on the printed concrete flooring and they are showing heats a lot stronger.
Cows also go through a footbath daily after milking with a 1% formalin solution.
The Morris-Eytons chose a 54-bail Waikato Milking Systems rotary parlour with a Centrus composite rotary platform which is 85% lighter than concrete, which is claimed to reduce wear on the running gear.
Patrick said the composite deck also had a higher level of resistance to chemicals compared to concrete platforms.
Previously, milking was taking three hours each morning and afternoon for the 210 cows through the 25-year-old 12:24 herringbone parlour.
Patrick says: “The new parlour is fitted with the latest technology which we wanted, but we also liked the simplicity of the Waikato system. If something breaks, you can generally fix it yourself, because it has been designed for dairy farmers in New Zealand who are four or five hours away from their nearest dealer.”
The new technology includes electronic milk meters as part of the milk contract requirement, as well as for recording pedigree data.
Cluster removal and teat spraying is automatic, reducing the workload, and Waikato’s NaviGate Dairy Management System gives computerised management data on each cow.
Among the biggest benefits to cow health already has been in the reduction of mastitis from eight to 10 cases in 100 cows and now down to about two. This is due to the parlour’s Smart D-Tect mastitis system, which tests each quarter for infection. Patrick also attributes the reduction to the overall improved environment.
Teats continue to be post-milking sprayed with ADF and the new system has the ability to pre-spray teats.
Now the herd is settled in the new unit and already reaping the benefits of the improved environment, Patrick and his team are now concentrating on lifting yields.
The move to three times-a-day milking is to reduce pressure on cows’ udders and this is expected to increase milk production by another 10-15%, says Patrick.
The new routine will also move staff to an eight-hour day instead of the long days they have worked previously.
Patrick says: “Our staff are an integral part of our team, with our longest serving man having been with us for 40 years. We want to look after them as best we can and for them to have the best work-life balance possible. Night milking will be done by relief staff.”
The main farm is run by four employees and a further two people work in the office.
Milking cows are fed a TMR as one group twice-a-day. They are fed to yield in the parlour with a 17% protein 15.5ME concentrate at up to 9kg/day for cows and 7kg for heifers for the first 50 days of lactation, although this is increased to 11kg for any yielding 60 litres/day.
Patrick says: “We have completely reviewed the rations and milk solids are already increasing. We are anticipating the new environment in the building will give us another 1,000 litres of milk and increasing to three times-a-day milking should increase yields by a further 1,000 litres.”
Milk is sold to Arla on a Morrisons contract. The Morris-Eytons are part of an Arla R500 group, Arla 360, which benchmarks production with other clients.
Digital dermatitis has improved by 70%, with few needing attention from the regular foot trimmer.
Herd numbers have been increased with the purchase of 167-head of cattle of all ages at the dispersal of the high yielding and high health status Ballyginniff herd, Northern Ireland.
Currently, herd numbers are being increased with the use of sexed semen and the use of high profitable lifetime index bulls to breed for butterfat and protein to meet the Arla contract.
Patrick says: “We want to breed high health status, nicely balanced cows. We are genomically testing all our heifers, which at less than £30/head, I believe is invaluable.”
The lower end of the herd are artificially inseminated to beef; cows to the British Blue and heifers to the Aberdeen-Angus.
*The Morris-Eytons are holding an open day at Beckside on May 19.
Milking cow TMR (fed as one group twice-a-day)
Heifer youngstock ration