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Farm focus: Dairy unit pushes cows and grass leys to limit

Insights

In the second instalment from the British Grassland Society’s summer tour to Aberdeen, Louise Hartley reports from the award winning dairy farm at Dendoldrum.

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Gregor Colquhoun was one of the first dairy producers in Scotland to milk cows three times a day and visiting his farm in Inverbervie, Montrose, it is clear every aspect of the business is managed in a progressive, efficient manner.

 

With his father, Blair, Mr Colquhoun started milking the herd three times a day in 1980, just before quotas were implemented, simply to make more milk, and more money.

 

He now runs a herd of 480 cows through five robotic milkers, with a sixth soon to arrive on farm. The existing herringbone parlour is also still used and there are plans to increase the milking herd to 600 in the next few years.

Robots

Robots were first installed in 2006 in a drive to save on labour.

 

Mr Colquhoun says: “Good farm staff are hard to come by because of competition with the oil rigs in this area, so robots seemed a good solution.”

 

The 20:20 herringbone parlour is still used to milk fresh calved cows, good cows which are not suited to the robot, or those which are going stale.

 

“When we first got the robots, our intention was to switch to an entirely robotic system but the parlour has been useful to have,” says Mr Colquhoun.

 

“We currently milk twice a day in the parlour, at 4.30am and again at 1.30pm. This is not an ideal split but in the future, when we have more cows, we will hopefully be able to justify paying the staff to milk with a bigger split.”

 

All the milking herd is housed, with dry cows grazing in the summer, but Mr Colquhoun, who works part-time for Harbro, says he is happy to leave his cows inside all the time.

 

Dendoldrum’s cows are split into two groups and housed on either side of the cubicle shed. One side is predominately heifers and second calvers and the other is made up of older cows.

 

Both groups are fed the same total mixed ration (TMR), which includes 25kg grass silage, 8kg wholecrop wheat, 10kg draft, 2.5kg pot ale syrup, 2kg maize, 3kg caustic wheat, 2kg rumen-protected protein, a mycotoxin binder and minerals.

Ration

The TMR is mixed and fed once a day, with feed being pushed up with the Bobcat three times per day, as well as being automatically pushed up every two hours with a Lely Juno.

 

Two different concentrates are then fed through the robots. Early lactation cows receive a 16 per cent protein and a high energy concentrate. End of lactation cows are given a 20 per cent protein and low starch concentrate and the middle lactation group get a 50:50 blend of the two. Glycol is also fed through the robot to help prevent ketosis.

 

Mr Colquhoun believes cows do not thrive off starch. He says: “Starch can make cows fat and lazy - something which needs to be avoided, especially when milking through robots as the cows need to be incentivised to get up and milk.”

 

An 18 per cent blend is fed through the parlour as it does not have the capability to feed different concentrates.

Dendoldrum housing for cows
Inside cow house

Dendoldrum’s leys are expected to withstand five years of abuse

First cut receives 90-95 units of protected urea fertiliser and slurry, with the second cut getting 70-75 units of the same with sulphur as well as slurry.

 

Slurry management is a huge task at Dendoldrum, with Mr Colquhoun having to deal with the large amount produced by his 480 cows while being subject to Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) regulations.

 

Mr Colquhoun says: “I could easily use more slurry and buy in less bagged fertiliser, which would reduce air miles and make our farm much more ‘green’, but due to NVZ rules I am unable to do so.”

 

In order to get rid of slurry, Mr Colquhoun works closely with his neighbours who take dung and slurry off the farm and repay him in straw.

 

Another slurry spreading issue is the damage caused by the umbilical contractors’ pipe.

 

He explains: “When the pipe is pulled, it subsequently damages the grass tilth and the thickness of the slurry is not good for the grass either. Slurry application is something I am looking at closely at the moment.”

 

With heavy cuts of silage taken each year and the grass rigorously battered by slurry spreading, Mr Colquhoun uses a seed mix which will stand five to seven years of abuse, reseeding 24-28 hectares (60-70 acres) every year.

 

He uses a modified Dundas mix, containing 55 per cent late perennials, 40 per cent intermediates and 5 per cent Timothy at a rate of 6.06kg/ha (15kg/acre).

 

“Reseeding can be a gamble at Dendoldrum as we have very heavy, loamy soil which is good for growing wheat and grass, but the success of the reseeding is very dependent on the weather.”

 

Dendoldrum

  • Milking 480 Holsteins with five robots and a 20:20 herringbone parlour
  • Herd average is 39.4kg per day, milking 3.3 times per day
  • Lactation average is 10,900kg with 38 to 39 per cent heifers
  • Calving interval is 388 days
  • Pregnancy rate is 22 per cent
  • Workforce is made up of Gregor, his father Blair, a head dairyman of 30 years and a tractor man of 35 years and three Polish workers
  • 121 hectares (300 acres) of arable land, including 89ha (220 acres) of wheat and 32ha (80 acres) of winter barley
  • 178ha (440 acres) cut for grass silage, with two main cuts taken followed by a smaller third
  • 24ha (60 acres) permanent pasture
  • Remainder is wood and scrubland
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