A new rapid exit parlour has contributed to rising milk yields and improved cow health for Harry Roper, who is now planning to take cow numbers up to 400 in the not too distant future. Hannah Noble reports.
Since becoming a partner and taking over the running of his family’s farm in 2014, Harry Roper has made significant investment in lowering the farm’s carbon footprint and improving the performance of the growing herd of dairy cows.
Following his investment in new calf accommodation in 2017, Mr Roper has continued to make improvements to Lyme House Farm, Thornley, near Preston, with the ultimate aim of controlling every aspect in-house.
Mr Roper’s most recent investment was in a new DeLaval P2100 rapid exit parlour and the building which houses it.
He says: “I had been thinking about putting a new parlour in for the last 10 years. The old parlour was about 25 years old, we were milking 280 cows, three times-a-day and each milking was taking us about three-and-a-half hours.”
They started milking in the new parlour on January 2 this year. And even though they are now milking 350 cows, each milking is one-and-a-half hours shorter.
Mr Roper says: “The new parlour is a 20-a-side rapid exit and we chose it for a number of reasons, but mainly because we felt the technology of this parlour was more advanced than others on the market.
“There was also the opportunity to increase its size at a later date, which would not be possible if we had installed a rotary parlour.”
Mr Roper also took peace of mind from prior experience working with local DeLaval dealer, Coar’s Farm Supplies, Garstang, in back-up being available 24/7.
The parlour also has the added feature of manure trays to collect muck, ensuring cows and staff stay clean and improving the hygiene of the parlour equipment.
Mr Roper says: “We looked at installing a rotary parlour, but with the rapid exit parlour you see the cow from start to finish of milking, and cleanliness during milking was really impressive due to the manure trays. There is no other parlour on the market which keeps you as clean.
“We have two people milking as a rule, but it is possible to milk in the new parlour with one person, and it takes just 15 minutes longer. This is another reason we chose this parlour.”
Mr Roper says his new parlour is one of the first in the UK to be equipped with a sub-channel from the dairy, which transports the milk lines and electric wires beneath the parlour rather than above which is the norm.
The design of the new building is something Mr Roper has been considering for a number of years, and he says when the time came to go ahead with the construction, he already had a good idea of how he wanted it to look.
At the back of the parlour there is a large covered collecting yard, complete with automatic backing gate, and as cows leave the parlour they walk through a Hoofcount footbath three times-a-day, which contains a copper sulphate solution.
The footbath is fully automated and it empties, cleans and refills itself every 120 cows.
Mr Roper says: “We have seen a significant drop in lameness since installing the new footbath and digital dermatitis is practically non-existent in the herd.”
On the route back to the cubicle sheds there is also an automatic shedding gate, which sheds out any cows which need special attention, and there is a 15-cow herringbone race which is used for routine vet visits, artificial insemination and pregnancy diagnosis.
Mr Roper says milk yields have increased from an average of 11,500 litres per lactation to 12,000 litres, and he says this is due to a combination of the new parlour, new cubicle shed and a better overall environment.
Attention to detail
Some great thought and attention to detail also went into designing a race from the cubicle housing to the parlour, which aids cow flow and means they are never held up.
Cows are now able to go straight back to the shed to feed after milking, rather than waiting 30 minutes as they did previously, which Mr Roper believes is another reason for the increase in milk yield.
The business is part of the Arla co-operative and milk is sold through Arla on a contract with Tesco.
In recent years, the spotlight has been shone on the environmental impact being made by farms which supply Tesco and Mr Roper says buying-in maize to feed the cows was going against them substantially in their carbon footprint audit.
The family historically never grew any of its own cereals, but when Mr Roper joined the farm business, he trialled growing wheat for wholecrop, working closely with a local agronomist.
“It fed really well, so I just needed to get the additional land to do it and, as soon as something cropped up, I jumped on it.”
In February 2020, Mr Roper invested in the adjoining Knott Farm, which contributed 40.4 hectares (100 acres) of grassland to the farm. This was followed in quick succession by the acquisition of a tenancy on a further 89ha (220 acres) just five miles from Lyme House Farm.
The tenancy allows Mr Roper to grow 60.7ha (150 acres) of wholecrop and provides an additional 28.3ha (70 acres) of grazing for in-calf heifers.
He says: “We are reducing our bought-in feeds, which come in via concentrates, and moving more onto a forage-based diet. We are already seeing the benefits of this.
“Cows seem healthier and fertility is better, while sustaining a high yield on three times-a-day milking.
“Butter fat has gone up by 0.5% and protein has gone up by 0.25%. Mastitis rate has significantly dropped since we have started feeding wholecrop, more so now with the new parlour.
“We are putting this down to cows being cleaner and healthier and therefore there is a lower chance of environmental mastitis. Currently we have not had a case of mastitis for a month.”
Where possible, all operations are carried out in-house and Lyme House Farm employs three full-time and three part-time staff. Mr Roper attributes some of the success of the business to their hard work and dedication.
He says: “Five years ago we were using contractors for everything, but we decided to take back control and started doing our own tractor and machinery work again.
“Making quality forage is a main factor in our business plan. We used to be in the position of ringing contractors when we had grass down and they could not come and it got wet. I do not want to be subject to other people. I am aiming to get to a position where we are in control of everything on-farm.”
Having made the change four years ago to swap from running a herd of commercial Holstein cows to breeding a pedigree herd, Mr Roper still firmly believes pedigree is the way to go.
“I started buying-in a few pedigree cows from local breeders and dispersal sales and I took the decision to upgrade the whole herd to pedigree status.
“I feel we have made progress over the last two years and a pedigree herd is something we are really striving towards.”
All heifers are genomically tested and the data is run through mating programmes by Cogent and Alta, and Mr Roper uses a selection of bulls from each company with the intention of improving milk quality to fit in with their manufacturing contract.
Mr Roper says: “Going forwards, we are hoping to increase the herd to 400 cows in the next 12 months, which will be achieved by retaining more of surplus heifers.
“Then we will have a two-year consolidation period before embarking on building a new purpose-built dry cow shed.”