Disease? Not On My Farm! Ambassador Blog
Sustainability tips for running a successful dairy farms
Disease? Not On My Farm! ambassadors, Mike and Gemma King, milk 120 cows at Old Green Farm Dairy near Bristol. In 2021 they were selected as the winners of a Responsible Farming Award from their supplier First Milk, in recognition of their sustainability initiatives. Here the couple share their five top tips:
1. Milking robots are a valuable farm asset
We bought two Lely milking robots 12 years ago which record information about individual cows’ milk production, multiple times a day. The robot sensors record milk colour, conductivity, dead milk time and total milking time for each quarter of every cow, as well as the somatic cell count, milk constituents and weight of each cow. This data allows us to spot trends much more quickly and clearly.
As well as milking robots, we also use a robotic vacuum cleaner and a robotic feed wagon, enabling us to reduce feed waste and the use of traditional heavy machinery.
We knew we needed to make some changes to our feeding system and buying a new wagon and tractor would have cost a lot. Our Lely feeding robot takes two tonne blocks of silage, so we don’t need a mixer wagon. It judges how much is needed in buffer feed, it’s all done for you. There’s no wastage and it has huge health benefits, especially over winter.
Our system is very performance driven. The latest technology to arrive at Old Green Farm is the Herdvision™ camera which provides a body condition score (BCS) and mobility score every time the cows head out to graze. Our cows graze outside for eight months of the year and now we’ll be able to produce a graph for every cow showing how her condition and mobility changes throughout each stage of her lactation.
You also need to think about the labour savings you’ll gain from robots as well and factor this in. Between the feed system and robotic hoover that manages the clean-up operation, I’m saving myself four hours a day, six days a week.
2. Data and diagnostics are key
As well as the daily recordings from the robots, we also carry out monthly diagnostic tests which are sent off for further investigation by our vet. This gives us an incredible amount of insight into the overall health of the herd, allowing us to make any necessary improvements quickly.
Although we run a low-input system, every cow is fitted with a collar that monitors the animal’s rumination and activity levels. This insight means we can detect subclinical disease quickly. As a result, we’re much better at managing issues such as mastitis.
Everything is picked up so early, before you can even see the problem. When readings aren’t where they should be, I can carry out more tests to identify the bacteria causing the issue and intervene. This approach paired with a clear focus on preventative herd health results in much better outcomes for the cows.
3. Give your animals the best start
Our youngstock are the future of the herd so we take good care of them. We use a refractometer to test the quality of the colostrum, and don’t rely on what it looks like. It gives me a greater sense of security, knowing exactly what I’m giving to my calves.
We freeze the best colostrum, which means we have an on-demand supply ready for when cows calve, so we don’t have to wait and milk them. I don’t want to miss the golden window – all our calves are fed within the first 30 minutes of birth which is vital to giving the healthiest start in life and improving their immunity from the get-go. As a result, we’ve had zero cases of pneumonia diagnosed in any of our calves in the last 10 years.
4. Consider renewable energy
The dairy is powered by 50kW of solar panels with any surplus being fed back to the grid for wider domestic use. All the robots are solar powered which has reduced carbon emissions on the farm, negating the need for diesel fuelled tractors and feeder wagons. This has kept electricity bills down and reduced running costs.
5. Adopt a forward-looking mindset
Maintaining the health, welfare and profitability of our herd is key. Over the course of the past twelve years, we’ve made continuous improvements to the dairy operation and adopted and integrated a proactive approach. Setting out some clear, long-term goals has paid dividends.
We continue to take a holistic view and consider the long-term viability of the farm and the impact it has on the environment as well. That means considering ways to reduce our carbon footprint further by looking at nutrition and methane emissions.
We have a regenerative approach here and I think it’s useful to shine a light on best-practice when it comes to sustainability in the sector. Even those people who are doing it ‘right’ are still looking for ways to keep making positive changes.