Monitor Farm draws a crowd

Darlington and Stockton Times: TRADITIONAL DAIRY UNIT: Archie Ballantyne explains grazing management at Auchenheath Farm TRADITIONAL DAIRY UNIT: Archie Ballantyne explains grazing management at Auchenheath Farm

VISITORS from as far south as Barrow-in-Furness, the Cumbrian borders and Northumberland attended the launch of Auchenheath Farm as a Scottish Monitor Farm project.

The farm, at Auchenheath, Lanarkshire, is the first of two new Monitor Farm projects funded by The Scottish Government and DairyCo.

The programme is the third series of Scottish Monitor Farms and will run for the next three years.

Owing to the large attendance, visitors were split into three touring groups to provide practical workshops and ease presentation.

Sophie Kinnear, DairyCo extension officer, said.

“Auchenheath offers an opportunity for all milk producers to take on-board the numerous challenges encountered on a traditional dairy unit and monitor how the family business develops over the next three years. The launch day has been an immense success and we now look forward to establishing an interactive community group of local milk producers.

“Farmers, staff members and agricultural advisers unable to attend on the launch day are most welcome to join the group.”

Auchenheath is a traditional 360-acre unit plus 100 acres rented on land rising from 170ft to 570ft above sea level.

The family business is run by Archie Ballantyne, wife Marion and son Gavin.

The Ballantyne family started milk production in 1965, when the farm was purchased by Archie’s parents.

Over the years, the business has continued to expand, and in 1971, the Ballantynes purchased adjoining land at neighbouring Cannonholm Farm.

The 100-cow predominantly Holstein x Friesian herd is block-calved in September and grazes throughout the summer months. It averages between 6,500 and 7,000 litres of milk sold per cow, on an annual basis.

Cows are milked twice daily through a 6/12 herringbone, originally installed in 1972, and since modernised.

Somatic cell count (SCC) invariably runs at 80 to 100, according to farm vet Charles Marwood, of Clyde Veterinary Group.

He said: “Auchenheath places strong emphasis on herd health and animal welfare especially, focusing on mastitis control.

“The herd had a mastitis concern three years ago and the flare-up resulted in annual statistics reaching 60 cases per 100 cows, which is the UK national average.

“Taking into consideration total costs estimated at £200 per case, this number of cases can cost UK farmers an estimated £12,000 per annum.

“Today, mastitis cases at Auchenheath are rare, running at 12 to 15 per 100 cows and somatic cells counts are kept low. The current calving interval is running at 378 days and calf mortality is two per cent.”

Breeding for longevity is another feature of the herd breeding programme with the replacement rate currently at 15 per cent.

Maintaining low replacement rates enables greater flexibility to breed heifer replacements, or greater selective choice for terminal beef sire use.

The farm also uses a homebred bull, sired by Comestar Outside, and first service on maiden heifers is performed by AI insemination, using sexed semen.

In the past, ease of management necessitated a strict block-calving routine. The Ballantyne family is now targeting first calving age at 24 months as a major goal over the next three years.

Gavin said: “We aim to increase herd numbers to the 140-cow level and have targeted age at first calving as a priority.

“We are looking at various ways to move the business forward, cut costs and increase profitability.

“At this stage, we remain flexible with all our options, and being a Monitor Farm will allow high-calibre global expertise to help establish the best way forward in order to achieve our business goals.

“Another target is to replace the existing milking parlour and potentially introduce a robotic milking system in 2015.

“Hopefully, robots will increase yields by up to 1,000 litres per cow, provide increased management data, provide less stress on highyielding animals, as well as, provide better quality of life for the family.”

Archie said that the family was investing in additional cubicle housing and a new slurry tower.

The tower and umbilical system, which was erected in early August, will provide a 1.4 million gallon capacity in total, sufficient to carry the herd throughout the entire winter.

The first Auchenheath Community Group meeting will be held on-farm on September 19, from 11am to 2pm, with building design expert Tim Mckendrick, of The Dairy Group. For further details, contact Sophie Kinnear on 07717- 500877.

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