NEW life has been breathed back into Newton Rigg College and now, after an absence of milking cows for 13 years, a state-ofthe- art dairy unit has been officially opened on a greenfield site.

The £2.4m unit at the college’s Sewborwens farm, near Penrith, marks the beginning of reconnecting with dairy farming in the North, both through its students and through demonstrating best practice for the region’s producers.

The official opening of the dairy unit on March 21 by Lord Donald Curry, of Kirkharle, food and farming industry expert and Northumberland farmer, and the blessing of the dairy cows by the Bishop of Carlisle, was witnessed by about 400 people, including college governors, chief executive Liz Philip, college principal Wes Johnson, students and representatives from the industry.

The college began life in 1886 by teaching the farming population about milk production and adding value by making butter and cheese. When York-based Askham Bryan took over the running of the college in August 2011, it pledged, along with a £9m investment, that it would bring back the cows to Newton Rigg.

Lord Curry said: “The importance of this for the farming community across the country cannot be underestimated. The new dairy provides a first-class facility, not only for students, but for Britain’s farmers generally.

“It also provides a real vote of confidence in the industry and is all the more poignant as it marks the return of the college’s herd since it was lost to FMD in 2001.

“About 70 groups from across the UK have already asked to look round the facility. These range from Young Farmers’ Club members to industry and agricultural discussion groups.”

Bishop James, in blessing the herd, said: “The opening of this dairy heralds a significant investment in the future of farming in our county. The agricultural industry is one of the lifebloods of Cumbria’s economy and has been through some difficult times in recent years.

“So it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to bless this herd in the Lord’s name. It also helps re-focus our minds on our roles in the husbandry of the God-given land and livestock, which we are lucky to have in such abundance here in Cumbria.”

Liz Philip, chief executive, said: “Young people study with us from across the North of England, and agriculture is very much the tap root of the education we provide.

“Our focus is on providing work-ready young people and having one of the most technically-advanced dairy systems in the country will enhance their learning and career opportunities.

“The number of students studying agriculture with us has doubled in the past three years, which speaks volumes for the high regard in which we are held. In 2011, there were 305 students and apprentices, today the number is 630.”

The design of the unit was led by a committee of Cumbrian milk producers who run diverse systems and headed by farm manager Jonathan Fisher and vet David Black, of Paragon, in Dalston, Carlisle.

The unit comprises two 72m by 36m buildings. One houses a collection yard, parlour, holding pens and cubicles and pennage for calving and newly-calved cows, and the second building separates the main portion of the pedigree Holstein herd.

“Each cow will have 12 square metres of space, which is far above the recommendations,”

said Newton Rigg head of agriculture Matt Bagley. “We have gone for a high-welfare, high-input, high-output unit, which we aim to be free from endemic diseases, with the ethos being that if the cows are disease-free and comfortable, they will reach their genetic potential and milk well.”

Since February, 118 cows have been milked in the new Fullwood Quick-S rapid exit 30x30 parlour, featuring the latest technology with inparlour feeders, a fully computerised system with auto ID via pedometers, which relays individual cow information to the computers in two offices in the building.

The parlour is also fitted with a backflush system.

The cows have been purchased from the Tallent, Holmland and Ingledon herds, and further purchases are intended to increase milking cow numbers to 180, to include the current 35 dry cows.

They have been selected for their high-type merit and high-indexing families, with some of the pedigrees having up to 12 generations of VG and EX cows.

The Newton Rigg herd – which produced its first heifer calf in October – is now under the supervision of herdsman Wayne Stead and his assistant, Sarah Sutton.

Main contractors for the building work are Cubby Construction, of Carlisle, who, as well as the groundwork, are fitting out the buildings erected by supplier Supercraft, from Herefordshire.

The parlour was fitted by McCaskies, of Carlisle, through Fullwood UK sales manager Les Strickland. It will include a mezzanine viewing gallery for students and visitors.

The computerised system automatically sheds cows on exit from the parlour for AI or other treatment into three holding pens or a herringbone AI race for 15 cows.

An area is also being set aside for foot-trimming and there is a large footbath area for pre-milking to clean hooves before entering the collecting yard and a second jet wash footbath post-milking.

The building, which contains the parlour will also house 36 dry cows in cubicles and five calving boxes and straw yards for freshlycalved cows, all with access to a side feed trough, which will allow plenty of time before they need to be integrated into the main herd.

The second building has 164 cubicles for the milking cows with an extra wide central feed passage to allow access for the Kverneland Siloking twin auger feeder wagon to pass without running over valuable feed. The design allows the number of cubicles to be extended to accommodate 300 cows in milk.

The cubicles are GEA M2M Kingshay-designed cow comfort cubicles with patented adjustable head rails. In what is thought to be the first cubicles designed specifically for the system, they will be deep-filled with the latest green bedding system from slurry handling specialist Bauer, which produces bedding material for cubicles.

The de-watering separator developed by the Austrian company’s German subsidiary, FAN Separator, was only officially launched onto the UK market last year.

The cattle will be housed all the year round and all the slurry processed by the separator typically up to 36 per cent dry matter.

A link building will join the two to prevent the need for the cows to go outside to be milked in the second building.

The college has had support received for the project from the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) 2007-13 through the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

Farming Minister George Eustice said: “Young farmers are the lifeblood of the industry and the rural economy, which is why we’re supporting them through investing in educational facilities across the country.

“Our Rural Development Programme has created or safeguarded more than 2,000 jobs in the North-West, which will help ensure longterm economic growth in the region’s farming, food and tourism sectors.”