INNOVATIVE collaboration by two North Yorkshire agricultural businesses has clearly demonstrated the well-known proverb ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

In dairy farming, attention to detail and closely monitoring available data has a significant impact on efficiency, and mastitis in particular can be a costly damper on herd performance.

At Metcalfe Farms near Leyburn, run by brothers Philip, David and Brian, that particular problem has always been well under control and below the national average.

However, Philip, who runs the dairy unit on this diverse family operation at Washfold Farm, which is a winner of the prestigious NMR Gold Cup, believed there was still scope for improvement after analysing their recorded data.

“I had a good idea of what we needed to do but required some engineering design input to put it into practice,” he said.

He called on local firm JF Hudson at Newton-le-Willows to help devise a solution and between them, Philip and James Hudson came up with a comparatively simple device that evens out the weight distribution of a milking unit across the four quarters of a cow’s udder and negates any bias between front and rear quarters.

Philip’s data analysis had revealed more cases of mastitis in cows’ front quarters than the rears. So successful was the development, a pivoted high density polyurethane support for the milking cluster and pipes, it paid for itself within months when fitted to all of the 72 milking points on Metcalfe’s rotary milking parlour.

This prompted Philip and James to then apply for a patent for what they have branded ‘Lactalign’, and are now marketing.

They are convinced it can be of benefit to many other farms who they say might well be unaware there is any difference in the weight distribution of a milking unit.

However, Lactalign is not the only result of collaboration between the two businesses. James also came up with the ‘Silo Crab’, an attachment for the front of a telehandler or tractor to collect up all the uneaten ration in front of the feed barriers at Washfold farm.

“Again, it was in response to Philip’s focus on attention to detail and his desire to fine-tune every aspect of management,” said James.

“He wanted to record exactly the weight of feed the milking cows were actually eating, and then re-use the perfectly good uneaten ration for other animals in the herd.

“The Silo Crab is basically a large bucket with hydraulically operated ‘wings’ which open out to gather the feed and then fold in to compress it into the bucket before the contents are then weighed, and that too was the result of a need being fulfilled by invention,” he said.