First robotic milking dairy farm to join Farm Excellence Programme

Two dairy units with very different approaches to milking have been added to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) network of strategic dairy farms.

Strategic farms form part of the AHDB Farm Excellence Programme which currently comprises a nationwide network of 55 strategic and monitor farms.

Michael and Tony Ball, from Coton Wood Farm, in Derbyshire, who are robotic milkers, and three-times-a-day milker, William Baillie, from Hillhead of Covington, in Lanarkshire are the networks newest recruits.

Jon Parry, AHDB head of dairy knowledge exchange, said: “I’m delighted to welcome both farms on-board as this provides more opportunities for farmers to learn from each other.

“The farms give us greater geographical coverage and enable us to showcase two operators who have chosen alternative paths to run successful businesses.”

Coton Wood Farm

Brothers Michael and Tony Ball, from Coton Wood Farm, in Derbyshire, are the first robotic farmers to join the strategic farm network.

The brothers farm in partnership with their parents, who purchased the farm in 1977, and together they run a 500-strong herd across two sites.

Originally autumn block calvers, the brothers faced increasing competition for labour and decided to move to all-year-round calving with the installation of eight Lely robots in 2014, to manage the milking process.

Michael and Tony Ball, from Coton Wood Farm, in Derbyshire

Completed in April 2016, the transition was complemented with automatic silage pushers, scrapers and calf feeders.

Commenting on their appointment to the network, the brothers said they were excited to join the programme.

“We want to share our experiences with other farmers and are hoping that becoming a strategic farm will focus our business direction and enable us to pay more attention to key performance indicators (KPIs),” Ball added.

3-times-a-day in Lanark

Hillhead of Covington, run by William Baillie, is the first Scottish farm to be recruited.

Baillie enters the strategic farm ‘family’ with the aim to improve his business performance by focusing on nutrition and genetics.

As a strategic dairy farmer, Baillie will benchmark his herd performance against AHDB’s key performance indicators for all year round herds.

William Baillie, from Hillhead of Covington, in Lanarkshire

“Using that data we will be able to set targets and measure our progress to ensure we are among the best performing dairy farms,” he said.

Baillie is currently milking a herd of 310 pedigree Holsteins and is aiming to grow the herd to 400 cows in the coming year.

The ‘high-yielding herd’ is housed all year round and is milked three times a day. For Baillie, the right diet is key to increasing yields and he sustains his herd on a diet of mainly grass silage, whole crop and draff.

Meetings

As part of the AHDB’s optimal dairy systems programme, both farmers will hold regular on-farm meetings where they will openly share their performance data.

The launch meeting for Hillhead of Covington Farm will be held on August 29, and will be followed by Coton Wood Farm on September 6.