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Mr Forster of Weary Hall Style Farm

Parlour improvements help to reduce mastitis cases by a third

Technology in the parlour can help achieve a consistent parlour routine, helping to keep somatic cell counts low, leading to improved animal helath through fewer cases of mastitis. Neil Ryder finds out more.

As one of the latest of a series of investments, an automatic dipping and flushing system installed in the parlour has cut mastitis cases by two thirds and improved working conditions for Cumbrian farm, Ian Forster.

Mr Forster of Weary Hall Style Farm in Mealsgate, near Wigton, installed the system two-and-a-half years ago and says it has also helped cut somatic cell counts, reduced milking times, and helped make one person milking a stress free operation.

“Before we had the automatic dipping and flushing (ADF) system we were teat spraying manually. Our parlour is a 15:30, so is not huge for milking about 190 twice a day, which was what we were doing at that time.”

Mr Foster says although he would like a bigger parlour the smaller size means one person is able to complete the milking routine on their own.

“However, to do this you have to be fairly sharp, and some routine jobs were probably not being done as well as they should have been, or were even being missed entirely. We just had to turn a blind eye to some of the things that weren’t done properly.”

Mr Forster says mastitis levels were a slightly higher than he would have liked, but says he had to accept this, as the only alternative would have been to put two people in the milking parlour.

“This would have brought a fair cost itself. It was a case of which was the lesser of the two evils.”

Mr Forster decided the best route to go down was to install technology in the parlour so he ‘would know the job is always done right’.

He adds he decided to switch a grant application from a parlour flushing system to the full automatic dipping and flushing and says it cost about £1,000 per unit, before the grant aid which contributed 40 per cent of the cost.

“I believe in automation, where practical, to relieve monotony but I also wanted to reduce the clinical cases of mastitis, which have now dropped to about a third of what it was before, plus teat condition has improved markedly.

“Milking times have been cut by about 20 minutes to about two hours for about 190 cows and another plus is the amount of product used in flushing and dipping has been halved.”

Mr Forster explains the pre-milking practice of wiping teats with a sanitised cloth remains unchanged.

Mr Forster now milks 220 pedigree Holstein cows, registered under the Newstyle prefix.

The milkers are housed in cubicle with rubber mattresses, bedded twice a day with kiln-dried sawdust to help keep the cows clean. An automatic slurry scraper system keeps the passageways clear of muck.

In terms of other animal health and welfare issues, foot care comprises a formalin footbath used four times a week, explains Mr Forster.

“All cows are vaccinated against IBR, plus against rotavirus and salmonella to protect calves. Young calves are also vaccinated against pneumonia and reared in hutches on milk substitute for the first six to seven weeks.

“We also have a routine veterinary visit every two weeks, mainly to look at fertility, but also to give early warning of any other problems,” he says.

Mr Forster says he did try a 45-day dry period for the cows, but has gone back to a 60-day period which he says gives the cows a ‘longer rest period’.

“We also use standard dry cow therapy except we only use a teat sealant for just two months; August and September during the peak mastitis period and while our dry cows are at grass. They then move into a pre-calving group for two to three weeks to prepare them for calving and for entry into the main herd.”

As well as the milking herd plus followers, the 160-hectare (393-acre) ring fenced farm, plus another 37ha (92 acres) away from the main unit, supports 160 beef cattle, a 30-ewe pedigree Texel flock and about 600 winter store lambs.

Mr Forster says the nature of the farm, which is laid out in a long narrow strip plus the outlying land, lends itself to a mixed farming policy which also includes 49ha (120 acres) of cereals grown for home feeding

“In 2001 we lost all our livestock to foot-and-mouth. We have always been pedigree and, apart from Holsteins, have had pedigree Blondes and Limousins in the past and still have some Limousins.”

He says restocking brought forward some ‘restructuring of the farm and stock, which would have normally taken about four or five years but in the end took about six months.

“We used the stock free period after foot-and-mouth to replace the milking parlour. Our old parlour was a 10:20, which was actually an extension of a 20-year-old parlour and had been upgraded just five years earlier. The new parlour was installed in a capacious new building.

“It wasn’t at the top of our investment priorities, but with no livestock it jumped at us to do the work. Since then there has been a massive amount of investment in both new farm buildings and renovating existing buildings,” he says.

“Dairy feeding is semi-TMR plus feeding topped up in the parlour. When we put computerised feeders into the parlour it was quite rare and not the fashion to do them but I am glad that I did. The yield levels held well and we can manage the cows in one group for simplicity.

“The system works well as the cows like coming into the parlour for feed then are keen to leave as there will be fresh feed waiting for them in the housing. It makes movement through the parlour very easy and stress free,” he says.

Looking forward Mr Forster sees no fundamental changes in the present mix of enterprises.

“We could easily become more specialised and could go up to 350 dairy cows straight away with the facilities we have already got, but that would mean less beef and sheep. It is possible we might make a little more money if we specialised, but we have a strong sustainable and risk averse system. If one enterprise isn’t doing too well, almost always another is doing well.

“I think it is important to be progressive and to take up new ideas, including making use of new technology. It is also important we have a good, pleasant working environment for everyone who works here.

“We have six part-time workers all of which come from local farms and make a first class team. I also think having a variety of enterprises makes our work interesting and is good for all of us.”