Over the past seven years, the Sloan family has invested in modern dairy facilities incorporating the latest 21st century technology. The family’s latest investment is a purpose-built specialist calf-rearing unit designed for the future needs of the Sloan’s Townlaw Holstein and Darnlaw Jersey herds.

Bryce, Anne and son, Robert and his wife, Emma, farm in partnership under the Bryce Sloan company name and their herd is well-established within the UK dairy industry. Animal-health and welfare play an important role within the farm-business with the Sloans decidingd to build a new 'state-of-the-art' calf-rearing unit in 2018.

The building is high, wide, light and airy and incorporates automatic milk-feeders. The calves are grouped in large pens, bedded in deep straw, have room for exercise and social-interaction and each individual section can be cleaned-out separately explains Robert.

“The environment is excellent for calves as well as humans with rearing; feeding and management aspects being part of our design consideration.

“The cleaning operation is fully mechanised being an ‘all-in-all-out’ system and importantly, stress-free. The building has only been in operation for the past eight months and we’re already seeing positive aspects such as continued growth patterns and better animal health and welfare. Calves are fed colostrum for the first four days then switched to milk-replacer and weaned at 70 days.

“As the herd continues to increase in size; we needed a modern, specialist facility. It’s important to rear the next generation of heifers with set targets for growth rate. We pay particular attention to the heifer-rearing and breeding-programme with Holsteins targeted for 24months of age at first calving,” said Robert.

Townlaw Holsteins was placed first on combined production and inspection in the 2018 Scottish Herd’s competition. The 190-cow herd averaged 11,910kg milk at 3.99%BF and 3.14%P with the Holstein herd being milked through a robotic system.

In the past 18months, eight cows have achieved the 100 tonnes milestone and average lifetime herd production per cow sits at 45,612kg.

The herd is fed Mole Valley Feeds from the company’s new £6m mill at neighbouring Coylton. Cows receive Mole Valley Influence 19% protein concentrate from day one to day 150. During the second stage, from day 150 to day 200, cows receive a combination of Mole Valley Influence 19 and Mole Valley Royal 21. In the third-stage, from day 200, the cows receive Royal 21.

“We’re aiming for our cows to maintain a consistent, high lactation-curve and Mole Valley Farmers feeds are high in quality and consistent,” added Robert. "It’s important to have a top quality ration and a ‘hard’ concentrate being fed through the robot which also helps entice cows to visit the robot at least three to four occasions per day.

“We work closely with independent company nutritionist John Barnes to ensure the diet and rationing is correct for our Holsteins as well as, Jerseys. The latest results for our Holsteins are encouraging with 305-day yields currently averaging 12,228kg milk at 4.05%BF and 3.19%P. The Jerseys are averaging 7000kg at 6.05%BF and 4.00%P.

“The Jerseys receive a different-diet – Mole Valley Feeds Influence 19 in the parlour, at a rate of up to 5kg per day and are fed and managed separately to the Holstein herd. Holstein and Jersey cows are housed in separate cubicle systems and bedded with rubber matting and sawdust. Cow comfort, correct nutrition and animal health and welfare are important considerations as part of our overall management strategy."

The Holsteins receive a TMR ration that includes grass-silage; whole-crop, super grains and a 23% bespoke blend supplied by Mole Valley Farmers. The herd also receives 0.8kgs of Nutritionally Improved Straw (NIS) straw and 3.75kgs of caustic wheat for Maintenance plus 24litres of milk. The Jersey herd receives 1kg of NIS straw; 1kg of caustic wheat and 2kgs of the same blend.

Three years ago, the Sloan family decided to introduce Jersey females in order to fulfil a milk contract opportunity with their milk buyer, Graham’s Dairies. This resulted in the purchase of 30 Jersey heifers from Denmark; 20 animals from the Bluegrass herd as well as, four females from the Logan herd and four from Izzy and Colin Laird from Blythbridge.

Genomic sires are predominantly used across the herd and current Holstein sires in use include Pharo; Bloomfield, Tatoo, and Secretariat. Jerseys heifers are targeted to freshen at 23-months with the family’s own home-bred Jersey animals now coming on line.

Jerseys are now milking in their third lactation. Robert added: “The Holstein cows are all milked through the robot and our Jerseys are milked twice a day through the milking parlour. We have 65 Jerseys, sufficient to fulfil the milk contract, and we are pleased with the performance achieved during first and second lactation.

“We use Jersey sexed semen and tend to buy a large batch from one particular sire for predominant use. We’ve used a lot of FDL Barcelona as he’s got good type, increases production and offers positive percentages. We’ve already got 16 heifers in the pipeline – currently, the most Barcelona calves in Scotland.”

Last year was a vintage year with the family being awarded the prestigious status of Master Breeder herd by breed society Holstein UK, the culmination of 45-years of breeding Holstein cows under the Townlaw-prefix.

Master Breeder criteria requires high standards on classification scores and production traits as well as having trouble-free cows and herd longevity.

Bryce Sloan started moving into Holstein bloodlines in the early 1970s and today the Townlaw herd comprises 43 Excellent and 74 Very Good cows. Over these years, the herd has been transformed from its world famous Townhead Ayrshires into one of the most respected Holstein herds within the UK – a far-cry from its early beginnings according to Bryce.

“The Ayrshire herd was based at Townhead, my father’s home farm, and I wanted to establish a different enterprise at Darnlaw and purchased four pedigree Holstein heifers," said Bryce. "We looked for cattle with sound pedigrees and good breed character with the ability to convert fodder into large volumes of milk. Most importantly, the heifers had to have good feet and legs, with sound long lasting udders.

“Back then, I worked alongside my father, Robert, and it’s been a lifetime's work, but we did not start out with the intention of having a Holstein ‘Master Breeder’ herd, but that’s what we have achieved. It’s a tremendous honour for everyone involved having developed our own cow families and today, I work alongside my son, Robert, who runs the day-to-day operation of the business.”

The Sloan’s built a state-of-the-art greenfield dairy facility seven years ago incorporating two robotic milking machines – and have since added a third robot to the system. The results have proven beneficial on animal health and welfare as well as, beneficial to humans explained Robert.

“Cows are much more relaxed and less stressed being milked an average of 3.4 times per-day through the Lely robots. The building incorporates automatic-scrapers and the system includes fully integrated computerised technology for milk recording and animal-health management. The cows receive feed on each visit to the robot and this has aided digestion,” he said.