There is no doubt genetics, diet and herd management have a huge part to play in the quantity and quality of milk produced on dairy farms, but it’s cow comfort, that provides the icing on the cake.

It might not mean much to you or I, but cubicles bedded with sand instead of sawdust or even mattresses, have added an extra 1000litres per year to the total milk yields produced at the Jamieson family’s new dairy unit at Roundbush, Annan.

Add to that three times daily milking and cows inside 24/7 on the one consistent highly nutritional TMR feed, and average yields on this greenfield site, have soared to 13,000litres compared to the family’s better-known neighbouring unit at Woodhead which produces herd averages nearer 12,000litres.

“The two herds are on the exact same feed and managed the same way, the only difference is the cows at Roundbush are bedded on washed sand, whereas those at Woodhead are on sawdust,” said John, who farms with his wife Allyson and their three sons, Callum, Bruce and Alex, and father Keith, the original Mr Texel of the sheep industry.

Roundbush – the original family farm – is at a slight disadvantage too in that cow numbers have been built up from several herds over the past couple of years. With three sons keen on dairy farming, this neighbouring unit was bought in 2015 and totals 294acres. However, being a former beef unit, Lockerbie-based builders, Robinsons were brought in to construct a 340ft x 120ft cubicle shed to house and milk 400 cows on a greenfield site.

Two years later, following the purchase of three lots of cattle – Knockrioch pedigree herd from Campbeltown and two commercial units at Byeloch and Loganmains, and the dairy at Roundbush was up and running, milking three times a day. Heifers were also bought in from Drumalea, Brownfield, Errolston, East Logan, Colvend, Kippford, Longbridgemuir, Netherside, Barledzview and Coppside.

The new shed also boasts grooved non-slip concrete, LED lighting and automatic curtains. Slurry is scrapped out three times a day with a tractor and a massive American half truck tyre on the back. Similarly feed is pushed in four times daily with a tractor and home-made snow plough.

A computerised Dairymaster Rapid exit 26/52 parlour without feeders but including backing gate was also bought being the hardest wearing, along with some 400 new Moo Monitor collars purchased to aid overall herd management. The parlour at Woodhead is a GEA Westfalia 20/40 Swing Over.

Putting cows that were not only new to the farm but also to this type of parlour, did nevertheless cause a few headaches, but after a couple of days soon settled down. Two years down the line, and while some of the bought in cows have been sold on, many are producing significantly higher milk yields.

The Knockrioch pedigree cows which boasted a rolling herd average of around 8000litres on a twice daily milking, low input grass-based system, are now producing yields almost double that at Roundbush when they are milked three times a day, are inside 24/7 and are housed in cubicles on sand.

One such cow is the Ex90 (7yr) Knockrioch Xacobeo Olive which produced under 10,000litres in her first three lactations in Campbeltwon, but her last 305-day yield saw her give in excess of 17,200litres at 4.00%BF and 2.93%P. Similarly, the Ex90 (6yr) Knockrioch Dodge Meg, also saw her first three yields total less than 10,000litres each with her first full lactation at Roundbush amounting to 17,279litres at 3.80%BF and 2.94%P.

The home-bred Annan cows are able to produce the goods from day one too, with most producing five-figure yields as heifers to include Annan Doge Brenda VG87 (5yr) which not only gave just shy of 12,000litres in her first at 3.40%BF and 3.31%P but also 17,250litres in her third at 3.54%BF and 3.22%P. Furthermore, she has already given 10,195litres in the first 148days of her fourth.

John added: “When we first started keeping the cows in all year about 10 years ago, milk yields went up about 1000litres per year and when we introduced three times daily milking they went up another 1500litres.

“Bedding the cows on sand is so much more comfortable than mattresses and sawdust. There are not the feet or the mastitis problems either on sand, that cows are giving an extra 2litres per head per day at Roundbush compared to Woodhead where the cows are bedded on sawdust.”

Fertility is also better at Roundbush, with the herd boasting a 21-day pregnancy rate of 28% compared to 26% at Woodhead. Calving interval is an impressive 400days considering the number of new herd purchases at the new unit, compared to 391days at Woodhead.

Despite the differences, both herds are fed the exact same way. Cows are fed a TMR from fresh until drying off six weeks prior to calving, comprising 30kg of 70+D Value silage; 4kg of wholecrop; 5kg of draff; 1kg of molasses; 1.4kg of bruised barley; 3.5kg of soda wheat; 5.9kg of a bespoke Premier Nutrition blend; 2kg of soya hulls; 3kg of water; 0.4kg of C16high BF extract and 0.4kg of minerals.

An added benefit at Roundbush too is the fact that more cows can be dried off without antibiotics with the sand being so much cleaner. As it is, only 40% require antibiotics.

The same dry cow ration made up of 10kg of wholecrop; 4kg of chopped straw; 4kg of draff; 3.5kg of rapeseed meal; 2kg of bruised barley; 0.22kg of pre calving minerals and 5.5kg of water, fed right up until the point of calving, has significantly reduced levels of milk fever and ketosis too.

At calving, cows move into a fresh group for a month and go on to the milking ration with access to ad-lib hay to help ease them onto it.

Calves on the other hand are given their mother’s colostrum for the first four feeds and are then moved up to the new rearing unit at Woodhead. Initially bucket reared and housed in Solway recycled individual calf pens for seven days, they are then group housed in straw bedded pens, with access to an ad-lib 24% protein nut, clean water and a high energy ECN milk powder fed via a Volac Urban Auto calf machine.

Weaning starts at 40 days with calves completely weaned at 70days.

From 16-20 weeks heifers are contract reared by Robbie and Susan Dodd, Holmhead, Mouswald and are served with sexed semen by Genus RMS before returning home two months prior to calving at 24months of age. Heifers that fail to hold to sexed semen are bulled with an Aberdeen Angus.

Bull calves both dairy and beef are sold through Buitelaar at three or four weeks of age.

Gone are the days of looking to breed noted show and sale topping cows from the family’s well-known Annan herd too. Instead, the boys’ aim to breed ‘no hassle cows’ ie cows that are easy kept through calving, milking, bulling and drying off, and therefore last that bit longer.

“Ideally, we are looking for cows that will produce four and five lactations and at least 50tonnes of milk,” said Callum, adding that American sires are used mostly as virtually all dairy farmers in America house their cows all year.

“We wouldn’t use sires with negative percentages. We look for bulls with good health traits and bulls that produce huge amounts of milk with as much butterfat and protein as possible. Potential sires also have to have +1 daughter pregnancy rates,” he added.

John added: “The industry is moving away from big show cows. Even the AI centres are changing the way they think as the industry looks to breeding ‘hassle-free cows,’ and an increasing number of people rely on genomics.”

In saying that, the family owns some pretty impressive cows bred from world-class families to include the Rickis, Kimos, Brenda, Hurricanes, Elegants, Amandas, Keras, Miss Mischiefs and Zandras.

They also own the UK’s second highest PLI cow, Annan Hurricane Kimo which classified GP84 as a heifer and boasts a PLI of 687.

With all the heifers mated with sexed semen, the remainder of the herd is split 70:30 between conventional dairy and beef – British Blues on the cows and Aberdeen-Angus on the heifers - semen, with Calum attending to all the AI’ing.

Milking three times daily on two neighbouring units is nevertheless a lot easier than it sounds especially when John and the boys don’t do any of the milking. Instead, the family relies on six Romanians to do all the milking, with three on duty at any one time.

Milking commences at 12.30pm at Roundbush, with the team getting a 45min break until their next milking at Woodhead at 4.30am and another 45min break before starting milking again at Roundbush at 8.30am.

The second team of three operates the next shift which starts at 12.30am at Woodhead with the next at 4.30pm at Roundbush and final milking of the day at 8.30pm at Woodhead. Everyone communicates through WhatsApp to inform the next shift what calved cows have calved and whether calves have had enough colostrum; what cows are a bulling, sick cows, etc, etc.

The Jamiesons on the other hand mix feeds, do all the feeding, sweeping up and AI’ing. They also attend to the calves and grassland management, although all silage, harvest work and slurry spreading is done by contractors.

Needless to say there is never a dull moment at Woodhead or Roundbush and while the cattle show and sale rings take less precedence compared to previous years, Keith – with or without his prize winning Texels – has and always will enjoy a ‘hurl’ to a show.