Genetics and diet will always play a huge role in the management of any dairy farm but it’s comfort and the environment within the cow shed that can provide the icing on the cake in terms of production and herd health – key features the Laird family has achieved with a new dairy set up at Blyth Farms, West Linton.

In a bid to bolster health and productivity, Colin Laird and his father, Alister, invested in the construction of a massive 220m x 41m new stock shed for their well-known Blythbridge pedigree Holstein herd, when their previous unit and 36-point rotary parlour was becoming outdated.

“With an ever increasing herd, the old parlour was beginning to get tired and dated for the system that we are managing, so we were ready for an update,” Colin said, with the 450-cow herd at that stage boasting a rolling herd average of 12,364 litres at 4% BF and 3.1% P, as well as running a 29.5% pregnancy rate.

However, it wasn’t just a new milking system, the family – Alister and his wife Kathleen and Colin and his wife Izzy – invested in, it was a completely new milking regime.

The new unit comprises of 480 spacious cubicles, with eight Lely robots positioned throughout and there are automatic curtains on two sides of the shed to help control temperature and humidity. The new build was designed completely by the father and son team, and fabricated under the expertise of BHC (Brian Hewitt Construction), based at Carnwath.

“BHC are our local shed builders who have built everything on the farm over the last 25 years, so we knew they were reliable and the obvious choice to get involved in the project and ensure our ideas were both practical and affordable,” said Colin.

“Dad and I travelled throughout Denmark, Germany and Holland to get an insight into various dairy shed designs. We saw a lot of good dairy buildings and picked up a lot of different ideas, bringing the ones home we thought would best suit our system. Many of the systems on the continent have contributed greatly to our final results,” he added.

With a clear aim and image in mind of what the new dairy unit would look like, the Lairds were nevertheless adamant their new enterprise would rely on modern day technology and, in particular, robots.

“This is the first time we have invested in robots and we chose to purchase Lely mostly due to the fact that they have been at the job longest and therefore, in our eyes, were the most reliable,” Colin stated.

“We invested in eight Lely A5s – the most modern Lely robot – which is just a refined version of the A4 that was recommended by a lot of farmers. It was hard to get an opinion on the quality of the A5 due to the fact that they had only been released into the market at the time of purchase.

“You could say that was our biggest risk as these new robots haven’t really been trialled that long, but we knew that this version only contained small changes to previous models. But, a year on and we’re really pleased with them and looking to install a another two in separate building,” commented Colin.

While the Lairds are happier at their work with the new milking unit, so too are the cows which appear more contented in their new environment. The proof of the pudding however, is in the change in production and cow health which have been improving steadily since day one.

The new shed also features a heat recovery unit which extracts heat from the milk by using glycol that circulates around the bulk tank and pre-coolers at -2°C. The heat extracted from the milk is then used to heat up water, which is then utilised by the Laird’s to heat their two farmhouses, as well as the farm office and any water heaters around the farm.

“This method means that we don’t rely on fossil fuels for heating the houses. Cooling the milk has to take place regardless, so we are utilising the heat produced by the cows that’s already available to our own benefit. We expect to welcome a payback within three years,” Colin added.

Foot problems and lameness have been reduced with the move away from automatic scrapers to slatted flooring allowing slurry to run down into the underground tank, which has a holding capacity of 3.5m gallons. Cattle now keep drier and cleaner for longer and mastitis levels have also been reduced due to the thorough pre-milking treatment that the cattle receive via the Lely robots.

“We decided to move away from automatic scrapers because we found as they got older, they broke down more. We do however, have robot scrapers that help keep the slats clean and free from waste.”

At the centre of the dairy complex is the Laird’s new handling area, fitted out with a foot trimming crush, collecting pen and a cattle funnel to allow for easy handling during health checks and treatments.

“We use this area for drying cows off and wanted a layout that would allow for easy access to move cattle from any location within the shed,” he said. “If we have a cow that needs attention, she can be separated from the herd easily so it’s less of a chore and the funnel allows for one person to manage the issue. It saves time and is far more efficient.”

Cow comfort is also an important aspect within the Blythbridge herd and Colin believes that a deep bed system is the best option for the cattle. Hence, all cows are bedded on dried manure solids, or green bedding, rather than mats due to the absorbent nature of the bedding material which offers improved cow health, comfort and cleanliness.

Green bedding also results in fewer hock lesions as the cattle are more relaxed and the product is a cheaper alternative to matting.

The automatic curtains on the sides of the shed also allow a constant flow of fresh air through the shed, which reduces the risk of airborne diseases and helps maintain a constant temperature throughout.

“The curtains are one of the best features of the shed and something we had in the previous unit. There is also a small gap at the top of them measuring 300mm so that when the curtains are fully closed, air can still flow through,” said Colin.

“You can have one curtain totally closed off and the other open, depending on which direction the weather is coming from and overall, the air quality throughout has significantly improved. It makes for a more pleasant working environment for both the livestock and the staff.”

LED low bay lights and a 4m light ridge on the roof, as well as a 40mm insulated composite panel for climate control, further complement the building.

“LEDs are more reliable and have a greater life span, so ultimately we are saving money in the long run with them. The composite panel has also made a massive difference as it reduces the high temperatures in the summer months while retaining some of that heat for the winter months. In the summer it could be boiling outside, but the temperature within the shed remains pleasant for the cattle and vice-versa in the winter,” he stated.

There is no doubt a huge amount of effort has gone into this family project, but it is a venture that ultimately proved successful for the Lairds, their staff and more importantly, the cattle.

“We are very happy with the shed that we have so far. The robots have been one of the best investments as the cows are under significantly less pressure when they are able to go to the robots at any time of the day or night, rather than having to stand in a yard for hours, waiting to be milked. We are now looking to increase herd numbers as the robots can handle a larger herd,” Colin said.

“We have also made huge savings in labour terms and have been able to reduce staff numbers by four. At the end of the day, it was built out of necessity and it’s already proving to be worth it,” concluded Colin.


  • Farm owned by Alister and Kathleen Laird, son Colin and his wife Izzy, who have resided at Blyth Farms since 1970.
  • Farm totals 900 acres of arable and grazing ground.
  • Managing a closed herd of 450 Holstein cows, kept inside all year round and fed on a grass silage-based ration.
  • Business employs four members of staff for day-to-day running of the farm to include fieldwork, tractor work and cattle care.
  • New dairy unit completed in 2019 by BHC, based in Carwath, with the inclusion of a 3.5m gallon slurry tank, 480 cubicles and eight Lely robots.