Located in Aberdeenshire away from the main milk producing fields in the UK left the McLean family’s dairy enterprise exposed.

So, in 2016, they decided to change their business model to produce an added value product and began the process of converting over 700 acres across two units in Aberdeenshire to organic. Both farms that make up their enterprise, Mains of Culsh and Ardmiddle Home Farm, are co-dependant and essential to the other’s success.

“The two units complement each other. We use excess farm-yard manure from Mains of Culsh, at Ardmiddle for the cereal crops and can top up our forage stocks for the dairy herd from the grassland at Ardmiddle,” said John McLean, who farms in partnership with his parents, Jean and Robert, and his uncle, Michael.

The Scottish Farmer:

The dairy enterprise, Mains of Culsh, is 286-acres and home to 180 pedigree milking Holstein cows, all young stock up to three months and a small flock of pedigree Beltex ewes. Milking in a 24/24 Boumatic rapid exit parlour, the milk is then sold on to Graham’s the Family Dairy, at Nairn.

“Before we made the move to organic, we were milking three-times per day, housing the cows all year round, with each cow producing 10,500 litres per year and concentrate feeding at 3.8 tonnes per cow, per year.

“With the conversion, it required many changes to the cows’ management to meet the standards and a grass-based, lower input system suited the economics of organic milk production.”

The dairy herd is rotationally grazed from early April until November, with cows allocated grass at 12-hour intervals, aiming for a 21-day rotation length with a white clover-based mixture for the grazing platform.

“Now that we’re organic, we’re milking twice per day, producing an annual yield of 8000 litres per cow – at 4.1% BF, 3.1% P with somatic cell count currently running at 72 – and have reduced our annual concentrate feeding to 1.8 tonnes per cow per year.”

The herd calves in two 10-week blocks, with 50 in spring and 130 in autumn. All heifers calve down at 24 months in the autumn block.

The autumn calvers are served with sexed dairy semen for the first four weeks and then move onto a combination of British Blue semen and a chaser Limousin bull for the remainder. In doing this, the McLeans' aim has been to remove the dairy bull calf from their system and increase the overall value of their annual calf crop.

“For our autumn calvers, mum and I AI the cows and this year we included a new addition, introducing a chaser bull to help tidy up problem cows. We’ve been really impressed by the calves off the new Limousin bull, purchased from the Moir family, at Cairness.

“The spring block all calve to the same Limousin bull who runs with them for nine weeks. Having two blocks allows us to slip cows from one block to the next, thus reducing our cull rate.”

Once stock reach three months, they move to Ardmiddle to winter inside before being turning out to grass in April. The beef calves are finished during their second winter and sold prime.

The Scottish Farmer:

“As part of our rotation at Ardmiddle there is 120-acres of Planet spring barley, with which we feed our livestock; 25-acres of Delfin spring oats, and 60-acres leased for organic vegetables, with the remainder in one-to-five year grassland for grazing and silage.

“We look to make three cuts of silage per year, completed all in-house with our own forage wagon with silage pits at both Ardmiddle and Culsh. We also purchase organic store lambs to utilise the grass during winter at both units.”

John is optimistic about the future and hopes to install a further 140 cubicles to replace an existing straw yard and erect a new slurry store.

“We’re very much at the start of our organic farming journey, and we have a lot to learn, but so far we are very pleased with how transition has gone.”

Key facts:

• 726 acres over two units

• Run by the McLean family, Robert and Jean McLean, son John McLean and Robert’s brother, Michael McLean

• Mains of Culsh: 286-acres and home to 180 pedigree milking Holstein cows, young stock up to three-months and small flock of pedigree Beltex ewes

• Twice-per-day milking at 4.1% BF, 3.1% P, somatic cell count 72

• Rotationally grazed with grass allocated in 12-hour intervals, aiming for a 21-day rotation length

• Ardmiddle Home Farm: 440 acres home to beef followers, young stock and organic lambs. Cereals include spring barley and oats, with some land leased for organic vegetables.