Doreen Anderson, senior knowledge exchange manager of dairy for AHDB in Scotland introduces its new Strategic Dairy Farm, Millands Farm and host farmers, Wallace and James Hendrie.

Millands, near Galston, in Ayrshire, joined AHDB’s Strategic Dairy Farm network in October and is set to be a staging post for all things dairy for Scotland in the next three years.

The Hendrie family has been farming in the West of Scotland for more than 250 years and bought Millands from the local estate in 1941. They originally ran an all year-round calving system but a change in business direction saw brothers, Wallace and James, move to a spring block calving at Millands and its adjacent Netherlands Farm, plus an autumn block calving herd at Purroch.

The Scottish Farmer:

Millands is the 18th farm to join the Strategic Dairy Farm (SDF) network across the UK and the second in Scotland. The main motivation to become part of the network lies in the Hendrie brothers' ultimate goal to improve the overall profitability of their dairy operation.

System overview

Their dairy herd of 600 Holstein Friesian cows run as a spring block calving herd, is currently achieving yields of 5400 litres per cow, of which 3575 litres are from forage, at 4.2% BF and 3.5% P, with milk being sold to Muller.

All cows are calved at Millands, though the herd is split into two running at the home farm and another grazing block and milking parlour at neighbouring Netherlands. Calving commences in mid-February, with 71% within the first six weeks and lasting around 12 weeks.

The Scottish Farmer:

The split is based on the first 200 cows calving down which are then moved to Netherlands, while the remainder calve and stay at Millands. The two herds are milked twice daily and housed from mid-October to mid-March.

Millands is around 106ha and linked to Netherlands' 110ha, which gives a total of 345ha of available ground when including young stock grazing. The total is all used for growing grass, as it is challenging to grow cereals in this area due to ground conditions and high rainfall.

This drives one of the farms main key performance indicators (KPIs) which is to maximise as much milk from forage as possible. Currently sitting at 3575 litres from forage alone, the Hendries have set themselves a 'golden' target of 4000 litres, or 76% total milk from forage.

The Scottish Farmer:

The main challenges to this are seen early in the grazing season and towards the end of the growing season.

Both James and Wallace are very much involved in the everyday running of the business with James more recently taking more of a management position. Together they ensure the team is happy and working well.

Both also cover relief milking when needed to give the team time off. Wallace’s son, Robert, takes a keen interest and gets involved in a lot of the machinery work, while his brother, Alexander, is more involved in milking the herds.

Alongside James and Wallace there are five paid members of staff who work across both the spring herds.

Rab is the herd manager at Millands, while Danny herd manages at Netherlands. Maggie works full time with the calves, keeping busy working in rotation between both the spring and autumn calving blocks. Always on hand to help, Gemma helps other team members get time off both from milking and calf feeding.

The Scottish Farmer:

Cow housing and infrastructure

Milking cow accommodation at Millands is in a large, portal frame shed fitted out with 340 cubicles with mattresses and a further 36 cubicles in an adjacent byre. The cubicle housing is a suspended slatted shed, with extensive slurry storage below and has a large feeding space.

When required, dry cows are accommodated in the main cubicle shed, with simple adjustments made to the dividing gates and additional off-site accommodation.

Calves are group reared at Millands in a mix of older buildings, while bulling heifers are housed off farm at another site. This is in older buildings fitted with cubicles and a mix of wood chip yards and slatted floors.

The Scottish Farmer:

The slurry storage capacity lends well to the system, digestate is also used to compliment the slurry and manure utilised on farm.

Grazing and grass management

Rotational paddock grazing is fully implemented across the two grazing platforms at Millands and Netherlands farms. Both herds work on 12-hour paddocks, with the main paddocks being 4.5ha and split into three.

The split of the 4.5ha paddocks can be matched to the cows' intake requirements throughout the grazing season. This is complemented by being buffer fed in the autumn to help extend grazing during the trickier, wetter months from August.

Plate metering of the grazing platforms is routinely carried out, with the results inputted onto the grazing software programme, AgriNet. This information gives the team confidence in making decisions and allows for forward planning of paddock rotation, growth rates and individual field/platform performance throughout the season.

Attention to detail

For the Hendries to manage the business properly, they accept a need to spend time looking at their business in detail and get to know it inside out – and have learnt that attention to detail is vital.

They have been part of a local discussion group for several years and having the ability to compare their farm to others within their region who use similar systems and face similar challenges, has proved invaluable for them.

Getting together with other farmers has been key to learning about many aspects of their business and they have thoroughly enjoyed it. Having the opportunity to share ideas with other like-minded individuals with similar challenges, knowing their costs, being able to compare to other farms within the group and better understand how they are performing, has given them the opportunity to learn from each other – and accept there is always room for improvement.

Wallace explained: “We have built up a lot of trust within the group and we look forward to joining up with them and having the opportunity to chat things through and discuss some of the challenges we have faced has been a big help." James added: “I wasn’t keen on it to begin with, but I have found it really helpful as we go into the details and share ideas.”

Key focus areas

Alongside attention to detail, the Hendrie family like to look ahead and admit that they rarely stop and stand still as they are keen to look at new ways of doing things.

They intend to apply this approach to their role as a strategic dairy farm and have identified a number of issues they wish to focus on. One of the areas they are keen to concentrate on is fertility as they have recently had their cows PD’d (scanned) which resulted in a higher empty rate than they had expected.

Wallace commented: “It has been really frustrating this year as we put a lot of effort into this and not had the success we had hoped for, so we are aiming to get the empty rate to below 10%.”

Improvements in youngstock growth is something they have been pleased with this year, however calf health is another area they want to focus on as they want to improve it further.

Individual testing per cow was carried out this year and they believe that if they can improve on fertility and the quality of the youngstock the overall herd performance will improve. Something they need to consider is the removal of under-performing cows from the herd, they admitted.

Launch event

Due to current restrictions, the planned on farm event to introduce Millands as the new host strategic dairy farm had to be replaced with an online webinar.

However, this meant the launch attracted a wider audience, including some who tuned in from abroad as well as lots of local farmers logging in too. (You can view it and other dairy related webinars on the AHDB website or via YouTube.)

The hope is for future meetings to take place on farm, where attendees will have the opportunity to see the farm at first hand and meet everyone in person. Discussions have already started with what the plan for the next three years could look like and what direction the SDF will take.

To find out more, or to get involved visit www.ahdb.org.uk/farm-excellence/millands-farm

KPI tool

AHDB recently launched its new KPI Express tool which allows dairy farmers to compare their farm performance against other farms and highlights strengths and potential weaknesses that can be improved on.

We are using these KPIs within the SDF programme at Millands Farm and are measuring those used for block calving herds against results from the Hendries' data input over the last 12 months.

There are five technical and four financial KPIs as displayed in the table:

Milk yield from forage (litres)

This result has been calculated with a result of 3575 litres milk from forage – or 68% milk from forage. This is a very good result for a spring block calving herd and the average yield is 5276 litres per cow, with a feeding average of 845kg cow.

Concentrate fed is weather dependent and the cows are fed between 2kg/day up to drying off but due to the weather in August this can increase to 4-6 kg/ day

The ideal is 4000 litres milk from forage, so this is something the Hendries will be working towards over the next three years as part of the programme. Soil health and soil biology testing will become part of this process and the potential introduction of herbal leys trials to ensure better utilisation of forage and reduction in concentrates.

Wallace said: “It has always been about improving the soil over the farm as this is the basis to the business as a whole. We are looking to improve the diversity within the swards and possibly trial one or two mixed swards in the coming years. We hope that being part of the SDF programme will bring in some expertise to help us do this”

Full economic cost of production (ppl)

Comparing themselves against others using the KPI Tool and looking at the results, the Hendries' cost of production is showing a good result, but they want to do better.

Wintering youngstock off farm helps reduce labour costs and combined with the ability to spread the machinery depreciation across the whole business, has helped to keep overheads lower. It was a good summer and the cost of feeding youngstock was lower which has attributed to this cost of production in this 12-month period.

Having a good handle on the cost structure of the business means that by implementing changes across all individual parts of the enterprise can attribute to marginal gains which in the long run will help keep the full cost of production more under control.

AHDB's strategic dairy farms

The Hendries are the second dairy farm to join the SDF programme in Scotland, alongside the all year round calving system at Hillhead of Covington, Lanarkshire, operated by host farmer, William Baillie, who is in his third and final year as an SDF.

Across the UK, there are 18 dairy farms now onboard, with a projected total of 26 farms for the programme covering a mixture of dairying systems. The Strategic Dairy Farms form part of AHDB’s Optimal Dairy Systems programme which aims to help dairy farmers reduce costs and increase efficiency by focusing on either a tight block or all-year-round calving system.

Topics covered are directly relevant to the participating farm with the aim of sharing the learnings and enabling others to observe practical improvements and apply these to their own farms and businesses.

* Contact the local AHDB Dairy knowledge exchange team Doreen Anderson (Doreen.Anderson@ahdb.org.uk) and Sophie Brewster (Sophie.Brewster@ahdb.org.uk) for more information.

Strategic Dairy Farms – 10 reasons to be involved

Why should you get involved with our strategic dairy farm programme? Nic Parsons, AHDB's head of dairy development, highlighted 10 benefits from engaging with the network:

1, See best practice and innovation in real farm situations supported and facilitated by trained AHDB staff.

2, Measure your own performance against other farmers and our strategic dairy farms based upon our key performance indicators.

3, Inspires you and your team to make changes to improve performance and animal health and welfare

4, Learn through discussions with other farmers and share experience and knowledge.

5, Become open to change – challenging the ‘norm’ is an important part of the strategic dairy farm philosophy and encouraged at farm meetings.

6, Opportunities to hear from UK and overseas specialists in their field.

7, Be among the first to see new research from our sponsored work.

8, Earn DairyPro points as part of your ongoing farm CPD for you and your team, which is recognised by Red Tractor.

9, Develop your business skills, management competencies and professionalism which leads to a stronger dairy industry for the future.

10. Improve your understanding of market dynamics, milk contracts and business risk mitigation strategies to help long term planning, mitigate risks and improve returns.

AHDB FACTFILE: The main driver for rotational grazing using the 12 hours paddock system, is to gain greater control over grass production, making budgeting and planning easier throughout the season in times of low and peak grass production.

When correctly managed, this method also improves grass sward quality and achieves a greater yield of kg/DM/ha, when compared to set stocking or more conventional methods of managing cows at grass.

When the correct infrastructure, in the form of cow tracks – like those at Millands – is in place, alongside rotational paddocks, the grazing season can usually safely be extended, thus reducing the housing period.