WITH the current economic dairy climate still very much uncertain for many producers, it takes a bit of determination to remain positive in the industry and even more so when you invest a large amount of capital into the enterprise.
The Barr family, who farm at Easter Bucklyvie, near Crossgates, in West Fife, have been milking cows since the purchase of the 570-acre unit in the mid-1960s and have certainly shown their passion for the industry after installing three Lely robots – Lely Astronauts – purchased from the Lely centre, at Kilmarnock, in November, 2014.
“Since my father Alan purchased the farm, we’ve always milked cows. When we ripped out the old byre in 1973, we introduced the 14 x 14 herringbone which allowed us to milk 120 cows. It took us fully 2½ hours, and it was very much a two man job,” said Jim, who works in partnership with his father Alan, mother Mary and wife Jane, with son Grant now based full-time at home after completing an HND in Agriculture at Oatridge College, while two younger sons, Craig and Scott are still at school.
While heavy investment has been made on three robots and an 80ft extension on the original parlour shed – constructed by A and L Pirie, East Kilbride – allowing additional space for straw pens and cubicles for heifer training, as well as a new milk tank and tank room – it has allowed the Holstein Friesian herd to increase to 160 head.

The Scottish Farmer:

A view overlooking the shed which now includes an 80ft extension

“We are lucky enough to have had a great relationship with our milk buyer, Sainsburys, on a fairly stable and secure contract for the last five years, receiving around the 28p per litre mark. The herringbone was time consuming and was always needing a good maintenance re-vamp every 10 years which was costly.
“So, when we decided to upgrade our facilities, it was either going to be a rotary parlour or robots – we went with robots, purely to free us from the tie to the cows which would allow us to spend more time on other jobs,” commented Jim.
And it seems since the three robots were first switched on for the first time on November 5 – after pushing the cows through the system for the first fortnight, 24 hours per day – the herd has become a lot more efficient, producing 4300-4400 litres of milk per day.
“Previously, the cows averaged 25-26 litres in the old parlour and now they average 32 litres a day, with each cow approximately making 2.8 visits a day and high yielders making five visits per day,” added Jim.
Not only has milk quantity increased but milk quality has altered significantly, too, with an average of 4.1% BF and 3.2% P.
“The cows are certainly a lot quieter and we’ve found that there are fewer cases of mastitis, as the old parlour could encourage up to seven or eight cases a month. Now, we are unlucky if we get one a month,” said Jim, who added that the computer system linked to the robots provides a health report on each cow, highlighting diseases like mastitis.
However, the downside of the robots can mean that treating the cow can be more time consuming. In the herringbone parlour, the cow would be passing through and could be stripped there and then, compared to now where the cow has to be tracked down and taken back into the old parlour for treatment.

Hygiene has also improved since the robots were installed, with the added luxury that each robot is self-cleaned after every cow goes through, with the whole system being thoroughly cleaned three times a day.  
Collars are fitted to every cow which act as a transponder, recording rumination levels and they are also fitted with heat detectors which shows any cow’s activity relating to bulling – another advantage which the robots have brought.
“During the summer months and before the robots were installed, we were busy doing other jobs and weren’t fully aware as to what cows had been served when. However, with the use of the detector transporting the data onto the computer, it’s all there for you to see,” said Jim.
Milking cows are given a complete ration, comprising 20kg silage, 5kg barley, 8kg whole crop wheat, 8kg draft, 2kg soya and 2kg molasses. This ration is fed once a day along the passage, with cake provided according to yield through the robots. High yielders receive as much as 11.5kg of cake.

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In-calf heifers which the majority of are all home-bred

With increased productivity and an aim to keep on improving, Jim and Grant are both qualified to carry out all AI work on the cows.
At present, Holstein sires used include, Seagull-Bay-Silver, Wiltor Corvette, Walnutlawn Blake and Numero Uno.
Milk recording is something the Barrs have kept up since day one, to manage production, health and fertility, and currently have a milk recorder in once a month.
Bull calves are all finished entire at 300kg deadweight on a high protein barley mix at 13-months-old and are sold through Scotbeef, while heifers move off the farm at a year old to be reared on Jim’s father-in-law’s farm – John Wilson, Manorleys, Kinross.
Although breeding all their own replacements, up to 10 Holstein heifers are purchased each year at Carlisle to introduce new bloodlines and to keep the pedigree status up. As well as shape and size, it’s important that those heifers coming home have good sized udders that can work alongside the robots.

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The robots have brought many benefits for the family

They join the rest of the home-bred heifers which are bulled naturally around 16-17 months of age, with the best being bulled at as young as 14-months-old.
The bottom draw of the herd is put to a beef bull, usually a British Blue – a system that is working well for the family, with Jim pointing out that there are no added difficulties at calving and progeny that can be finished that bit quicker.

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Ten-week-old British Blue cross calves

Managing to save on costly inputs at Easter Bucklyvie is helped by their reasonable arable ground and modern machinery which allows the family to carry out all jobs, apart from whole cropping and slurry spreading.
A total of 150 acres of winter barley, 70 acres of winter wheat – 25 acres of which is whole crop – and 50 acres of spring barley is grown on the unit, resulting in no straw or grain having to be bought in for bedding and feeding.
Three cuts of silage are taken each year, and put into two pits, with this year’s silage analysis at 30% DM, 14.3 CP and 11.5 ME.
The Barr family also finish around 250 continental cattle sourced through UA and Lanark, which are sold through Scotbeef. They buy in 1400 lambs for finishing on either stubble neeps or kale, every year too.
Spring is a busy month for the family, lambing 130 hoggs to be sold with lambs at foot at UA, and Mary also has her small pedigree flock of Suffolks which lamb throughout December and January to attend to.

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Happy mothering for Mary's pedigree Suffolks

Commenting on the future of the dairy industry, Jim said: “Today’s global market makes for a very uncertain future. The minute the price per litre goes up, the cows come flooding in and that’s when they need to consider the old faithful – milk quotas”.
Needless to say, with the agricultural industry as a whole still very much in limbo, the Barrs are adamant they will keep on improving their family business.