How innovative management systems can support profitable dairy farming and inspire the next generation is what it’s all about at Duchy College’s Future Farm in Stoke Climsland.
The state-of-the art building does not conform to British dairying norms, embracing Dutch design to deliver a cow and environmentally friendly building of the future.
The shed has a synthetic, translucent roof, making it light and airy without the addition of radiant heat inside the building. Temperature and humidity controlled side vents and light sensors then allow the internal environment to be constantly maintained at optimum. Cows are fed using a robot to deliver precise, consistent mixes.
The herd relocated to the greenfield site in November 2020. The system is in stark contrast to the old set-up, which had won an award as a model farm in the seventies. Paul Ward, Duchy College Project Manager says the new system ensures cows have the space and comfort to express their natural behaviour and meet their genetic potential.
“When we moved, we were still feeding the same amount but getting better production as every cow was getting their share. The milk went up nearly 500 litres,” explains Paul, adding that the herd reduced slightly from 300 to 220 cows following the move.
The aim of the Future Farm is to serve as a cutting edge educational facility, bridging the gap between innovative dairy practices and the next generation of farmers. Showcasing best practice, technologies and research will ultimately help inspire them to lead the industry forward.
“We want to show if cows are kept in good welfare and fed well, this is what they can achieve,” explains Paul, who stresses that this is ultimately about finding a system that maximises profit per hectare. This goes hand-in-hand with reducing dairy farming’s impact on the environment – something which underpins practices across the Duchy Estate.
It’s an area supported by Mole Valley Farmers’ nutritionists Dr Robin Hawkey and Pete Reis who formulate the herd’s diet to reduce its carbon footprint, whilst meeting production aims. In fact, careful rationing has helped drive both milk quality and yields since they started working with the college in 2021 (see table).
Pete says: “We’re looking to be climate positive across the dairy enterprise which fits with the ethos of Saputo and the Duchy Estate and also Mole Valley Farmers’ Climate Positive Agriculture initiative.”
The Mole Valley Farmers team has also started a farm study which will compare two diets, one of which has half the carbon footprint of the other. The rations have been formulated using Mole Valley Farmers’ Precision Nutrition rationing programme to predict the diet’s carbon footprint, along with methane and nitrogen output and protein efficiency.
The aim is to see if the environmental impact of dairy rations can be reduced whilst maintaining milk constituents and production targets. The financial implications will also be assessed.
This is aided by the building’s design which enables cows to be split into multiple groups and fed differently using the robotic system.
Farm Manager, Anthony Baggaley says potential gains in feed efficiency are of particular interest. “If we can get more from what we can produce, that’s beneficial. And if we can produce more protein, that’s going to be very interesting,” he explains.
Both Mole Valley Farmers and Duchy College, through Future Farm, are partners of the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL), one of the world’s foremost farm animal research alliances.
Old Duchy Dairy
After moving into the new Future Farm building in November 2020 (mole Valley Farmers started in September 2021)