Construction has begun on the replacement milking parlour at Thornton Grange, ahead of imminent herd expansion. Wendy Short reports

The new parlour can’t be installed soon enough for Peter Chapman, who believes it will save an hour a day in milking time.

The second-hand Fullwood 24:24 parlour, which cost £20,000, will be housed in a steel-framed building surrounded by pre-fabricated concrete panels. Mr Chapman has allowed a further £20,000 for building costs and fitting out, including £5000 to pay for the concrete flooring.

Professional input, such as electrical contracting, is expected to swallow up the rest of that money.

But he admits the labour costs allocated to the project do not include his own time, snatched between milkings. Much of the project’s funding has been through a bank loan, and Mr Chapman is determined to stick to the initial budget to minimise interest payments.

Sold for scrap

As soon as the new parlour building is complete and fully equipped for the first batch of cows, the old Fullwood 16:16 will be torn down and probably sold for scrap.

Meanwhile, 16 black-and-white heifer calves have been purchased privately. Aged between four weeks and six months, the calves will spend a month in isolation quarters before joining the rest of the herd. Their role is to help boost production levels in November 2008 to make the most of Mr Chapman’s Arla contract.

“It is becoming essential to plan ahead. There is always a shortfall of milk during November and that is when our price is set for the following 12 months,” he says.

“It makes sense to target high production levels in the autumn, and as the cows will have settled into being housed, and we will have control over intakes, it’s the best time of the year to attempt it.”

Pedigree breeding

Mr Chapman is more satisfied that the new calves have good feet and legs, and come from a herd producing 9500kg, than with pedigree breeding. The majority are by Moet Melody, and he is hopeful that they will perform well on the system.

With a planned move from 160 to 200 cows within two years, 2007 may see an end to home-rearing heifer calves. Mr Chapman has considered using a contract rearer, although he is reluctant to risk bringing disease onto the farm.

“My gut instinct tells me to rear calves at home, but that would necessitate another new building and more capital outlay.

“As the herd expands, there may be no other option than to try and find a local contractor to take them. Ideally, it would be someone without any additional cattle in the vicinity,” says Mr Chapman.

Ration review

The winter feeding regime is going well, although an early ration review revealed that forage intakes had failed to meet expectations. However, an increase of 1kg/head of sugar beet pulp and 0.3kg of soya quickly translated into an extra two litres/cow, and has set the herd back on track for the coming season.

“The grass silage should have been drier – it was 23% dry matter, when the ideal would have been 27%. The cows weren’t eating as much as the computer programme suggested they should be. I feel it is worth taking a fresh look at the ration periodically because it offers the chance of picking up on these small details in good time,” Mr Chapman says.

Winter ration

  • Adjusted winter ration – to give 22 litres/cow. Top-up concentrates fed in the parlour
  • Two-thirds grass silage
  • One-third maize silage
  • 3kg processed bread
  • 3.3kg sugar beet pulp
  • 1.4kg soya