Dorset dairy farmers Tom Foot and Neil Grigg have made a name for themselves building their own mobile milking parlours to serve their 900-head spring calving herd.

In their system the cows are moved onto fresh grass every day and the mobile parlours move with them.

However, operating entirely on rented ground, which has historically been run under an arable cropping regime, there is a distinct lack of drinking troughs or water mains.

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Given that each of the 36 paddocks would require at least two tanks, the cost of installing them and the associated plumbing would be prohibitively expensive as tenants.

A collection of water carriers on a wheeled metal trailer

© Nick Fone

Instead the inventive pair came up with the idea of a mobile drinker set-up that can be moved with the parlours.

Northants trailer maker Merrick Loggin was enlisted to build a simple low-loader to carry two 2,500-litre troughs. A 63mm plastic above-ground main was then run around the perimeter of the land with tees to enable the rig to be connected up wherever required.

Automatic solution

Up until this point the cows had each been given £9/head mineral boluses, and magnesium flakes had been dropped into the troughs to avoid any problems with deficiencies.

However, with the arrival of the mobile drinkers, Mr Foot could see an opportunity to improve the situation and do away with the labour-heavy business of bolusing animals.

“The new trough set-up gave me the idea that we could move to a mineral dosing system that would provide exactly what the cows needed,” he explains.

“It has become increasingly critical because our grazing leys have matured and the clover has established itself. It’s a great source of protein but can cause issues with bloat. Simply adding oil to each trough wasn’t enough and in our worst week we lost 15 cows – that’s a huge cost.

“I approached a company called Liquid Mineral Services because they offered a special oil additive system to deal with bloat. Between us we came up with a plan for an automatic system that would also inject exactly the right amount of vitamins and minerals according to the requirements of the season.”

Staus checks

The set-up uses flow meters to monitor the amount of water being consumed by the cows and alters the quantity of liquid supplements being pumped into the troughs accordingly.

Consequently, on a rainy day when water intakes are lower, the concentration of minerals is increased to ensure the cows still receive the correct dose.  

Liquid Mineral Services come in on a fortnightly basis to check on the cows’ mineral status through milk and blood samples and tweak the dosing computer as appropriate. In addition, once a season, liver biopses are used to double check this.

On average the cost works out at 5-10p per head per day. Mr Foot estimates that each rig (he has now built a second) costs about £2,500 to make, plus another £1,000 for the dosing system powered by batteries and solar panels.