Herd warms to wood
One Cumbrian milk producer
has invested almost
£250,000 to create a new
dairy complex on a
green-field site – providing
better conditions for cattle
and animals alike.
Jeremy Hunt reports
WOODEN buildings are warm and create a good environment for cows to live in and for people to work in, says John Callion.
"I have always preferred wooden buildings and the cow kennels we were moving from had served us well for 25 years."
The timber-frame building, covered by a cement-fibre roof, is the culmination of 10 years planning to switch milk production from Mr Callions village centre site at Lodge Farm, Great Clifton, near Workington, to a new green-field site half a mile away.
"We were running 160 cows on two sites in the centre of the village, but only had 1.5 acres of land around the farmstead.
"Everything – cows, muck and crop – had to travel through the village and cope with a lot of passing traffic."
Mr Callion never costed a steel-frame structure during his deliberations over a new building. Building started in June 1997 and cows moved in on November 10.
The main criteria was to bring the entire unit under a single roof. The building, which was constructed by Farmplus, measures 45.7m x 62.5m (150ft wide x 205ft long) and provides wooden cubicles for 180 cows, a 15:30 swing-over Fullwood parlour, dairy, collecting yard, 12 calving pens, farm office, general purpose store-room and underground slurry store with a capacity for 130,000 gallons.
"The aim was to keep it simple and convenient," says Mr Callion who runs the unit with one herdsman. Cows are more contented and easier to work with and are benefiting from the larger cubicles and wider passageways.
The new cubicles have a timber dividing rail running downwards from the back at an angle to provide additional space at the front-end to enable a cow to lunge forward and swing its head across into the adjoining cubicle when it is standing up.
"The angled upright at the back of each the cubicle prevents cows constantly knocking themselves and also reduces the risk of contact by the tractor during scraping out," he explains.
The cubicles measure 2.4m x 1.2m (8ft x 4ft) with a 15cm (6ins) kerbstone. There is a 5cm (2ins) fall from front to back.
The concrete of the cubicle beds was laid with visqueen sheeting and polystyrene to improve insulation. Cubicles are generously bedded once a week with fine sawdust.
The building is arranged around a central feed passage with two rows of cubicles running parallel. Even the dividing walls that split the cubicle and feed passage are built of timber on a concrete-block base.
The passageways are 3m (10ft) wide behind the cubicles and 3.6m (12ft) wide in the feed area. Muck is scraped out twice daily onto a large slatted area at one end of the shed into an underground store.
"We need to have cows inside full-time by the end of October and it can be as late as mid-May before the herd is fully turned out for summer," says Mr Callion.
"Housing conditions for such a long winter need to be good – as good as you can make them."
The environment within the building is light and airy. This has been achieved because close attention was been paid to ventilation. The exposed end of the building which receives the worst of the prevailing wind on this field-top site, is completely closed.
The other end is open apart from added protection afforded by plastic mesh screening.
The sides of the shed are Yorkshire boarded and all the roof ridges have been left raised to allow air to circulate around and out of the shed.
Although cows were fed during milking on the old system, no feeders were installed in the new parlour. Cows have now been switched to a complete diet regime based on 60ha (150 acres) of home-grown wheat and barley with some bought-in Brewers grains and a 26% protein blend to achieve an 18% protein mix.
The herd has been complete-diet fed for four winters and the regime continues throughout the summer to sustain production from the high percentage of February-March calvers in the Cumbrian farms herd.
Mr Callion explains: "We were brave when we put the new parlour in. I decided not to feed anything in the parlour but rely totally on the complete diet.
"We moved cows straight on to the new system and there was no problem in the parlour," he adds. "Milk let-down was fine, cows are quieter since we stopped feeding in the parlour."
Mr Callion had firm ideas about the layout and features he wanted to incorporate in the new building. The cost of the building – including supply and erection, but excluding the parlour – was £110,000, including labour charges for laying concrete that was supplied by Mr Callion.
The 15:30 swing-over Fullwood parlour is a direct to line system but without meters and ACRs. "Its all part of keeping the system as simple as possible. We could add ACRs or meters at a later date."
Mr Callion believes that the 40-year anticipated life-span of the timber framework is an acceptable level of durability.
"Looking at the size of the timbers and the fact that all the timber-work is treated and inside it should easily last 40 years," he predicts. *
The 15:30 swing-over Fullwood parlour has no meters or ACRs – all part of keeping the system simple at Pit Gap Farm, Great Clifton.
Wide passageways mean improved cow comfort, an important point during long winters, says Cumbrian producer John Callion (inset).