7 July 1995

High-tech parlour keeps cheese tradition afloat

COMMITMENT to traditional farmhouse cheese-making has encouraged one Shropshire farming family to invest in the latest milking parlour technology.

Applebys Hawkstone Cheshire cheese has been made at 280ha (700-acre) Hawkstone Abbey Farm, Weston, Shrewsbury, since 1953. Edward Appleby claims the family is now the only traditional makers of unpasteurised cloth-bound Cheshire cheese.

There are 330 Holstein Friesians in the Abbey herd and 130 in the Vale herd. Last years cheese production used 900,000 litres of milk. To make cheese from unpasteurised milk, parlour hygiene must be exceptional. "Milk and cows need to be clean to make good cheese and the herdsman needs to ensure that high level of hygiene," says Mr Appleby.

Hence the investment in a high-tech, floating rotary New Zealand-style "Rotaflo" parlour. This replaced a 22-year-old rotary parlour and installation was completed in January 1994.

Floating on 25cm (10in) of water, the concrete platform supports up to 158t of cows and equipment. It needs only a 0.5hp motor to turn the platform and the 32-cow points enables 300 cows to be milked by one person in less than two hours, says Mr Appleby. And the need for one fewer milker and the improvements in herd health and production show that investment in the parlour is paying dividends, he adds.

"The floating rotary is much quieter and smoother and the milking time and open atmosphere is preferred by the milkers compared with herringbone parlours," he says.

Teat spraying has helped cut Staph aureus bacteria levels.

A built-in safety device prevents antibiotic-treated cows being milked; antibiotic contamination can cause a whole days cheese production to be lost.

Since installing the new parlour, indoor collecting yard and handling facilities cow health and milk yields have improved. "The indoor collecting yard and regular foot bathing have reduced incidence of cow lameness," says Mr Applebys wife, Christine.

The cheese business also dictates herd management. Cows calve all year round to provide a consistent quantity and quality of milk, and rations must not include any products which will taint the milk, such as fodder beet and brewers grains. &#42

Top quality cloth-bound Cheshire cheese demands exceptional standards of hygiene. With that in mind the Applebys installed a floating "Rotaflow" parlour. And the move is paying off.