TWO INTO ONE MAKES SENSE
LOW milk prices have made many producers reluctant to invest, but one North Yorks business plans investing in one site to amalgamate two herds and improve efficiency.
David Dugdale admits having one of his herds culled during the foot-and-mouth crisis has forced his hand. But both his dairy units at Crathorne had been in need of upgrading for several years and he was already aware that a decision would have to be made.
Instead of having two herds of 135 and 270 cows, he has now decided to keep 360 cows at Corps House Farm. Because of the proximity of a nearby village and busy road which splits the grazing land, he will give up milk production altogether on the Grange Farm site one mile away.
Mr Dugdale expects the move to cut labour costs from more than 5p/litre to a target of 3p/litre. He also hopes it will make a difference to the lifestyle of staff.
"A two-man unit where one person has to work all weekend on his own is not going to attract the next generation of herdsmen. This way there will always be two staff on duty and it should ease the workload."
Restocking the culled unit and carrying on as before would have been difficult because of the poor state of facilities. But getting out of milk production altogether was not something Mr Dugdale seriously considered.
"There is an emotional involvement in dairy farming and I am determined to continue. But if I were a hard-nosed businessman I would probably sell the cows and rent out grazing.
"Land around the dairy unit is not IACS registered, so it would not be economical to use it for cropping. Neither do I want to set up a new beef or sheep enterprise. I feel I would be reducing profitability. I also employ three herdsmen and I have a responsibility to them."
The autumn-calving herd of 135 black-and-whites will be used to build replacement stock numbers on the 768ha (1900-acre) mixed estate. They are non-pedigree, Friesian-type animals, averaging 6000 litres from self-feed silage plus concentrate, fed in the parlour.
The basic regime will persist when the new herd is established, as Mr Dugdale is convinced that low input, extensive systems are the best way to maximise returns. But there will be some changes, the most important being an increase of 0.2ha (0.08 acres) of grazing for each cow. Feed troughs will replace the self-feed system and out-of-parlour feeders will be installed.
The hope is that these small adjustments, along with better grass use, will bring a yield increase of about 500 litres a cow, filling the farms existing quota.
Further changes include enlarging the slurry lagoon, building extra cow kennels and repairing the original buildings, some of which were built in the 1960s. It is also certain that a new parlour will have to be installed and the probable choice is a 24:48 swingover system.
"I could spend £400,000-£500,000 to build a brand new, gold-plated unit. That would be brilliant if the milk price improves. But, realistically, I hope to save money by taking it slowly and using second-hand materials. The investment will be phased, so I will increase to 300-330 cows in the first year.
"If prices pick up, I may accelerate the project. But unless we restructure the whole dairy industry we could lose everything to foreign imports apart from a small liquid market for milk, so I will proceed with caution." *
David Dugdale believes amalgamating his two herds will reduce costs and improve the lifestyle of the staff he employs.
Thinking of reinvesting in equipment or parlours? Why not visit the Dairy Event on Sept 18 and 19? See page 14 for details.
• One three-man unit.
• Faster parlour needed.
• Cautious, low-cost approach.