4 August 2000


Low labour and machinery

costs may help one East

Sussex dairy unit survive

low milk prices.

Jessica Buss reports

Herdsman David Pinnegar and tenant Paul Rossi manage 190 cows with little extra help and soon hope to reach an output of 2m litres.

ALWAYS asking if it will allow one man to do the job when investing in the unit means one 190-cow herd can be run with just one full-time herdsman and the tenant, Paul Rossi.

At an LKL open day, Mr Rossi explained that not spending time and money feeding cows, block calving and a fast parlour will be key to the units survival at a low milk price.

The simple system is also allowing cow numbers to increase with the aim of selling 2m litres of milk from the 113ha (280-acre) farm. Mr Rossi also rears enough calves to replace 50 cows a year, calving them at two years old.

The only extra help he and LKL contract herdsman David Pinnegar receive is a relief milker on alternate weekends, calf rearing from Rachel Rossi and casual labour for just three mornings a week during winter.

Six years ago Lower Claverham Farm, Berwick East, only had 150 cows and milking occupied nearly seven hours a day. But a new parlour has reduced milking time and made an increase in cow numbers possible.

The Gascoigne Melotte rapid exit parlour was originally a 16:16, but it has been increased to a 20:20. "We found it was easy to manage in the 16:16, so went up to 20 units," said Mr Rossi.

Milking time peaks at 2.5 hours when all cows are in milk, but by mid July it has fallen to just one hour. This includes parlour washing using an automated system.

Critical elements of a speedy milking are that when cows are standing at 90 degrees to the pit they cant kick you and heifers take to it quickly, said Mr Pinnegar. "Its the easiest parlour Ive ever trained heifers in."

There is also a dung channel behind cows and the front exit gates can be pulled back to ensure cows stand close to the pit, said Mr Rossi. "Cows standing up against the tray dont tend to dung, and they dont dung on exit as they have room to get out." And a metal rail around the white outer wall of the wide building needed for fast exit stops cows rubbing against the walls, making them easier to keep clean.

Cows all leave their milking positions at once and can then walk out of the parlour at their own speed. The only change to the current design Mr Pinnegar would like is a wider entrance. Currently the gap in the wall is only one cow wide so there is no funnelling effect from the collecting yard.

"The parlour has saved labour, but so has moving to block calving in the autumn," said Mr Rossi, who started moving towards block calving five years ago.

Now almost all the herd calves between Aug 11 and early January, added Mr Pinnegar.

Although mechanisation is important on a low labour system, investment in machinery outside the parlour is kept to a minimum.

Mr Rossi has avoided moving to complete diet feeding. "We are trying to keep a simple system, if we buy a complete diet feeder it will take longer to feed cows." It currently takes just half an hour to feed the milking cows and an hour in total to feed all stock on the farm.

Having all stock at the main unit is also saving labour, added Mr Rossi. "We are not spending time running to other buildings to check on stock." And calves are reared on powder on a multi-teat system with substitute fed twice a day to weaning at six weeks old.

Another labour saving system is the dirty water irrigator. A slurry store collects the farms dirty water so it can be spread in summer.

Having little labour and machinery on the unit also means contractors are used for silage making and all work on the 42ha (103 acre) maize crop.

But keeping labour at a minimum makes having back up important should someone fall ill, said Mr Rossi. There are no other staff on the farm to help out with the cows. Having a contract herdsman through LKL ensures staff will always be available to do the work.


&#8226 Fast parlour.

&#8226 Simple feeding system.

&#8226 Block calving herd.

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