Grosvenor Farms triumphs in 2016 Cream Awards

Grosvenor Farms was the overall winner in the 2016 Farm Business magazine Cream Awards, based on its state-of-the-art Lea Manor Dairy unit in Cheshire.

The business won the coveted John Beckett Memorial Cup for its overall performance at the annual Cream Awards dinner held at the National Motorcycle Museum at Solihull, where it also carried away the Health & Welfare Award, sponsored by Ceva Animal Health and was highly commended in the High-Tech Farm Award category.

Grosvenor Farms is part of the Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor Estates portfolio, and runs a 1,500 cow dairy enterprise supplying Muller Wiseman with milk destined for Tesco. The Lea Manor dairy unit was conceived with the aim of future-proofing dairying on the Estate by ensuring that milk production there is fully sustainable, minimises the impact on the local environment and community; while improving conditions for both the cattle and the staff working on the unit. The significant investment – around £5,000/cow or £5 million in total is already showing increases in cow performance and higher standards of health and welfare.

Already running high genetic merit herds at above average performance levels, herd manger David Craven realised that Grosvenor’s dairy facilities were the limiting factor in raising productivity further. Accordingly, he spent more than two years researching dairy housing systems elsewhere in the UK as well as in the US and Europe. With a consensus view that improved cow comfort and longer, stress free rumination time leads to additional yield, the new unit is designed around the principle that each cow should spend a maximum of three hours a day away from her housing.

The opportunity was taken to merge four existing dairy units on the Estate to one site capable of housing 1,350 zero-grazed milkers, with dry cows and replacements kept elsewhere. The animals are milked three times a day through a 60 point Boumatic rotary parlour which can handle up to 400 cows per hour, and housed in wide, obstacle-free sand-bedded stalls with full length feed fences.

The design allows each cow two and a half times more space than on the units it replaced, with improved ventilation and wider passageways. The feed fences have lockable yokes to allow treatments such as AI, TB tests, vaccinations and other veterinary attentions to be performed without having to separate animals from their herd mates, again to reduce stress.

“Keeping the cows to a consistent, stress-free routine is essential to their welfare and getting the best from them, ” emphasises Mr Craven. Staff members are carefully trained to make sure they minimise stress when handling the cows, with CCTV supervision available to record interactions to improve this aspect.

“Every dairy farmer knows that a sick or stressed cow doesn’t milk, but when the existing Grosvenor herds were performing well by all metrics, it took something special to recognise that cows could have been even more healthy, or even more comfortable had they been housed in even more suitable facilities,” comments Stuart Russell of the units veterinarian Nantwich Farm Vets.

The figures speak for themselves. There has been an 11% increase in milk production since the cows first entered the new unit in November 2014, from an average 10,900 litres per cow to 12,200 litres in May 2016, with no compromise on quality. The calving index is 384 days with a significant drop in the culling rate to 22%, providing greater longevity. Mastitis cases have fallen from 35% to 6% and metritis from 9% to 2%, with antibiotic usage halved. Nor is this just due to starting with a brand new, clean disease-free facility – Mr Craven believes these figures can be maintained over time through attention to detail and reducing stress on the cows. As to the welfare, Mr Russell describes the herd as “one of the quietest herd of cows I have ever encountered” due to the “low-stress handling from all involved in the entire life of the animal”.

Technology is crucial to managing a unit of this size, Mr Craven continues. Lea Manor uses the Cogent Pinpoint collar system to monitor rumination, heat periods and cow health – he says 95% of heats are picked up through the system before physical signs are observed. “With multiple people involved, the collars and recording system allows vital data to be communicated around the team efficiently, and ensures the attention to detail and timeliness needed to achieve top performance”. There is also a daily lameness monitoring system to watch out for the onset of potential foot problems, with a computer controlled footbath to ensure the correct concentration of active ingredients.

While Mr Craven considered robotics at the time of designing the Lea Manor unit, he considered the rotary parlour better for efficient throughput at this scale of operation. But within a decade, he can foresee a rotary parlour fitted with robotic clusters.

The unit is powered by a 250Kw roof mounted solar array that has sufficient capacity to power the whole unit and provide a surplus for the national grid. All water used is from the farm’s own borehole, and is recycled up to five times for cooling milk and washing before being returned to the soil through irrigation. Manure solids and sand are separated and recycled, with the liquid fraction providing 70% of the wider Estate’s plant nutrients.

Lea Manor represented a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to design a new unit from the ground up, and Mr Craven is very pleased with the resulting increase in cow health, welfare and output. “But we are not resting on our laurels. We need to keep getting better and improving to remain competitive. We have been through some tough times, and need to reduce costs – the unit is geared for expansion, so we will be looking to add more cows.”

The Cream Award is a “massive” accolade for the whole Lea Manor team, he concludes. “It shows everyone involved, from management to the apprentice milkers, that they are all doing a good job. This level of success is down to a whole team effort – the recognition from our peers in the dairy sector is especially appreciated”.

More details of the Lea Manor dairy system and a video can be found via: http://www.grosvenorfarms.co.uk/our-farming/dairy-farming.aspx

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