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Herd health, waste and the bottom line: how Wolfenden’s approach to slurry management is helping at state-of-the-art dairy project

Shortlisted in the 2019 RICS Awards ‘Design Through Innovation’ category, and winner of the Cream Awards High Tech Farm 2019, the Centre for Dairy Science Innovation (CDSI) at the University of Nottingham’s Sutton Bonnington campus is a £6m facility offering the latest research technologies for a range of dairy-related topics, focused on health, nutrition and welfare.

The deep sand heelstone made by Wolfenden for CDSI

A key aspect of the project – integrated into the design of the Centre – is disease and animal welfare, and a flexible housing facility allows researchers to evaluate the impact of the environment on the health, welfare and physiology of dairy cows, testing the effects of building layout, access to indoor and outdoor loafing space, feed space and bedding. Wolfenden Concrete were successful in winning a range of contracts for the project, designed by Haston Reynolds Chartered Surveyors Ltd and built by Minshall Construction. Richard Moody, managing director at Wolfenden, explains,
“Haston Reynolds initially contacted us as they were interested in Wolfenden’s round bottom auger channel that has already proved successful with prestigious farms such as the Grosvenor Estates in Cheshire. After further discussion, both with Haston Reynolds and with Minshall Construction, it became apparent that we could offer more to the project, including our precast slats as well as through new products that we developed, bespoke to the CDSI. For example, we created a shaped beam to sit on top of a block wall to help slurry drop more easily into the channel below, and a bespoke heel stone for the new sand beds which we created to the size and shape specifications required by Haston Reynolds and the University.”

The new facilities which form the CDSI gained grant funding from the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Livestock (CIEL) and Innovate UK and, as a commercial farm supplemented by the University’s educational and research programmes, are helping to cement the UK’s position as a global leader in dairy research and technology. Ian Reynolds, director of Haston Reynolds, comments,
“These are the first buildings of their type in the UK. One of the most innovative features of the design is the incorporation of the bespoke sledges below the slats of the Centre’s sand-bedded cow cubicles which make it easy to dispose of waste.”

Round bottom auger channel

The disposal of waste is being researched through the CDSI’s focus on emerging technologies to prevent disease and improve cow welfare, including the introduction of robotic scrapers. These scrapers are designed to patrol the floor of the facility, slowly weaving around hooves and maintaining general hygiene by pushing waste through Wolfenden’s specially-designed concrete slats. A further concern about potential waste is addressed by the University through their ongoing use of SlurryBugs, a Soil Association-approved slurry treatment to help improve soil health and thereby improve grass growth and quality, developed and supplied by EnviroSystems. Containing soil-originating bacteria, enzymes and micro-nutrients which enhance the retention of nutrients within stored farm slurry, SlurryBugs actively improve the slurry nutrient concentration and improve soil health by adding good bacteria and feeding its microbial life and earthworms. Improvements in soil health and slurry management have positive impacts on cow health and milk production and Wolfenden and EnviroSystems are working closely together to bring the benefits of each company’s products and expertise to a wider range of UK dairy farmers.

Since adopting new technology and investing in state-of-the-art facilities, the Centre’s herd has seen an increase in average daily milk production, from 31 litres to 42 litres, with annual yields per cow at 11,709 litres. Nigel Armstrong, farm manager, says,
“Improved cow performance has been impressive, which can, in the main, be attributed to the improved facilities since we haven’t made any changes to the cows’ diet.”

Parallel slats used between the beds at CDSI

Considering the environmental, productivity and health aspects of the project, Richard Moody comments,
“We were delighted to be asked to work on the CDSI project as it fits perfectly with our own ethos of continual product development and research, all aimed at improving animal health and wellbeing, with the associated productivity benefits. Similarly, our relationship with EnviroSystems is an obvious one, with both companies focused on improving every farm’s bottom line. For EnviroSystems, this is through the improvement of soil quality and the exploitation of an existing resource – slurry – and for Wolfenden it is achieved through the easier management of that slurry, which in turn leads to happier and healthier cows. The better management of slurry, with all the associated benefits this brings, led the thinking behind the development of Wolfenden’s new SUPA range of slats and slurry channels, launched in May, and already being specified by farms across the country, working to improve herd health and increase productivity.”