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Investing in the future of Yorkshire dairy farming

Having decided to make a major investment in the future of their herd, Yorkshire dairy farming partnership, James and Julie Gooch and Caroline and Daniel Yarrow began a 12-month project with Wolfenden Concrete and Lely to expand Tow Top Farm, Cononley, West Yorkshire. The aim was to create a high-tech, high-welfare environment for more than 200 cows.

Panoramic view of new dairy new unit at Tow Top Farm

Starting from a small herd, they made the bold decision to expand and modernise the farm but needed to address the key issues of animal welfare, efficiency and the productivity of the herd, while keeping manpower to a minimum. They decided to use their existing, dated buildings for youngstock and focus on building a new, modern dairy unit, with capacity for 240 cows, incorporating robotic milking.

Choosing a contractor:
Having worked with agricultural experts Wolfenden Concrete on previous projects, they were interested in their new SUPA range, designed specifically for the dairy industry, and contracted Wolfenden for this major farm expansion. Working with the family to understand their vision, Wolfenden supplied a huge underground tank to act as the main slurry store and covered this with products from their SUPA range as well as additional products from their agricultural portfolio, resulting in a new layout that offers enough space and beds on top to house 240 cows. There were technical challenges with the build – particularly due to the gradient of the site – but by adapting some of their products to suit the farm and the landscape, it was possible for the whole project to be completed within 12 months from planning permission.

Investment in new technology:
After careful consideration, they decided to partner with Lely, a leading manufacturer of robotic milking equipment, whose modern farming methods would address all their requirements: reduced labour, increased milk yield and improved ongoing animal welfare. Each cow has a unique responder on their collar, allowing the new robots to monitor milk yield and quality, and to ensure each cow is given the right amount of concentrate for their yield and lactation stage. The data on each cow, as well as averages of the herd, allow the business to benchmark against other robotic milking farms. The automated segregation means cows can be identified and treated more quickly for health issues. Bulling cows and those required for routine vet visits can also be segregated, reducing stress and saving time, whilst vastly improving cow welfare and, in turn, optimizing yield.

The new building has temperature, wind speed and wind direction sensors that allow an ambient climate all year round by clever use of automatic curtains, as well as a light ridge, to allow maximum air circulation and natural light, ensuring that the cows live in a less stressed environment. The layout of the shed is designed to allow good cow flow, with plenty of room in loafing and feed areas. Following the latest guidance from AHDB Dairy, the cubicles are designed so that the cows can enter them, lunge safely and, because the beds are designed to suit the size of the cow, they remain clean and dry. A robotic scraper ensures the cleanliness of the slatted floor, helping to maintain hoof health and working to keep healthy, happy cows.

Future growth:
The new building set-up will include a fourth robotic milking machine, in addition to the three currently operating, to allow the herd size to increase up to 240 cows. Daniel is using sexed semen on heifers and top performing cows, with the two-fold aim of ending the need to buy in cows for current expansion as well as, longer-term, creating a new income stream through the sale of heifers once the Tow Top herd reaches its optimal size.

Reflecting on the way the project has run, Daniel comments,
“We chose to work with Wolfenden because they are local and really helpful, and their advice in the planning of the building gave us the confidence we needed to make this major investment. Even with small projects we have done with them in the past, we’ve found them very flexible and have benefitted from their advice and their experience with bigger-scale projects. This project has given us the confidence to look at a few more ideas in the pipeline that we’ll be going to Wolfenden for. The new building is working really well – and we’re working hard to make our farm a modern high welfare unit and a joy to work on.”

Considering the Tow Top Farm project and the decision to work with Wolfenden, Richard Moody, managing director at Wolfenden, comments,
“Our new SUPA products are the first range that we have purpose-designed for the dairy industry, and we are confident in the huge benefits they offer for our customers. Our performance data demonstrates the efficiency and productivity critical to dairy farmers in the current climate. We know the concern and care that farmers have for their livestock, and so we put animal welfare at the heart of the development of the range, from the outset. The new SUPA range is the result of this thinking: a solution that offers greater efficiency, increased productivity, and healthier and happier cows. Our investment in the range is already helping farmers like Daniel to have the confidence to expand, certain that their own investment will recoup significant benefits – both for their cows and for their business.”