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Parlour cream of crop.

A massive investment in a New Zealand platform rotary parlour underlines the commitment to dairying by brothers Mark and David Callander.

Herd numbers have steadily increased in their two pedigree red and white herds at Crofthead and East Glenarm, near Crocketford, Dumfries, in south west Scotland which total 1,000 mostly grassland acres.

The rotary parlour installation was completed in the spring of 2002 at Crofthead where Mark Callander milks 400 cows in the Crofthead herd. A further 200 are milked by David at neighbouring East Glenarm with both herds being run as one unit.

Cow numbers at Crofthead have increased from around 160 milkers in 1980 with North American and Dutch red and white bloodlines being blended with the original Ayrshires over the last decade or so with the intention of keeping the attributes of the native Scottish breed.

Rising herd numbers were one reason for Mark Callander to start looking to replace the parlour at Crofthead, but also the existing 20x20 herringbone direct to line parlour which was 30 years old had come to the end of its life and was becoming too small for the larger type of cattle.

"We had planned to build up herd numbers to 350 and make sure we had them all milking before we invested in a new parlour. By then the old parlour was taking up to four and a half hours every milking and no one was enjoying it," said Mark Callander.

"We decided to expand because we felt that was the way forward for our dairy business and all our cattle are still home-bred," he added.

"The new parlour has enabled cow numbers to be increased without further investment in staff or machinery, hence we have been able to improve efficiency.

"I had been looking at parlours in a number of countries I have visited over several years so I had done a lot of research into the type of parlour I wanted. I had also worked in New Zealand.

"Most importantly, I wanted to create a good environment for both the staff and the cows. The new parlour has done just that. There is no stress at all for the cows and the milking time has been halved.

"I also want to produce the best quality milk we can ( milk which is clean as well as yields and constituent values," he added.

"Although our herd numbers are increasing we can still have quality milk. Our cell count is generally between 100 and 120 and our Bactoscan is in the region of 20."

Mark Callander decided on installing an external 40 bail New Zealand platform using De Laval equipment.

Three New Zealand technicians were flown in to install the 16 tonne platform on roller bearings which they completed in three weeks. They were followed by outside contractors who installed the milking equipment which was bought direct from De Laval in South Wales.

The new parlour was ordered in January 2001 but the foot-and- mouth epidemic which followed put the work on hold although the site was excavated that spring.

The new parlour along with office, cooling room for the 20,000 litre DX tank, collecting area and 100 cubicles are housed in a new 280ft by 70ft building.

The main dairy shed which runs parallel to the new building was extended to 420ft long to include a further 180 cubicles and calving boxes before the parlour work began. This incorporated underground storage for the parlour washings.

While Mark Callander had drafted out how he envisaged the new set-up to be, the plans were drawn up by consultant Mike Kelly. Milking began through the new parlour in April 2002.

Since then there has been great interest in the parlour and in May 2003 the Callanders hosted the Ayrshire Conference at Crofthead.

With the new-style parlour, the dairyman operates from outside the unit. As the cows walk in they are automatically identified and fed before the cluster is attached. Because the cows sense the moving platform, there are virtually no problems with cows kicking units off.

Once the cattle have completed the full rotation of the parlour, cold water sprays onto their feet encouraging them to reverse off the platform. Any cows that need treatment or AI'd are split off by a cutter gate on leaving the parlour.

The parlour also has an automatic teat spray for when each cow exits the platform. Another feature is that the speed of the parlour's rotation can be set to accommodate low and high yielders.

It can be stopped completely at the touch of a button should a problem arise. It takes 10 minutes on average for one bail of the unit to complete a 360-degree cycle.

The cows are a lot quieter and content in the parlour. At the first milking all the cows went on to the platform and they had settled into the routine after three or four milkings. It took Mark and the staff longer to get into the routine!

In fact, cattle appear to be so happy with the set-up that Mark Callander is milking some heifers for a neighbour which would not be milked in a conventional parlour.

Not only is the milking quick and only requires one man, the cows also benefit from having less time to stand in the collecting area.

The cattle are all fitted with transponders which means the parlour's computer system can recognise each individual animal and management information is recorded on everything from yields to service to health treatment, either through information direct from the parlour or input by the staff.

High yielders are also identified and topped up with concentrates in the parlour. The herd is fed on a complete diet mix, split into high and low yielders, but Mark felt that the small investment in only one feed hopper for the parlour was worth having that flexibility, particularly during inclement summer weather.

The feed also encourages the cows on to the platform for milking.

The herd is milked twice a day at 4am and 3pm and with herd numbers set to increase to 500 at Crofthead the new parlour means that Mark, the staff Ian Fenwick and Paul Thurlow, with the help of retired dairyman Billy Malcolmson will still be able to cope without extra help.

Breeding, feeding and management have ensured that the herd's milk yields have improved over the years.

Careful use of North American and Dutch red and white sires has maintained the attributes of the Ayrshire ( its longevity, high protein content, good locomotion and easy management. The aim was for more milk but not to have extreme, large cows.

Now the majority of the milking herd have a third or 50pc red and white Holstein bloodlines. Some Ayrshire semen is still used, but successful red and white sires have been Horizon Ranger and the Blackstar son Reknown Factor as well as home-bred bulls.

Among the home-bred bulls used have been two Ranger sons and a Reknown Factor son Crofthead Royal Oak

Crofthead bulls often appear on the Ayrshire International top 100 list and Royal Oak returned figures of 644kg milk, pounds 76 PIN and PLI to earn his place alongside Crofthead Royal Pretender at pounds 69 PIN and pounds 74 PLI.

Dutch bulls used to improve milk constituents have included two Tulip sons and current sires are the cowmaker Stadel and two Rubens sons.

Yields have risen from 7,000 litres to 8,500 litres at 4.1 per cent butterfat and 3.4 protein with the target to rise to 9,000 litres.

Both the Crofthead and East Glenarm herds were in the top 10 in Scotland in 2002. The herd also boasts Scotland's highest yielding heifer Crofthead Jean 375 at 10,882kg CFP 752kg, she is also the top cow on the Ayrshire list. The Jean family are prolific and feature in the breeding of Crofthead bulls.

The herd calves all the year round to give an even milk profile. There is no seasonality payment but an increase of 1.5p per litre during the autumn months.

Milk is sold to First Milk with an average price of 20.5p per litre for December 2003. With a 19pc replacement rate, heifers calve at two and a half years old.
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 26, 2004
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