TOP DAIRY AWARD GOES TO AYRSHIRE-BASED HERD
Robert Sloan is the winner of the 2019 NMR RABDF Gold
Cup; the UK dairy industry’s most prestigious award
Robert runs the 180-cow Townlaw Holstein herd at Darnlaw Farm, in Auchinleck near
Ayr, with his parents Bryce and Anne and wife Emma.
The Sloan family has adopted a proactive approach to
succession and Robert, who’s 37, became a partner in the business at 24. He
admits that the mix of his youthful enthusiasm and his father’s experience and wisdom
has driven the business forward in the past decade.
The herd has been based at Darnlaw for more than 40
years and in 2011 the decision was made to switch to robotic milking, in a new
purpose-built shed on a greenfield site, on the farm.
“Back then we needed to start three-times-a-day
milking to improve the welfare and longevity of our 120 high yielding cows, but
finding staff prepared to do this and to work the antisocial hours was a
challenge,” says Robert. “So we decided on installing robots in a new
building,” says Robert.
NMR RABDF 2019 GOLD CUP winners Robert and Emma Sloan
The herd is housed all year round and milked through
three Lely robots. “Our system works well. We employ three local men and each staff
member works up to 50 hours a week – but rarely more than four and a half days
a week. This gives our staff time to pursue their own interests and have time
off at the weekend.
“The level of automation on our farm allows for
flexible working hours with minimal anti-social labour requirements,” he adds.
“Everyone has their own individual responsibilities, but they are also expected
to step in and provide relief for any job on the farm. It is this diversity
that keeps everyone challenged and motivated.”
Another major change and ‘diversification’ took place
in 2016 when they took the opportunity to fulfil a specialist Jersey milk
contract from milk buyer Graham’s Dairy and established Darnlaw Jerseys. This
herd of 60 cows is run as a separate herd and milked twice a day through the original parlour,
grazing in summer and housed in winter.
started with two robots in 2011 and added the third two years later. When we established
the Jersey herd we reduced the number of Holstein cows from 220 to 180 and we
stopped milking the late lactation Holstein cows through the parlour, keeping
this strictly for the Jerseys,” says Robert.
Bryce and Robert Sloan
180 Holsteins - 43 classified EX and 76
classified VG - currently in the herd milk well on the robotic system, which is reflected in
their yields and longevity.
2018 we had eight 100-tonne cows, a herd replacement rate of 19% and an average
lifetime yield of 46,000kg. The herd was placed first on combined production
and inspection in the Scottish herds competition. And we were also recognised in
2018 with a Master Breeder award from Holstein UK,” adds Robert.
running two herds with different management styles, the Sloans’
priority is cattle health, welfare and longevity. All cattle are bred to
maintain and improve functional type.
robotic system allows us to run extended lactations on certain cows. Long,
level lactation curves are a key component to the longevity of our cows, with
breeding decisions and rations formulated to encourage this,” says Robert.
investment in new calf housing in 2018. Calves are reared in individual pens
for the first seven days before being batched in groups of 20 on the automatic
are weaned at 64 days old and moved as a batch with an all in-all out approach,
which allows pens to be thoroughly washed, disinfected and given time to dry
before the next batch. Calve growth rates average 0.89kg liveweight gain per
a regular income stream are pedigree cattle sales, both Holstein and Jersey, which
account for 15% of income and in 2018 were equivalent to more than 6ppl.
Jerseys are usually sold as in-calf heifers, served to a polled Black Limousin bull. Holstein heifers are sold freshly calved and
there is an increasing demand for robot-trained cattle as more producers are
using these systems.
cleanliness is a top priority and a Clusterflush
system operates in the parlour with Pura steam on the robots to prevent cross
contamination. Cows are bedded with sawdust and hydrated lime on mattresses.
Any cases of mastitis are sampled and frozen in case of a major breakdown, to
allow samples to be cultured quickly to identify the strain of mastitis that’s
causing the problem.
can be a problem here. With the removal of critically important antibiotics as
a safety net for any of these cases we have started vaccinating the herd for
mastitis to hopefully further prevent antibiotic usage,” says Bryce.
also adds that lame cows and robots do not mix. “Any form of lameness is
treated as an emergency. We have an extremely proactive foot health policy.
Foot baths twice a week and udder cleft conditioning means that there have been
no cases of digital dermatitis during the past 24 months.”
herds are fed a silage-based TMR. The Jerseys are fed 2kg blend and 1kg caustic
wheat and topped up to yield in the parlour to a maximum of 5kg concentrate.
Holsteins are fed 3.25kg blend, with 3.25kg of caustic wheat and 5kg of supergrain, and they are fed concentrate to yield in the
robot to 12kg a day.
heavy clay soils and 1,422mm of annual rainfall, forage is based solely on
grass silage and some wholecrop spring wheat - they make enough first-cut grass silage off 134 hectares to feed all
the cows all year.
believe that being a family farm allows us to change direction quickly in what
can be volatile market conditions. In the short term, our Jersey contract is
our biggest opportunity; the milk is used for specialist high end products such
as gold top milk, skyr and high protein yoghurt," says
shortage of young people entering the dairy industry, our system and work
environment will hopefully encourage the next generation. And the challenging
skill set we require should ultimately relate to a salary comparable to any
System: all-year-round calving
Farm size: 205 hectares
Feed regime: TMR and topped with concentrate via the robots
Milk buyer: Graham’s Dairy
size: 180 cows
yield: 11,980kg, 3.99% butterfat and 3.13% protein
interval: 427 days
size 60 cows
yield: 7,115kg at 6.02% fat, 4.01% protein
Calving interval 394 days