We have been privileged working with the Agri-EPI Centre and visiting some of the most forward looking farms in the UK. This week we were hosted at their South West Dairy Development Centre in Somerset. You all know that we are interested in technology here at SoilEssentials, but that it has to deliver real benefits. This example is one where the benefits move all the way along to a change in production system. The building itself is innovative, in that it has a fabric roof that allows light in and controlled fabric walls to manage the airflow and temperature. These innovations create a stable environment free from hot and cool spots, but also by removing weight from the building therefore allowing a much smaller and more flexible steel frame to support the building. This allows more space below. In this cool environment, the animals are exceptionally calm, where all innovations are designed to reduce stress.
Traditionally, a herd changes slightly as animals shift in and out of lactation. This then creates a requirement among the animals to review their pecking order and so, some stress. This shed however, keeps all the animals together despite giving different rations. Cattle move from their feeding area to their comfortable resting area via a one-way gate. To get back to feeding they must pass the robot milking area and through a race which reads the tech on their neck and sheds them to the appropriate trough with their ration in it. There is no rush to feed when the mixer wagon arrives, this is because a robotic mixer on a monorail above the animals replenishes the food 17 times a day, no need to panic. The cows can milk themselves four times a day and are rewarded with concentrate. This summer, the precision grazing option will be introduced and the animals will have the choice to graze or be inside. It is an extremely calm environment where no energy is wasted on unnecessary stress, even the slurry is removed by a fairly smart slow moving robot.
When one cow started to create a lone moo, I did think of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Perhaps she was saying perfect contentment was not what she was after. If so she was a lone voice. Eat, rest, give milk, repeat. A pretty good life for a cow that always chooses what it is doing and has no need to get excited. It all seemed so calm and self-regulated that I could consider dairy farming as a business (not something I have thought of before). This is a proper business where the factors that affect output are for the most part controllable, it is a great example for the use of technology to deliver a better business.
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