Kelso dairy farm is investing in the future - Kennetsideheads Holsteins have increased cow numbers

Kennetsideheads Holsteins have increased cow numbers and recently installed a 60-point rotary parlour. Bruce Jobson reports in the second of a series on dairy farming on the Borders

Sandy Mitchell
Sandy Mitchell

Over the past 30 years Kennetsideheads Holsteins, near Kelso, has been synonymous with high-yielding cows, high-quality genetics and profitable milk production.

Jimmy Mitchell and his son Sandy have continued to expand the herd and have recently invested more than £1m pounds on a state-of-the-art animal-welfare-friendly facility.

The Kennetsides herd numbers more than 600 head and is milked thrice daily through a GEA 60-point rotary parlour. Prior to the latest stage of development, the then 400-cow herd was milked through a 36-point rotary parlour. The decision to expand was partly based on increasing cow throughput and animal welfare, as well as the opportunity to modernise the unit, explained Sandy.

He said: “The previous rotary parlour was 10 years old and we wanted to expand cow numbers and modernise the unit. The new 60-point parlour is operated by a team of two men, who are externally situated, and one man assisting with cow movement, compared to two men sited internally on the 36-point rotary.

“The parlour and buildings are specifically designed as a stress-free environment for our staff and animals, and we are achieving a throughput of 240-plus cows per hour. The whole operation, for each milking procedure, takes approximately three to three and a half hours and that includes washing the milking plant and hosing down the facility.”

The fully-automated rotary parlour incorporates pre and post-milking spraying, a cluster back flush system and includes an automatic milk recording system. The Mitchells have also installed a new Mueller 28,000-litre bulk tank and milk is lifted on a daily basis in order to supply a Tesco liquid milk contract.

The herd is calved all-year round and this helps maintain even production throughout the year and a level supply for Tesco.

Jimmy, a former NFU Scotland milk committee chairman, guided the herd’s early development and was awarded the prestigious RABDF Gold Cup in 1989 and 1993. Today, the family partnership farms more than 1,600 acres of owned and rented land on three separate units. Kennetsideheads maintains the main dairy herd and neighbouring Mersington Farm operates a unit of 200 cows.

The Mitchell family have continued to invest in the future of dairying farming with a new milking parlour, costing in the region of £350,000, a new milk tank at a cost of £50,000 as well as, a new water cooling system, cubicle housing facility and slurry store, taking the total recent investment above £1m.

The Holstein herd is averaging impressive yields of 10,100kgs milk at 3.7% fat and 3.2% protein and has a 405-day calving interval. The herd breeding programme incorporates the AltaPreg system and the service provides numerous management benefits. All new calved animals are foot-scored and the herd is also body-condition scored with specific management targets such as fertility, include within the programme.

Due to the constant Tesco milk supply contract, 50% of the herd is required to be in-calf throughout the year. Other management targets include 75% of animals being served within the first 70 days of lactation and the herd is running at 40% of animals being pregnant within the first 100 days of lactation. With 800 milking animals under management control, the system helps to save time, money and resources, according to Sandy.

“We have worked closely with Billy Campbell and Drew Wilson from Alta for many years. They know the type of cow we are looking to breed as well as our key management targets. Drew trait-scores the entire herd on a monthly-basis and collectively we plan to mate cows to a group of recommended bulls and monitor our fertility key performance indicators.

“It is important to target high herd health, fertility, animal welfare, low somatic cell counts and longevity. We focus on quality udders and correct teat placement and maintaining important aspects such as correct feet and legs and bone quality and depth of heel. Bulls in use include AltaExacter, AltaBookel, AltaEiffel and AltaEchelon, and we have had outstanding results from bulls such as AltaRoss and AltaBaxter,” he said.

In order to increase herd numbers and fast-track expansion, the Mitchells also purchased additional maiden heifers and today, approximately 50% of the herd is heifer-based. Kennetsideheads privately sell several Holstein breeding bulls to regular customers seeking high-quality young sires, bred from the best bloodlines within the herd.

Cows are fed a TMR ration of grass silage, whole crop wheat, distiller’s grains, soya, pot-ale, rape, and maize gluten. Milking cows receive an additional 0.33kgs of concentrate at each milking in order to encourage cows onto the parlour.

The milking herd is housed all year round and this allows greater nutritional control and consistency of diet.

The adjoining parlour collecting yard has capacity for 300 cows and the facility includes an electronic backing gate system.The new cubicle building for 300 cows is 78m long x 32m wide and is open-sided to allow external feeding of the herd. The building incorporates an automatic scraping system and the slurry store has enough capacity to last six months. The Mitchell family are extremely animal welfare conscious and the housing facility also incorporates rubber matting in the passage ways in order to prevent feet and leg concerns.

The cubicle beds include the latest double-chamber water-bed system and this helps prevent swollen hocks and lameness amongst the milking herd.

The cows are routinely run through a double footbath twice per day immediately post milking. The first footbath contains water to clean the feet and the second bath contains a formalin-based solution. The system automatically empties and refills itself with the correct formalin solution, after every 150 cows walk through the bath.

The system therefore maintains the correct formalin consistency for each animal and helps prevent digital dermatitis.

Heifer calves are reared at home and age at first calving is targeted at 24 months. Baby calves are fed by automated milk feeders and small calf groups are collectively housed and bedded in straw pens. The herd is bred to AI Holstein bulls and sexed-semen is used on maiden animals.

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