Future dairy farming: putting research into practice

Published 23 May 14

Future Dairy farming: Putting research into practice

Hugh McClymont, Dairy Farmer of the Year Winner 2013, hosted an open day at Crichton Royal Farm Dumfries earlier in May. The day was jointly organised by SRUC and RABDF and presented an opportunity for visitors to learn about the research underway, as well as hear from a selection of speakers, including breeding expert, Marco Winters from DairyCo.

Hugh explained he is a ‘true college man’ as he was educated at SRUC and now enjoys working and being part of the team moving the farm forward. Records show research is a firm part of the history at Crichton and has been conducted at the farm going back almost 100 years. Hugh said “We have a great work ethic with research technicians based on the farm working closely with the farm team, which allows great research to be conducted and valuable outcomes be delivered.” 

The 550 milking cows, divided between Crichton and nearby Acrehead farms, produce some 4.3 million litres per annum from a three-times-a-day routine, from the all year round calving herds. In addition, there is more than 300 youngstock to rear.

“Like all land managers we have to maintain a healthy environment, not just for today but for the future, so we have embraced a number of initiatives. Probably the most significant is our use of organic manures and the reduction of purchased fertilisers. The farm is mapped regularly for soil status and the amount of purchase N is now at 50 tonnes from the 150 tonnes 10 years ago, with no P and K purchased in the last eight years,” said Hugh.

“This has been done by shallow injection, underground pipe network, slurry separation mechanical and natural, analysing and budgeting of nutrients required for each crop requirement. This has led to further research work by the DairyCo Grassland Forage and Soil Research Partnership.”  

Raising a herd profitability through better breeding

Taking care of the land is important, alongside herd management. Marco Winters, head of genetics at DairyCo, was keen to emphasise another aspect of research which has benefitted farmers across Britain. “Choosing the right bull to breed the next generation of cows to suit UK systems has become much easier, helped by the work carried out at Crichton.”

Marco continued, “In the last few decades we have seen many significant improvements in the breeding tools available for use in the dairy industry. The information available on AI sires today is more complete and more accurate than ever before. An important source of many of these developments has been the information generated by the selection experiments of the Langhill and the Crichton Royal herd.”

The Crichton Royal herd has attracted world-wide interest because of the vast amount of data, alongside unique genetic and genomic information which it is able to contribute to some exciting new research; such as the genetics of dry matter intake and genomic discoveries. The UK dairy breeding industry has gained from this acquired knowledge and has incorporated this into the development of the dairy indexes, known as the Profitable Lifetime Index (£PLI). 

The £PLI will see a further update in August 2014 and much of the groundwork on genetics of body condition scoring, body energy requirements and predictions of mature liveweight were developed using Crichton data.

Dr Debbie McConnell, DairyCo research and development manager said “The day provided a great opportunity to see what the Awards, supported by DairyCo, recognised in Hugh – being one of the best dairy farmers in Britain. Hugh’s progressive people management style encourages the sharing of good practice, innovation on the farm and is a great example of taking research outcomes and putting them into use, helping to continuously improve the operation of a commercial farm.”