Placing water troughs off the beds and using tapes rather than metal gates are just some of the things Wiltshire dairy farming brothers Richard and Chris Gordon have found to work well when designing loose straw yards.

About five years ago the pair decided to extend their existing loose straw shed and increase feed space by installing a central feed passage.

The Gordons are tenants of the MOD and run 300 organic cows in partnership, at Court Farm, Collingbourne Ducis, Marlborough. The herd yields around 6,500 litres a cow a year with over half calving in an autumn block and the rest in spring. The herd is predominantly British Friesian, with some Swedish Red, Holstein and Jersey crosses.

Cattle are currently out-wintered on the Salisbury Plain - one of the army’s main training areas. However, with the view to future proofing their business against any changing MOD strategy, the pair are keen to expand the buildings on farm to provide winter housing options. Improving facilities will also boost efficiencies and enable numbers to increase slightly if desired.

With this in mind, Richard wants to ensure any investments made are technically correct and in the interest of cow performance and welfare.

As a Kingshay member, he has access to their independent, technical resources, including the fortnightly Kingshay’s Dairy Insight publications.. These are mailed out to Kingshay members twice a month and are available on the Kingshay App, where members can also access their Dairy Manager costings.

Richard has used a number of Insights to help make changes to the existing shed, including one on “Loose Housing: Design and Operation”. This was used to decide how to design yards to optimise cow flow and cleanliness. This included providing 1.1m2 of space per 1,000 litres of milk produced.

Richard adds: “I put all the water pipes and electricity under the curb stone and also put the water troughs out of the beds with a concrete panel behind them.”

The Insight also advised using electrified, retractable tapes instead of gates to keep stock off the bedded areas as and when necessary. This ensures full access to the beds along the whole length of the shed and reduces poaching through narrower gateways.

Richard adds: “It was going to be a lot of gates, but I put the tapes in instead. It took us about a year to put the reels in the right place. We did put them on the end of the concrete panels, but they got damaged by the cows so we moved them inside the panel.”

The publication on “Barrier Design” was also initially used to set up the correct measurements for the central feed trough. This included setting the neck rail at the correct height for the herd.

He opted for an unusual trough set-up, using a 1m wide trough with a “suspended” neck rail. This means there is no central bar, which allows a quad bike with snow plough attachment to be driven up the centre of the trough to scrape out any excess feed. This ensures the trough is always clean and promotes dry matter intakes.

Richard is currently considering putting up a new loose cow shed, specifically for dry cows. This is very much in the early stages, but if things progress, he is keen to follow the key principles of the existing shed.

“I will repeat the tapes and all the rest of it. Everything will be in a straight line (fencing) and water will be on the outside of the beds in tipping troughs,” he says.


Management improvements made on farm

• Ventilation - two rows of concrete blocks have been knocked out along the wall and the central ridge taken out. “It got rid of the all the mist and steam in here,” says Richard.

• Timed lights - Sodium lights are on timers at each end of the shed. “It saves a lot of money on electricity and the cows seem happier and more relaxed,” says Richard who would like to upgrade the type of lights used.

• Cow minerals - Richard met soils specialist, Jo Scamell through Kingshay and has used her advice to change mineral feeding so cows get them through the cake, rather than the water.

• Cow tracks - The Cow Tracks Dairy Insight has been used to choose material for tracks. Concrete sleepers have been used to help successfully speed up cow movement between fields whilst crossing a busy road. Astro-turf has also been used in some areas.

• Footbath - the footbath was located further away from the parlour exit to promote cow flow.