Rodway Farm at Bridgwater & Taunton College in Somerset has made a raft of changes to improve the farm's business performance.

In the later half of 2019, the senior management team at Bridgwater & Taunton College decided to implement a significant change to the way it ran its farm business, bringing everything back in house with the aim of improving the farm performance, efficiency and overall student experience.

Appointing a new farm manager who started the role in February 2020, Dan Evans dived straight into the exciting new challenge, implementing various changes, some small and some requiring substantial investment, that have all contributed to a significant improvement in herd performance.

Milk yields have risen from 9,000 litres to 10,500 litres whilst reducing feed costs to 8.5ppl with a feed rate of 0.32kg/litre.

Butterfat has risen from 3.7 per cent to 4.2 per cent which has seen a bonus payment in the milk cheque of over £500 and protein currently stands at 3.4 per cent, cell count 105 and bactoscan at 12.

Adopting an initiative called ‘Think Cow’, a mantra that encourages everyone to put the needs and well-being of the cows first, the farm team has reviewed all aspects of management in detail, considering how best to improve it for the cow.

South West Farmer: Think cow signs are around the housing areas and on all staff overallsThink cow signs are around the housing areas and on all staff overalls

Tutors and students are also encouraged to put forward ideas and research ways in which the herds environment can be improved.

“This has changed the whole approach to the herd management,” explains Dan.

“It has focussed the mind very much on the cow, and by improving her comfort, we are seeing noticeable improvements in all aspects of herd performance.”

One such change is swapping the cubicle bedding from sawdust to chopped straw, which has increased laying times.

“We were finding that the sawdust quality was quite variable and could lead to sore hocks, which clearly discouraged cows to lay down.

"So we approached a neighbour, who is now contracted to supply all of our straw requirements.

"Being so close, we save on haulage and we have the added benefit of improving organic matter through the solids.

"We have used a separator at the farm for around two years, which allows us to increase our slurry storage capacity by removing solids.

"However, the sawdust solids had virtually no P&K value.

"We now have the added benefit of the fertiliser value from the straw solids, making this bedding material much more sustainable, as well as offering increased comfort.

"We are also investing in mattresses this year, swapping over from the rubber mats that are currently used in the cubicles, which aims to improve comfort further.”

South West Farmer: Chopped straw beddingChopped straw bedding

A change that has seen a remarkable improvement in fertility has been the investment in an AI service company to undertake all fertility work within the herd - this has seen pregnancy rates rise from 16 per cent to 25 per cent in just eight months.

“It’s easy to focus on the cost of a breeding service, but bringing in experts has undoubtedly paid dividends,” says Dan.

“Although we have an activity system, we were still missing heats.

"A specialist company bring their technical knowledge and are fully trained to detect cows on heat and get them in calf.

"We often had many other distractions and didn’t have the attention to detail they have, which is illustrated in the improvements.

"We’ve already seen the calving interval decrease from 430 days to 385 in the last 12 months, and continue to see better results month-on-month.”

One valued item of technology that has been used at the farm since 2016 is an automatic feed pusher, which pushes the feed up 14 times per day.

This alone has accounted for an increase in yield of up to two litres per cow.

“This leads to an overall more efficient animal as each individual cow is much more likely to reach her potential if she is eating well.

"She is also more likely to be healthy which has a knock on effect of her overall wellbeing.”

This year £50,000 will be spent on improved lighting and ventilation, as the farm strides to enrich the cow’s environment. Energy efficient LED lighting will be installed throughout the dairy unit, offering 18 hours of light for the herd, and large helicopter fans will be fitted in the cubicle sheds to improve airflow and reduce summer temperatures in the buildings.

But it’s not simply about big investments, the farm has also seen numerous changes that have either required small amounts of funding, or none at all, and have simply been about adapting what they already have to become more sustainable and improve animal care.

These include:

• Purchase of small feed bins, so feed can be purchased without the need for bags

• All dairy chemicals are now purchased in IBCs, rather than drums, reducing waste and at a more efficient cost

• Changing the cubicle layout to improve cow flow, which means cows don’t have to wait to return to feed or cubicles on leaving the milking parlour

• Changing heavy clusters to a much lighter design for cow and operator comfort

• Increasing air flow and light in the cubicle shed by removing existing wall – found cows now visit feed barrier in areas often under-utilised prior to change

The improvements made at Cannington College illustrate some of the great things that the dairy farming sector is doing to improve animal welfare and sustainability on-farm.

Consequently, Rodway Farm has entered into Deosan Hygiene and Promar’s #WeAreDairy Award which is open for entries until August 31 and calls for innovation, in a simple and practical form, that can be easily transferred to other dairy farm businesses. See for more.