CERTAIN south west farms, who are part of a programme run by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), are helping dairy farmers keep up-to-date with the latest research and good practice. 

AHDB's Strategic Dairy Farm (SDF) programme is designed to help farmers learn from one another, by sharing stories of different farming systems from across the UK. 

The three-year programme uses open meetings on the farms to help levy payers share knowledge and learn from one another. It is hoped this will encourage farmers to use different methods and give them the confidence to explore new ideas. 

A steering group at each farm helps to identify particular challenges and set goals within the context of the local environment. 

To get involved with the Strategic Dairy Farm programme visit ahdb.org.uk/events.

There are several strategic farms in the south west: 

Dillington Farms 

Knott Oak Dairy, a part of the Dillington Estate in Somerset, is home to 310 cross-bred cows. Ollie, the Farm Manager has worked with his team of eight to implement changes to help the farm be more environmentally focused, through forage crops and home-grown feeds. Dillington Farms is mixed farming business with dairying at its heart. At 860 ha, the farm grows cereals and forage crops with dry stock grazing permanent pastures and parkland.

This all-year-round calving, fully housed herd of 310 cows average 10,800 litres per cow per year at 4.20% butterfat and 3.56% protein. The cows at Dillington estate are milked using robots, helping them to gradually increase their milk yields, through allowing a more relaxed and quieter environment.

Dillington Farms launched within the programme in October 2023 and will have meetings twice a year to outline their goals and discuss the progress of the farm. Their next meeting will be on Tuesday, March 26.

Caulston Farm 

Located just outside Plymouth in the South Hams in Devon, Caulston Farm has been managed by Adam Atkinson for the last seven years. His team includes six other members of staff, who help with the day-to-day running of the farm business.

South West Farmer: Caulston Farm.

The spring block-calving herd of 700 KiwiCross cows is on an Organic Arla milk contract. The cow yields an average of 4,900 litres per cow per year at 4.70% butterfat and 3.58% protein. The herd calves in a tight nine-week spring block, with 77% calving in the first six weeks, using sexed semen to produce replacement heifers and a bull team is used for beef calves.

Launched in the pneumonia webinar series, Caulston Farm has their in-person launch on Wednesday, April 16 2024, where farmers will get the chance to meet Adam. You can also have a tour around the farm and learn more about the challenges of being a coastal farm, as well as their goals for the programme.

Lydney Park Farms 

Lydney Park Farms is a 640-ha farm located in Gloucestershire, on the Lydney Park estate. Managed by Gavin Green, the dairy has a team of 12 full-time and part-time staff, including retained consultant Keith Davis and team leader Pawel Wegelewski.

South West Farmer: Lydney Park Farms.

The herd is made up of 850 Jersey X cows, milking twice-a-day on a 32-point rotary. As a spring block-calving farm, calving in ten weeks of fertility is the main driver of efficiency alongside grazed grass. The genetics have been adapted to suit the system since it changed in 2007, and previous arable ground has been added to the milking platform.

Lydney Park Farms launched within the programme in October 2023 and will have meetings twice a year to outline their goals and discuss the progress of the farm.

Newlands Farm 

Additional to the new farms launched, AHDB have other farms in the programme, including Newlands Farm, located near Bude in Cornwall. This farm, run by David Luxton and the Haworth family, is in their final year of the Strategic Dairy Farm programme.

South West Farmer: Image: Matt Brodie PhotographyImage: Matt Brodie Photography (Image: Matt Brodie Photography)

Newlands Farm runs an all-year-round calving, pedigree Holstein Friesian herd, milking 180 through a guided robotic system. Previously a traditional grass-based system, the farm invested in robots in 2019. This has delivered an increase in yield from 8,500 litres, to about 11,000, which the team continually review and hope to lift further.

The 250-acre farm is all down to permanent pasture which they reseed as regularly as they can. They’ve always seen good yields and are currently achieving around 4,000 litres from forage, which they hope to improve during their time as a strategic farm.

A further 70 acres is rented, 35 of which is to grass, with the remainder used for maize, which David trialled for the first time in 2021.