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by Eilidh MacPherson
Young Ayrshire dairy farmer, Andrew Nicol (40), feels aggrieved to have received no funding from the SRDP grant system for his £440 000 dairy upgrade investment.
“I applied when I was under 40, when they were trying to entice young farmers to apply. It is sickening that others have received hundreds of thousands to fund completely new ventures, at the higher grant rate.”
“It cost us £6000 to apply, preparing a waste management plan and a business plan,” commented Andrew, who is now the only dairy farmer between Mauchline and Stair. There were previously fourteen dairies on that six-mile stretch of road.
Andrew, who farms in partnership with his wife Agnes and his parents, Andrew (senior) and Margaret, switched from First Milk to Graham’s Dairies last year.
“We are happy we made the move – Graham’s, like ours, is a family run business. If we had still been with First Milk, we would have never upgraded and increased the cows by forty head.”
The 250 head of pedigree Holstein Friesian cows are now milked in the state of the art 24 point (herring bone) GEA Farm Technologies Low Level Metatron P21 Parlour with feeders and full Automation. It boasts Stainless Steel Multiline cabinets (one of only two in Scotland) and DP Mobile with a hand held v-scan reader. It also has Auto Identification with 250 Foot rescounters, which indicates heat activity.
Andrew finds that the Vacuum on Demand Energy saver, 12,000 Litre Westfalia Surge bulk tank cools the milk more quickly and the Extraheat heat recovery system is a cost cutting boon as it recycles the heat energy to heat water.
An alarmed backing gate and feed bunker along the back wall are also new additions at Davidston.
The main benefit of the development is that it is labour saving, in that cattle are automatically drafted off for handling and milking. Andrew AI’s all the cows himself, currently using straws from Oman, Spooky and McCormick, mainly sourced from Genus.
Teat spraying pre and post milking is also automated. Milking in the previous Fullwood 16 point parlour took 3 hours for 200 cows, now it only takes two hours for the increased herd.
One drawback with the new parlour is that the back rail is staggered rather that straight and Andrew reckons that the cows take longer to file in and out of the milking system, as they have to reverse slightly before heading out.
The cattle in the new, 175 by 65ft, shed are housed on suspended slats, which have a 270 000 gallon capacity.
Currently the dry cows are bedded on straw, but with reduced arable ground and the expense of buying it in, this two-year old, 120 by 78ft, shed had the facility for suspended slats built in.
“We’ll have another go at an SRDP grant to see if we can get some assistance to fund converting it to slats and also to erect another new 125 by 26ft shed.”
Eight years ago a bulk feed shed was installed at this go-ahead Ayrshire dairy unit. Straights purchased from Smellies of Strathaven, by the artic load, are blended in a mixer wagon before being transferred into a bulk blower lorry and blown into the bins.
This building and system paid for itself in the first two years,” he stated.
The slurry is mixed and pumped to the slurry tower and horsed out to the fields by tanker. “We are lucky in that every field has hard road access.”
“We trialled injecting ten acres with slurry last year. I must admit we saw it go in and were not impressed, but the cows went in and did well. It cut back on fertiliser a bit so we will try it again this year.”
The Nicols prefer to be in charge of their own destiny and not at the mercy of contractors, so carry out all their cultivation and silage work.
“So long as Dad is fit we will carry on. The machinery is a big investment and it is not a huge saving, but we like to be in control,” explained Andrew, who changes the main Massey Ferguson tractor every three years. He was astounded that the list price for the MF 6470 had gone up £18 000 to £85 000, since the last purchase. The latest model arrived from Hamilton Brothers ten days before my visit and Andrew had not seen sight nor sound from his father since, as he was putting his ‘new toy’ through its paces!
A self-confessed workaholic, Andrew admits that since having the children – Katie (7) and Drew (5) – the family have never had a proper holiday. “We’ve had a couple of nights in Edinburgh, but nothing more and I’m hoping that the new technology teamed with the freshly appointed morning milker will free me up a bit to have some more quality, family time.”
For the past twenty years the dairy cows of Davidston have not been shown, “as we are too busy,” but amazingly Andrew does take a day off now and then to attend the local shows at Ayr and Tarbolton.
Daughter Katie let slip that her younger brother Drew would prefer to farm elephants and giraffes rather than cows at this juncture!
Only time will tell if Drew will carry on the dairy tradition as well as the family name and keep Davidston – the only dairy farm from Stair to Mauchline – producing quality milk in years to come.
Farmer: Andrew Nicol in partnership with his wife Agnes and his parents Andrew and Margaret
Farming: Davidston, 470 acres – 275 owned, rest rented on 5 year tenancies
Location: Stair, Mauchline, Ayrshire
Cattle: 250 pedigree Holstien/ Friesian cows
Crops: Spring barley
Labour: Andrew, his father, one full time employee and a part time milker
Investments: £440 000 upgrade