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Mother and son, dairy farmers, Anne and John Kerr, from Woodhead Farm, Newmilns, have recently completed the construction of a multi-purpose building on their 300-acre dairy unit in the Irvine Valley, Ayrshire.
With three main functions – straw-yard housing for up to 60 cows, purpose-built machinery workshop facilities and a large covered feed storage area – the new building has been designed to enhance the way the Kerrs farm.
The 23m by 7.4 metre steel frame building replaces a traditional barn, which was in dire need of major renovation work. “Restoring the old barn would have left us with a lot of space that we couldn't use,” Anne remarked. “So we decided to invest in a modern design that gives us a lot more flexibility.”
With demolition of the old building completed, construction began in November 2008 and the new shed was completed in March 2009. “We have steadily been increasing cow numbers from 130 eight years ago, to the 200 we have today. The new building will reduce pressure on the existing cubicles and will also give us room to expand production in the future if we need to,” added John.
The Kerrs only housed the cows in the new building for one month last winter, but they are confident that it will radically change their daily working routine. “We have quite short summers and the cows are usually housed from early September through to April,” John explained. “This winter we are hoping to see some significant benefits in terms of herd health and productivity. We are already saving one hour per milking due to the improved building layout,” he added.
Increased cow comfort
There are likely to be other benefits as well. “Freshly calved cows will be more comfortable on the straw yards. We are also hoping the improved conditions will help us to achieve our goal of one extra lactation per cow so that we don't have to bring expensive heifers into the herd.”
The feed storage area and workshop facilities will also help to reduce costs. “Now we can buy feed in bulk and do our own machinery maintenance,” John explained. “It all helps to reduce the number of bills coming in each month and makes milk production more cost efficient.”
Funding for the building work was arranged through AMC Agent Tom Donald, of Fenwick. “AMC quoted the most attractive lending rates despite the fact we were looking for funding just at the time when the international banking crisis was coming to a head,” Anne explained. “We took out a loan to fund the building project, and also transferred some of our overdraft facility to reduce interest payments. This helped to streamline our finances and has helped to bring some much needed stability to the farm business.
“The service AMC provided was very efficient,” said Anne.
“Everything went really smoothly and the loan was agreed and processed quicker than we had anticipated. And we were kept informed of progress throughout the whole process.”
“It makes sense to invest now”
At 28 years of age, John is confident that there are good times ahead for Scottish dairy farmers. “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life so it makes sense to invest now to make the farm as straightforward and workable as possible.
“The cycle of prices going up and down is getting shorter and there is increasing price volatility within the sector. We need to do everything we can to become as efficient as possible, and the new shed is just one step in achieving this.”
John is already thinking about the next investment at Woodhead Farm. “We are not currently in a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone, but this will probably come in the future. We will need to start planning fairly soon to make sure our slurry storage facilities meet the necessary standards.”