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Boyd Bucks Trend
by Eilidh MacPherson
Nigel Boyd of Rockhallhead Farm, Collin, Dumfriesshire has just fulfilled his lifetime ambition – going dairy farming.
As many dairy farmers across the country pull the plug and get out of the industry altogether, others have expanded, but so far in this country very few have converted from beef and sheep or any other farming enterprises into dairying.
I was writing for the New Zealand Farmer Magazine during the dairy boom in the South Island of New Zealand at the beginning of this century. Many Southland sheep farmers, with no dairy expertise were converting their properties into dairy units. Other professionals, who had never milked a cow before were jacking in jobs in the cities and the shearing sheds to take up share milking – a profitable future in the countryside.
Nigel on the other hand has been working to this end all his adult life. He attended the Barony College on leaving school from 1983-1985, with a view to picking up as much dairying experience as possible. “But milk quotas were introduced in 1984 so it put the Kybosh on my plans as quota was half the price of the farm,” explained Nigel.
“We did consider selling this farm 20 years ago and buying a dairy farm, but decided to stay put. The road is the main issue as it is steep and can get blocked in winter. But with modern machinery it is no longer a problem.”
For the past fifteen years Nigel has been biding his time. “Everything I’ve done over the years has been with dairying in mind.”
Two sheds were built 2 and 7 years ago, which could be used for cubicles.
The Boyd’s initially started looking at putting in a parlour when they started the business plan process about three years ago. “But I got wind that farmers were being granted SRDP funding for putting in robots, so with the help of my friend who runs Davidson Thorburn Consulting, we put forward 3 options for business plans. The first was for 120 cows and a parlour, the second 120 cows and 2 second hand robots and the third for 120 cows and two new robots.
“The second hand robots were ruled out as the technology is so new there are no second hand robots available, or very few,” said Nigel.
Once the business plans were complete, Nigel had his bank – the Clydesdale Bank come out to the farm. “My banker and a dairy specialist lady visited. I was unimpressed as they were very negative to the whole idea, so I moved banks to the Royal Bank of Scotland, who were prepared to back me whether I had grant funding or not and I now deal with Alex Urquhart, who is based at Annan.”
“We were granted the funding in May 2009 so were able to put up an extra shed.”
But it wasn’t all plain sailing as a the remains of a Saxon Chapel lie on Rockhallhead Farm and excavations were held up for 14 weeks while the powers that be decided whether it could go ahead or not.
“An archaeologist was sent in and any digging had to be at least 25m from the Chapel. Time was knocking on and we were dreading the fact we might end up with an archaeological dig on the property. A digger came in and breeze blocks were unearthed so it was a huge relief,” sighed Nigel.
Cows were sourced through BACA cattle agency from a herd in North Cumbria. “The farmer there was offered £480/acre to supply grass for an anaerobic digester so a deal was done and he sold all his cows to me. I’m also getting first option at his heifer replacements till I can breed my own. The first one arrived last week.”
The Boyd’s are no strangers to calf rearing, having previously reared and then fattened at least 60 dairy calves every year, alongside 60 off-spring from their suckler herd.
Previously sheep, numbering 200 were also run on the hillside at Rockhallhead and income was supplemented by running four lorries with palletised distribution.
While I was sitting in the dairy computer room interviewing Nigel and his wife Alison, his phone alerted him that a cow was needing tubed for mastitis. “The computer has a cow monitoring system, which uses a number of factors like; drops in yield, kick-offs, incomplete milkings, blood/colour, successful milkings, average milking period, to calculate an index. If the score is over 2 the cow should be checked and treated for mastitis by 2.2. It is a big benefit as cows can be treated before they have full blown mastitis.”
Initially Nigel found it difficult to obtain a milk contract but then had three offers on the table – Caledonian Cheese, Milklink and First Milk. He has currently opted for Caledonian Cheese and his first cheque was just under 22p/l. He would rather a liquid milk contract, as with Holstein Frisians he isn’t achieving the fat and protein levels for bonuses.
During my visit De Laval salesman, Craig Kennedy (pictured left) arrived with Chris Mathers, who install and repair the dairy supplies in Dumfriesshire, and a farmer and two sons, who are considering converting to robotic milking. Craig, who lives in Glasgow, covers the whole of Scotland and reckons that there are now 30 De Laval robots in operation across the country, with many more at the planning stage.
“It has been a very exciting time working for De Laval since the launch of the Robots – it is the way ahead. The Forbes family, near Stonehaven, who own East Coast Viners have 5 robots, milking 55 cows each and only have one man looking after them!” commented Craig.
The farmer and his sons were suitably impressed, as was a Carrs Billington driver, who was delivering feed. Nigel spent a year and a half looking into robots and visiting farms. Several factors led him to decide to go with De Laval. “The independent arm which puts the cups on has far more flexibility for udders and teat placement, whereas other makes are limited. It is the only brand with a separate wash cup. It circulates water round and dries with air. It then strips the foremilk down so stimulates the cow and milks more. Also Mathers is right on the doorstep and there is a man at Carrutherstown.”
“They have been tremendous. He’s often here by the time I put the phone down!
“We’ve been very lucky as we’ve had no teething problems and have some amazing stats. Mathers are impressed with how the cows went through. Most farms have 2.8 milkings on average after a year. We had 2.8 by day 4 and 2.95-3.1 after 3 weeks. The high yielders milk 4- 4.5 times in a 24hr period. When the cows came they were doing 24.1 litres now they are at 30l.”
The Boyd’s have their robots set up side by side, which if there is a breakdown, all cows can get milked on the other. As the cattle settle into their routine, Nigel and Alison should find that they have more time to spend with their young boys – Ross (8) and Rory (6).
Farmer: Nigel Boyd and his father trading as N Boyd & Son
Farming: Rockhallhead Farm
Location: Collin, Dumfries
Area: 170 acres owned
Stock: 120 Holstein Friesian cows
20 pure Beltex sheep
Investment: Converted to dairy
2 De Laval Robots
50% grant on £420 000