Coton Wood strategic farm launch

Michael Ball provides an overview of Coton Wood Farm in Derbyshire and explains why a pressure on staffing led to the decision to introduce a robotic milking system.

All year round (AYR) robotic farmers Michael and Tony Ball have become the latest Strategic Dairy Farm recruits, bringing fresh experience and knowledge to farmers following a successful launch event on September 6th, 2018. 

As part of AHDB’s optimal dairy systems approach, Strategic Dairy Farms encompasses some of the UK’s top dairy performers, who want to share their performance data and open their gates to farmers to share best practice knowledge and facilitate farmer-to farmer learning.

Jon Parry AHDB Head of Dairy Knowledge Exchange said: “I’m delighted that we are able to appoint a high performing robotic strategic farm. They’ll add strength to our portfolio and allow us to further accelerate farmer to farmer learning centred on two production systems. Ultimately we want to have nine farms spread across GB - three each of all year round, spring and autumn block calvers.””

The appointment forms part of AHDB’s Farm Excellence programme and after a scrupulous auditing process, farmers and brothers Michael and Tony Ball from Derbyshire join the growing list of strategic farm recruits.

The brothers farm in partnership with their parents, who bought Coton Wood in 1977, and together they run a 500 strong herd across two sites.

Originally autumn block calvers, the brothers faced increasing competition for labour and decided to move to all year round calving with the installation of eight Lely robots in 2014. Completed in April 2016, the transition was complemented with automatic silage pushers, scrapers and calf feeders.

Labour concerns have been a big influence in their decision to go robotic; “There’s a lot of competition for staff in the area. We had never considered robotics before, but we decided this was the best option to future-proof our business.

Commenting on their success, the brothers said; “We are really excited to have been chosen as a strategic dairy farm. We want to share our experiences with other farmers and are hoping that becoming a strategic farm will focus our business direction and enable us to pay more attention to KPI’s”.

“Everyone that goes on a farm visit learns something” they continue, “you get a lot of information from talking to other farmers, this is how we have gained a lot of our knowledge. It would be great to share what we have learnt on our expansion journey and pass it on to other farmers”.

The launch event, attened by over 70 local farmers who received a warm welcome,  a farm tour with insights into Tony and Michaels operations, an overview of their key performance indicators and a a roundup of their future ambitions.

Over the next three years they will look to improve transitions increasing dry cow intakes and perfecting rations, focus on calf and youngstock management, make the most from forage and increasig their average litres per cow. 

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