News

Hitchon Case Study

Published 1 September 09

Detailed research into all aspects of slurry management and cow health and welfare is being carried out before a planned dairy expansion programme goes ahead on a dairy farm in Herefordshire.

Jim, Sheila and daughter Sarah Hitchon are determined to have all the facts and figures to hand when they finally decide what their cubicle house and slurry storage system will comprise when building starts on a new site at Woodfields Farm, Ledbury.

A 20:20 Westfaila Herringbone direct line parlour was installed five years ago and they already have the necessary planning permission for cow accommodation to take herd numbers from the current 90 milkers to150. The pedigree Clenchers herd of Holsteins was established in the late 70s and had notable success in the show ring until TB struck the farm, forcing them to stay away from shows. The Hitchons have seen some of their best animals culled due to the disease, which is rampant in the area.

Sarah, who returned to the farm five years ago after studying agriculture at Newcastle University, is particularly interested in the dairy herd and is keen to find a way around the disease problem that has reduced herd numbers from 130 to 90 milkers. "We want to sell pedigree stock but cannot because of TB which has led us the think about keeping the cows indoors all year round.  It would be impossible to house them all year round in our current loose housing system so we are considering cubicles and sand bedding," said Sarah. She and her father approached Hugh Black at DairyCo for advice and he organised an event on the farm to find our more about sand beds and slurry separation and handling options. "We are still at the initial stages so we are hoping for inspiration," Sarah said. "The farm is in a newly designated NVZ so we will need a new storage system rather than adapt our current arrangements."

Despite the TB problems and low milk price, Jim, Sheila and Sarah are positive about the future. "We have never had a year when we have not made a profit. We are owner occupiers with some rented ground and we always keep an eye on costs," said Jim. "It will come right. People will want to be fed and with food miles coming into things now, they will want food produced on their own doorstep," he added.

The cows currently yield 9,800 litres mostly off homegrown foods. No cake is bought in, they just buy a blend to mix with the caustic-treated wheat.On top of the grassland the 350-acre farm grows 50 acres of wheat and 50 acres of maize, all for home consumption. As well as running the farm without  any outside labour, the family also has a cake decorating business which Sheila and Sarah now operate from a converted building beside the farm house.

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