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Robotics at Cultercullen
by Lesley Eaton
Colin Marr runs Cultercullen Farm near Udny Station with his wife Carol. Recently sons Nicholas and Gavin have become partners in the business after completing their respective studies. Colin is keen to invest in the future of the business, which began when his grandfather took over, what was then a tenanted farm in the 1930s, taking an already established dairy with him from another farm in the area.
With most of the land at Cultercullen and some at nearby Belhelvie, dairying is very much the main thrust of the 850-acre enterprise, which also rears replacement heifers for the dairy herd and rears barley beef bulls. In addition to 400 acres of grass are 450 acres of cereals comprising 70 acres of oil seed rape, 90 acres of wheat, 120 acres of winter barley and the remainder is spring barley.
The 200-strong herd of milking cows benefited last year from the installation of two Lely robotic milking systems and, whilst half are still milked in a traditional parlour setting, work is underway to replace that with a further two robots in a project, which has been assisted by a grant from the Scottish Rural Development Programme. Colin hopes phase two will be up and running later this year and herd numbers are forecast to increase to 240 milking cows.
“We had very much reached a crossroads in terms of what to do next – upgrade existing facilities or replace them,” explained Colin. “The fact that both boys were keen to come home and be part of the business meant that investment in new technology was the way forward to take things to the next level – and the next generation.
“Another catalyst was the fact that, at around the same time, we were fortunate to become one of a handful of farmers north of Aberdeen to be accepted into the Tesco Sustainable Dairy Group and most of what we produce goes there via Robert Wiseman Dairies in Aberdeen.”
“The parlour was built in the 1960s and underwent major upgrade work in 1976 as well as other improvements since, but our decision to create purpose-built sheds for the modern system has meant better and more capable buildings to work in and good returns to the extent that we are now in the midst of phase two of the exercise.”
Colin added: “It was a challenge to get everything working exactly as we wanted it to but the new system is better than we expected. We also have great engineers based here in the North east and that kind of swift, expert back-up is essential just in case things go wrong.
“The robots essentially operate as another person so whilst they look after the milking with a bit of general maintenance, we can very much concentrate our focus on looking after the animals.”
So far, the investment has paid dividends in production terms, with Colin reporting that his cows now produce 8,200 litres a year compared with 7,800 litres prior to the installation of the robotic milking system.
But these figures come as no surprise to Gary Leitch who runs Kilmarnock-based Dairy Automation Ltd, the Lely franchise holders who installed the system at Cultercullen.
He said: “We would look to a ten to 15% increase in yield on a regular basis, not least because the cows are being milked an average of three times a day rather than the more conventional twice a day. The system is also more beneficial to the animals because it operates on the basis of completely free access – the cows can see the robots at all times and they have complete freedom to come and go as they please.”
Dairy Automation Ltd operates throughout Scotland, with the exception of Dumfries & Galloway, which is covered by a Lely agent based at Longtown. Gary added: “The North east of Scotland is a key area for us as most of our business is in that part of the world, but we are increasingly finding that the south west is a growth market and we now have a full time engineer in that area. We are, however, looking to grow Dairy Automation Ltd throughout Scotland.”
For further information, visit www.lely.com or call Gary Leitch on 07877 980755.