Complex engineering challenge enables farmer to carry on milking, extracts from the South East Farmer, March 2013.
Dairy farmer Ken Ledger had the experience and the farming knowledge to know exactly what he wanted to achieve when he set out to modernise his dairy at Home Farm, Ringwould, near Dover. The challenge he faced was how to achieve his goal in the most efficient way, since it meant dealing with some complex engineering issues while continuing to run his existing business at the same time. “I knew exactly what I wanted, which was a bigger and more efficient milking parlour and accommodation for 100 extra cattle. What was more difficult was working out how to pull the various bits together in the most effective way,” explained Mr Ledger, one half of the Ledger Farms Ltd family business that includes his brother, arable farmer John Ledger.
In the event he asked project management expert Duncan Pierce, a partner with chartered surveyors BTF partnership, for advice and assistance on achieving his goal. Mr Pierce and his Hadlow based team were able to provide a vital link between Mr Ledger’s dream of a new milking parlour and the reality of installing a 50-point external rotary parlour, a complex engineering challenge at the best of times, not least with cows to be milked at the same time.
What BTF was also able to do was control the costs of the project by making sure that the various contractors involved were quoting in an organised way against a carefully-drafted specification. “If you just ask people to quote without setting out exactly what you want them to do for you, it’s easy to let the costs escalate because extras just keep on cropping up,” he explained. “If the project is managed carefully from day one, with everything thought through and listed clearly, it’s much easier to make sure it all stays within budget.
With the GEA rotary parlour costing around £10,000 per point and the whole investment topping the £1 million mark, keeping costs under control was clearly a priority for Mr Ledger. The extra accommodation for 100 cows was provided by extending an existing barn and has allowed Mr Ledger to increase his herd from 350 to 450 Holstein Friesians. With the extra head of cattle putting pressure on his original 22/22 herringbone dairy, it was time to invest in modern facilities that would help him to produce milk in a competitive and profitable way even at current prices.
Apart from helping the cows to doze comfortably, the parlour is equipped with the usual high-tech auto ID and milk recording equipment. An electronic transponder worn by each cow sends a signal to the cutter gate so that individual animals can be separated from the herd if they need to be treated in a specific way.
“These are all useful tools that helps us look after the animals, milk the herd efficiently and remain competitive in the industry,” explained Mr. Ledger. Increasing the size of the herd, and providing suitable accommodation for the extra animals, was an important part of that goal of making the business more efficient. “Statistics show that 54 per cent of the UKs dairy cattle are in herds of 200 or more,” Mr Ledger commented. “Not long ago that would have been considered an enormous herd, but these days it’s what you need to do to improve efficiency. If you think about it, demand for milk has not fallen but there are fewer dairy farmers out there, which means that those of us who are still in the business are operating with more animals and lower overheads. If you send a tanker to a farm to collect the milk it costs the same to get it there whether it is picking up 2,000 litres or 20,000 litres.”
Mr Ledger’s herd currently produces around 10,000 litres a day, which he supplies to Capital Milk. He aims to increase the yield, but he is also determined to make sure his milk continues to hit the highest possible quality threshold. “Quantity is certainly a large part of the equation, but producing quality milk with low bactoscans and low somatic cell counts is vitally important and is the other determining factor when it comes to making dairy farming profitable,” said Mr Ledger. “It’s down to cleanliness and herd health and that’s something I take very seriously.”
Groundworks and civil engineering specialists Torran Construction acted as main contractors for the extension to the dairy housing and the dairy building itself, which used steel framed buildings by Scorpion Buildings Ltd. That part of the project was straightforward and expertly delivered, but designing and installing the parlour equipment was a more complex challenge and needed the project management expertise of Mr Pierce and his team to ensure it ran equally smoothly.
With BTF project managing the installation, Mr Ledger was able to concentrate on ‘the day job’ and on building up his herd ready to make quick and efficient use of the new accommodation. That process has gone smoothly, with the business already benefitting from higher yields and a more efficient milking process.