Farmer/owner: Chris and David Dibble
Farm location: Somerset
Farm name: Lottisham House
Herd: 220 Holstein Friesians
Milking system: 24:24 Herringbone Parlour
Date of installation: December 2011
In 2010 the Dibble brothers, who farm with their father, Richard, began thinking about their future in dairy production, and what to do about the aging milking facilities at Lottisham House.
“We were milking 180 cows through an old 16:16 parlour that originally started out as a 10:10 herringbone. We could have carried on milking in it for a few more years, but it was rapidly becoming too small for the size of cows and was an increasingly unpleasant environment to work in,” explains Chris Dibble.
“We’d already decided to remain in milk production for the long-term, so took the plunge to update the parlour and invest in new facilities.”
Chris and David wanted to design a new set-up that would allow the 220 cows to be milked and looked after by one person, with the farm’s second worker free to concentrate on feeding and straw bedding. Plans were therefore drawn-up for a new unit which sits adjacent to the farm’s existing housing facilities.
“We knew the project was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to upgrade, so wanted to get it right first time,” Chris continues. “In the current climate 220 cows is enough to make Lottisham House a viable venture, but you never know what new challenges are around the corner so it made sense for us to future-proof the business by building facilities that could easily be extended to cope with up to 350 cows.”
The Dibbles spent the next 12 months researching the best solution to their requirements, making sure they involved their herdsman, Paul Murray, and relief milker, Kevin White, and the farm’s vet, Mike Kerby in the relevant discussions. “It was very much a team effort,” David Dibble describes, “and one that we wanted to get exactly right before any work started. We drew on the expertise of our own staff, as well as the experience of a group of contractors and suppliers who knew what would work and what wouldn’t.”
In the end, the Dibble’s chose a Fullwood 24:24 low line parlour which sits within a purpose built shed, complete with new cow handling races, hospital area and office accommodation.
“We made the parlour’s walls long enough so that an extra four milking points can be installed on either side of the pit at a later date, and pre-installed hopper chutes where the additional in-parlour feeders would sit,” Chris explains. “We also extended the parlour’s vacuum pipe so that cows in the hospital yard can be milked without having to go through the parlour.” All associated pipework and pumps have also been installed to suit the parlour’s potential larger 32:32 layout.
The new facilities also feature a new plant room which houses the parlour’s pumps and refrigeration units, as well as the parlour’s receiver vessels which have been moved out of the milking pit for hygiene purposes. Chris and David also installed Fullwood’s backflush system to clean the clusters after each cow has been milked, and have introduced pedometers for cow auto-identification, heat detection and to monitor cow activity and inactivity.
“The pedometers allow us to track each cow’s performance much more closely than previously, while the backflush system has helped us to maintain a cell count as low as 100 and a bactoscan of around 10,” Chris explains. “It also reduces the risk of any unseen or sub-clinical cases of mastitis being spread from one cow to the next.”
The parlour stalls and pit floor have been fitted with rubber matting for improved cow and worker comfort, while the in-parlour feeders have been mounted externally for ease of servicing and to prevent damage. Human footbaths have also been installed at the parlour’s entrance as a disease barrier – and to keep the dairy and office areas clean – while a high level exhaust has been fitted to divert noise from the parlour’s compressor away from the farm office.
“It’s the little things that have made the biggest differences,” Chris argues. “We visited a lot of other installations to learn from others and to bring the best design elements together on our farm. In hindsight I think we got most things right as there isn’t much that we’d change. We’ve succeeded in providing Paul and Kevin with the technology and infrastructure to enable them to maintain the same meticulous standards that they’ve always prided themselves on, albeit in a more efficient and enjoyable environment.”