Striking gold was a shock for the Ayrshire-based Logan family, which has lifted the 2022 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup. We find out more about their progressive dairy herd and business, and its future plans.
TEXT SARAH ALDERTON
The news that his family’s herd and dairy business has scooped the UK dairy industry’s most prestigious award had yet to properly sink in when CowManagement spoke to Alistair Logan. Based at Kilbirnie, in Ayrshire, the Logan family has been crowned the winner of the 2022 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup competition. “It was a huge shock. We really didn’t expect to win it,” says Alistair, who collected the award with his wife Anne, adding that making the final line up was exciting enough. “That in itself was a big achievement. But going on to actually win wasn’t something we’d really thought about.”
The award really is a big deal to the fifth-generation family partnership, which comprises brothers Alex, Tom and Hugh, alongside Tom’s sons Alistair and Stuart. “I’m usually laid back and it takes a lot to make me nervous. But there was something about the presentation at Dairy-Tech, probably the sense of occasion, which threw me a little. That feeling, when they announced that we’d won, was incredible.”
The Logan’s 280-cow pedigree Holehouse herd comprises predominantly red-and-white Holsteins. Average yield stood at 10,500kg of milk, at 4.10% butterfat and 3.40% protein, on twice-a-day milking, for the qualifying year to September 2021. Milk from this all-year-round calving herd is sold to Müller. Using technology and data to maximise cow health and welfare, and the application of renewable energy, are key factors that the Logans say have helped their dairy herd progress and are serving to future-proof their business.
Prestigious win: Anne and Alistair Logan lifted the trophy at Dairy-Tech 2023
In 2010 the unit, which also supports a 160-cow suckler herd and 1,700 ewes, was at a crossroads. The family faced a decision – to either give up dairying, or invest and carry on.
They chose to stay in dairying and, in 2014, the milking herd moved to a new unit on a greenfield site. This comprised a 242-place cubicle house for the milking herd, and a DeLaval 20:40 swingover parlour. In 2018 they built new housing on a brownfield site for dry cows, bulling/in-calf heifers and young calves. Further investments in housing for weaned calves through to bulling were made in 2022.
Heifer rearing: new facilities were built to house young calves in 2022
Improved calf housing has led to a better environment and has reduced the disease pressure, with a low rate of antibiotics used across the herd of 16.09 mg/PCU, according to Alistair. “Heifers are now calving down at 26 months old, with a low mortality rate of 3% from birth to calving.”
He adds that the family is taking steps to future-proof the business. “Some things are outside our control, such as the local climate and inability to grow crops, so we’re compensating by improving efficiencies in other areas.
“We aim to make the most of the farm’s natural resources and have invested in other sources of income to future-proof the farm.” For example, average annual rainfall here is 1,900mm: “So, four years ago, we installed a 950kw hydro plant, which supplies all the electricity for our farm, plus enough to support about 600 homes, which is exported to the grid. “We have solar panels and a biomass boiler, which burns woodchip to heat the farmhouse and dairy. We will also begin installing a 3MW wind turbine. We are a net exporter of electricity,” he adds.
The herd is housed all year round in cubicles with green bedding. “This completes the circle, as we are using renewable energy to provide renewable bedding, which is then recycled again.”
Green-bedded cubicles: new housing accommodates 242 milkers
Efficiencies also continue to improve in the herd, with technology helping the business to achieve outstanding results. All cows are fitted with Cow Manager ear-tag sensors. This records rumination, eating, activity, and cow temperature. Alistair says it is one of the ‘best bits of kit’ on the farm. “We’ve been using it for two years and it has knocked 20 days off the calving interval, which is now down to 382 days, and has increased pregnancy rate from 17% to 23%. This happened within six months of starting to use the ear tags,” explains Alistair.
“We have virtually stopped looking for cows in heat as we trust Cow Manager. As well as helping us to target when to serve cows, it is invaluable at highlighting health issues early, before cows become sick.” Alistair says this is particularly useful post-calving when it can pick up cows that are ‘under the weather’. Any data collected is acted on immediately. The Logans were one of the early adopters of DeLaval’s body condition scoring camera technology, situated in the parlour exit lane. This helps highlight any health issues and allows cows’ diets to be adjusted.
The family has also started to use an on-farm milk testing slide to better target antibiotic use, if required. After an incubation of 24 hours, they can tell whether the mastitis case is gram-positive or negative. If gram-positive bacteria are detected, antibiotics are administered. Those with a gramnegative infection, showing no signs of disease, are treated with a herbal AHV bolus. The Logans also use the boluses in high-cell-count cows that show no sign of infection.
“It can take a couple of months for cell counts to come down, but the boluses seem to work,” says Alistair. They also have an automatic footbath and use a Lely Discovery scraper to clean passageways to aid hoof health. “Cow comfort and health are our priority,” he adds.
Although the Logans struggle to grow crops, they are in a good grass-growing area. Cows are fed a TMR comprising grass silage, a blend, draff, fodder beet, and straw. A high-quality compound is provided in out-of-parlour feeders. During the past five years, the Logans have reseeded all silage ground with hybrid Italian ryegrass, and carried out extensive soil sampling to better target fertiliser applications and maximise yields.
Breeding focuses on producing a medium-sized, robust, high-yielding Holstein, with positive health traits, fertility and lifespan. Sexed semen is used on 75% of the herd, with the rest put in calf with beef semen. Surplus replacement heifers are sold, which provides an additional stream of income.
The competition judges agreed that the Logan’s unit ‘has it all’ when it comes to a farming system. “The herd ‘ticked all the boxes’ for sustainability and the environment, maximising output from the land, and optimising herd health and welfare,” says RABDF’s Di Wastanage, who presented the cup to Alistair Logan at Dairy-Tech in February. “The family is at the forefront of many technological advances to help drive forward the performance of their herd.”
This tech, as well as the herd, dairy facilities and management system will all be showcased at this summer’s Gold Cup open day. The Logans have already begun preparing for this event, and that, according to Alistair, is helping their achievement to sink in. “Talking about dates and what we’ll need to organise and set up has made it more real. We’re also planning a family celebration. So 2023’s going to continue to be a big and eventful year for us.” Plans to build a new silage pit have been put on hold, but it will be full-steam-ahead to invest in youngstock housing for weaned calves on the unit’s brownfield site. “That will house calves from 12 weeks to six months old,” says Alistair.
There will also be more technological investment this year in the next generation of milkers. “We’re just about there with infrastructure, and we’re going to look at herd genetics next. We plan to start genomic testing heifers in 2023. So we’re certainly not standing still. There’s plenty more to do to improve our herd even further, and we’re excited about the rest of 2023 and, longer term, building a business that’s fit for the next generation, should they want to continue dairying.”