Farm of the Week: Setting an example for the next generation with dairy, beef and arable at Askham Bryan College

Providing opportunities for students to learn while maintaining a healthy, sustainable farm business that also maximises farm income in terms of the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme is the aim for the college farm manager at Askham Bryan College, Rob Yardley.

Rob is responsible, as part of farm management business Velcourt, for the 500-acre farm that has a dairy herd at its core, beef unit, sheep and arable land that is a mix of winter wheat, maize and sugar beet, as well as temporary and permanent pasture.

Rob said his role, while not to directly tutor students, is to ensure the farm is on the right track professionally and shows the best way forward in agriculture.

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“The key is to build that bridge, creating the links so that the curriculum, the farm and education are working harmoniously and show best practice that optimises farm output.

Students at Askham Bryan College

“It’s a real pleasure to get students involved out on the farm and also understanding farm business. It’s very rewarding.

“And yes, our farm needs to be environmentally sound. It needs to be sustainable and through the way in which it is farmed and the new ELM scheme it is important we are looking at how we not only maximise farm income and ensure profitability but also bring about the biggest environmental benefit we can.”

Rob said the dairy is the key focus of Askham Bryan College Farm.

“We have 210 Holstein and Holstein Friesian cows and we are milking 170-180 at any one time. We calve all year round with a proportion of the cows put to sexed semen in order to provide herd replacements and the rest on beef cattle AI.

Rob Yardley on the college's point to point racecourse

“We milk the cows using two systems. We have a De Laval robot that 50-60 cows are milked by and a conventional De Laval 20/20 rapid exit parlour. As the cows calve they generally move on to the robot, although it also depends on the cow as some cows will suit the robot better than others, usually dependent on such as udder formation and placement of teats.

“The herd average is around 8,500 litres with the milk going to Arla.”

Rob said the two systems operated in the dairy offer students the opportunity to learn the differences between the systems, and that robot is now used for feeding cattle.

“The latest machine installed is a De Laval Opti Duo that uses an augur to refresh the feed and pushes it up to the cattle. It allows greater frequency of feeding and saves on labour and using a conventional silage pusher.”

Askham Bryan College Farm has both beed and dairy herds

The beef enterprise at Askham Bryan College Farm sees a new beef unit coming into use shortly, funded from Yorkshire and Humberside Institute of Technology.

Rob said the Angus, Limousin and Belgian Blue calves born through the dairy herd that were previously sold through local livestock markets at 12 weeks are all now being taken to either 12 months and sold as stores or finished at 15-18 months and sold at Selby, York or Thirsk.

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“The variety in cattle breeds gives our students the opportunity to select different breeds when getting involved in such as stockmanship and stockmanship competition. It creates a better learning environment than focusing wholly on one breed.

“In the past our numbers have been dictated by the size of our sheds but we will soon be able to accommodate more with the new unit.”

Lambing is approaching its end for this year at the farm. Rob said it is also aimed at producing for the local livestock markets.

“We lamb from February until mid-March aiming to produce lambs at around 40-45 kilos. The flock runs to 170 breeding ewes and is split fairly evenly between Mules and Beltex that are then crossed by mainly Blue Texel and Beltex tups.

“We aim to get all fat lambs away between May to December.”

The arable operation at the farm sees half of the land down to grassland with around 150 acres aimed at producing three cuts for silage to feed the cattle during the winter months and with a small proportion cut for haylage.

Rob said the rest of the grass, around 100 acres, is used for grazing the dairy herd and sheep, and that for the first time this year there will be grass sown with the maize crop.

“We grow around 120-130 acres of maize for the dairy cows and when we harvest the maize crop this year we will have a grass crop underneath which will capture any nitrogen in the soil, which will then allow us to graze the sheep on through the winter.”

The other two main crops are winter wheat and sugar beet. Rob said chemical and fertiliser usage is something they try to keep to a minimum on the farm and is managed through integrated crop management and the use of manures through having the dairy herd.

Rob said that attention on the farm is starting to turn towards ELM.

“We still have another year left to run on our present environmental schemes though ELS and HLS agreements but we are now looking at a bigger, newer strategy under ELM.

“We are looking at what we already have, what the potential is for new gains, where we have already reached full potential gain and what needs resetting. We need to reduce the impact on water courses and air pollution.

“We need to integrate the new ELM scheme into Askham Bryan College Farm to look at where we can make the most positive impact both environmentally and for the long-term future of the farm.

“And we need to ensure that what we undertake is relevant to our situation. We need to look at local habitat and what we already have.”

Rob said that the farm still has an important part to play at the college.

“We need to get the message across through the way we farm that farming has to be profitable and sustainable, otherwise we won’t be farming for very lo