College increases size of its dairy herd to reflect the latest changes in farm trends

ONE of the county's top agricultural colleges has made a huge increase to the size of its dairy herd in order to reflect modern trends in farming.

Askham Bryan College near York has boosted the size of its herd by more than 50 per cent, from 165 to 250 cows, to create a learning environment in tandem with the state of the dairy industry.

Statistics show that the average UK herd is now as high as 113 cows.

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The larger herd size reflects the pricing structure for milk, with farmers now forced to increase the number of cattle they farm in order to achieve long-term stability.

Experts predict that herds will become larger as this enables profit margins to grow, whilst fixed costs remain the same.

Bosses at the college have brought in a different management system as a result of the increased herd size, both in terms of organisation and physically on the college's farm.

Cow cubicles have replaced loose housing to make a saving on space and straw. The work was carried out as part of a 4m investment on the farm.

The increased herd also increases the workload, enabling students to have more hands-on experience of milking, extra husbandry tasks, more calves to handle plus additional fieldwork

Askham Bryan's farm operates as a commercial entity with the produce sold into local markets. The farm turns over a total of 14.6m a year.

John Wray, head of agriculture for the college, said: "At Askham Bryan, we want to create an outdoor learning environment that reflects developments in farming and agriculture to ensure our students have the relevant skills and training for the farms and jobs of tomorrow.

"The significant financial investment in increasing the dairy herd demonstrates our commitment to providing the best outdoor classroom and training for agriculture"

The increase in the size of herd took place in February.

The new cows, all Holstein-Friesians, were bought in from a dairy farmer who decided to sell up.

The comments of Mr Wray were reflected by Michael Patch, farm manager at Askham Bryan.

Mr Patch said: "We need to be showing the best commercial practice and have a duty to train these young people in areas which are obviously financially better for them.

"The trend is not so much down to us.

"Generally prices are so low that to support your overheads you need a big herd.

"Things have just about settled down, we did initially lose some yield but are back to normal now.

"There certainly was a great deal of excitement from the students.

"Obviously, the farm is a resource and we need to be showing best commercial practice."

The college is home to more than 4,500 students, drawn from across the UK.