Milk production in the north-east of Scotland

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<ul><li><p>ONE-DAY SYMPOSIUM </p><p>21st May, 1980, at the Royal Darroch Hotel, Aberdeen </p><p>Milk production in the north-east of Scotland By MAITLAND MACKIE </p><p>Mackies Aberdeen Dairy Co. Ltd., and Chairman, Aberdeen and District Milk Marketing Board, Aberdeen </p><p>The technical and economic factors influencing the production of milk on the farm in the area of Aberdeen and District Milk Marketing Board are described ond discussed. </p><p>A Sandhurst cadet sitting his final examination before passing-out as an officer and a gentleman was puzzled how to reply to the question: What is the role of cavalry in modern warfare? After chewing the end of his pen for some time he wrote The role of the cavalry in modern warfare is to add some tone to what otherwise would be an unseemly brawl. I no not mind my paper being compared to the useless cavalry, and even if it does not add tone to the meeting, I hope it will serve to remind us that the dairy industry starts with, and is dependent on, the farmer and his cow. Therefore this paper tends to be a description of the changes in milk production in the North- East as I have seen them. </p><p>Being totally parochial I define the North-East as being the three counties of Aberdeen, Banff and Kincardine, as that is the area of the Aberdeen &amp; District Milk Marketing Board, and the area I know best. Within that area I know my own experience best and therefore make no apologies if it appears to be too much a personal story. While on the whole, milk production in the North-East may well be taken as a microcosm of milk production in Scotland, there are essential differences between our area and the rest of Scotland. The main difference is that we operate in a much harder climate than much of the rest of the country. Although we have a reasonable rainfall of about 30 in/year, reasonably spread throughout the year, we have on the whole poorer soils with lower temperatures which, particularly in grass growing, force us to work that much harder to compete with our more fortunate fellow pro- ducers in the rest of the country. This applies even to our neighbours to the north where, by some curious kindness on the part of the Gulf Stream, Morayshire and parts of Inverness-shire have a totally different climate. So again I make no apology for restricting the talk to my own area. </p><p>The main effect of the climatic differences is very roughly to restrict our summer grazing for the milking cow by about a month compared with the average in the rest of the country. I have no intention of boring you with exact figures about producers, gallonages, etc: these are all available locally in the Reports of the Milk Agency from about 1928, the Milk Board from its inception in 1934, and nowadays can be looked at and compared with other areas in that very useful production, Dairy Facts and Figures published annually by the Federation of United Kingdom Milk Marketing Boards. </p><p>Arising from our climate and the lack of population with only one large town, Aberdeen, as a market for milk, it must be said at the outset that the North-East is not a dairying area. Until 1930, or thereby, most production of milk was naturally concentrated in areas like Udny and Skene, near enough to Aberdeen for economical transport </p><p>into the town, with scattered units throughout the area catering for the smaller towns and villages from Braemar on Deeside to Huntly on Donside, and for Peterhead and Fraserburgh at the other extremity of Aberdeenshire. In Aberdeen, although even in the 1920s there were pur- </p><p>chasing dairies, a very large proportion of the liquid market was supplied by producer-retailers disposing daily of their production direct to the good housewife from horse and cart and the swinging 20-gallon can ready to fill her jug brought out to the cart as it appeared on her street, or for the elite delivering a personal can often with the householders own name on a little brass plate soldered on to the can. In the rest of the area supply to the small towns and villages was almost solely by producer-retailers, with the help in the small villages of some supply from the crofters cow kept on the village croft land. </p><p>Consequently, compared with the rest of Scotland, we have always had a much bigger proportion of the milk handled by the Board, sold direct by producer-retailers. When I joined the Board in 1951 it was over 25 per cent and even today with a great reduction in the number of producer-retailers the proportion of milk sold by them is still around 15 per cent. It is largely because of the im- portance of the producer-retailer to our liquid sales in rural areas that the Aberdeen Board are perhaps more generous to them than other Boards in the size of the levy they pay. </p><p>I said I would not bore you with figures but the general picture from pre-war to today can be quickly understood. Pre-war some 700 producers sold about 12 million gal/year. Encouraged during the war and up to the early 1950s to produce more milk a smaller number (just over 600) pro- duced about 19 million gal, and today about one-third of that number (just over 200) produce some 25 million gal. That, I think, is a considerable record of progress: that 200 producers have produced almost 6 million gal more that 600 did. The result is, and there is no reason, given this platform, to be modest, that in our area we now have the largest average herd size in the UK, presently about 110 cows/herd. We have also consistently headed the league table for the production per cow. This has risen from the pre-war 700 gal/cow, to well over the 1,OOO gal mark. To be up to date 4,770 litres in 1978. Next in the league were our Inverness neighbours with 4,710 litres. It must say something for our producers who, as I have said, start off with some disadvantages of climate and soil and yet succeed to this extent. </p><p>Here it would be timely to say that on the whole the pro- ducers have not been great innovators themselves, but they have been quick to take advantage of the lead given elsewhere, often South of the Border. I would be the first </p><p>18 Journal of the Society of Dairy Technology, Vol. 34, N o . I . January 1981 </p></li><li><p>to acknowledge our indebtedness to Hosier, Paterson, Morrey, Roberts and now Moffat, as well as Robin Forrest in Scotland, he being the first to go for loose housing of the dairy cow. It is traditional for the Aberdeenshire farmer to go on safari to the south, and generally there has been some brave spirit willing to try out at home what impressed him on his journeys. </p><p>It may not be out of place to take a look at the enormous changes in milk production which have taken place, largely since the 1950s. The biggest change has, of course, been in housing and therefore the number of cows looked after by one man, Up to the end of the war we were like the rest of the country, housing our cows for the winter in byres in stalls of two cows each tied by the neck, in our case for seven months. Although I think I was the first in our area to abandon the system, I must say Im old- fashioned enough to look back with some nostalgic regret at no longer being able to go through the byre at night and see a row of well-groomed cows with their tails combed out and looking very comfortable in a nice bed of clean oat straw. No doubt it was wasteful of labour since 40 cows was thought to be the maximum one man could properly tend compared to the 100 or over which is quite common today. </p><p>Incidentally, my brother John was in America as a member of a group commissioned to study farm buildings and report to the Minister of Agriculture, just when I was in the middle of building a completely new steading to hold a hundred cows in courts bedded with straw centred round a new milking parlour. I got a postcard from him, hoping the building was going well, but informing me that the plans were now completely out of date. He was right of course, because as soon as I cut down my war-time acreage of cereals and grew more grass I then had not enough straw to keep the cows comfortable and clean. The system worked well but I soon changed from fully-bedded courts to half-bedded courts and a slatted area behind the feed troughs. This system also worked, saved about half the straw, but was still expensive in square-footage required per cow. The solution was of course the cubicle, and like most North-East producers, cubicles it was. </p><p>No change of this kind is without its problems and here the problem was what to do with the slurry. In addition to the cows we had intensive poultry and pig units, each pro- ducing massive gallonages of the awkward but valuable stuff. My solution was to pipe it around the farm and spray it on to the grass acreage and occasionally on stubble. It is messy and smelly stuff and spraying is not a popular job as you can imagine. We now remove the solids and spray the liquids, but better solutions may need to be found since at least near a village or town the non-farming households do not appreciate the smell of pig or cow or hen, or all three, permeating their breathing space for days a t a time. It may be that the prototype units used to produce methane may now, with high fuel prices, become economical to install. I can see us heating our houses and perhaps even fuelling our tractors from the waste material. It is at any rate an area worth more research, and I am glad that a good many of our Institutes and Colleges are in fact studying the subject. </p><p>The feeding of the cow, of course, is all important and I think the dairy farmers in the North-East were very quick to realize the importance of the grass crop. We were lucky to have that great enthusiast, the late Professor Martin Jones, as our specialist during and after the war. He above all others converted us from making bad hay three years out of four into making reasonable silage every year. Of course the plant breeders were introducing new strains of grass which improved output and palata- bility at the same time. While silage certainly replaced hay as the main winter food, for some years it also replaced </p><p>the turnip and indeed for many years I grew no turnips on the farm because of course in those days the neep required an enormous amount of hand labour from sowing time to harvesting. Now that the turnip job has been suc- cessfully mechanized the neep is back in favour both with the farmer and his cow. On grass seed mixtures we have also gone full circle from simple mixtures and practically no clover, back to something like the good William Find- lays Mixture, as recommended 60 years ago. Of course with the new strains we get better production helped along by applications of nitrogen undreamt of at that time. How- ever, again the price of nitrogen increases with the cost of fuel and we will no doubt come back to more reliance on clover to fix us some nitrogen free from the air. </p><p>On grazing methods I suspect our experience is similar to that in other parts of the country. We started with what became thought of as the lazy farmers method, of all the cows grazing the acreage of grass nearest the steading. We moved quickly to adopt the electric fence giving the cows a little bit of fresh grass every day with a back fence to rest the first portion grazed. Then we followed M. Voisson from France and had small paddocks permanently fenced, even dividing the cows into three groups with the best milkers getting the first days grazing with the poorest and dry cows getting the last days before the paddock was rested for re-growth and the cycle started again. The cow is a creature of habit and gets a bit confused not knowing where to go for lunch or supper, and so there is at least a movement back to set stocking which is certainly much easier both for man and beast. I believe the trials on the subject may well prove once again that grandpa knew a thing or two after all. </p><p>Having to keep our cows housed for some seven months of the year makes winter feeding all important. In this field, in common with producers everywhere, we are sub- ject to a profusion, and indeed a confusion, of advice on the best and most profitable method. Looking at the records and methods of the best producers in the area, I have come to the conclusion that there is no best method. Stock- manship and attention to some basic well-known principles still seem more important than being dogmatic about the various new theories on how to feed the dairy cow. </p><p>One advantage we did have in the North-East was, and is, that fortunately for the world we distil most of the worlds good whisky in the area. Of course we could not afford to drink much of the whisky, but we did appreciate being able to get a whiff of it by buying the distillers grains as wet draff straight from the distilleries: a very good feed which the cows love and lap up as if it were the end- product itself. With 4 lb draff equivalent to about 1 Ib barley with a much higher protein content, even a t todays price of around E17/ton at the source it is still a popular and economical part of our winter rations. A plentiful supply of draff has enabled many farms to increase their herd size with no more acres needed for silage or turnips. There was an unfortunate trend on the part of the distillers towards drying their draff, but with the high fuel costs I think that has become uneconomic and thankfully we are back to having a fair supply of the wet product which we and the cows like so much. </p><p>How, when, and how much, concentrates to feed has given rise up and down the country to more contradictory advice than anything else. The original advice from the scientific advisers to feed strictly according to yield was no doubt right when we weighed every cows milk daily or even weekly, but with so many recording only once a month, the allocation of concentrates strictly according to yield often accenuated a downward trend in yield when in fact it ought, for cows in the early part of their lactation, to have been corrected upwards in an attempt to get the real potential for milk out of the cow. With or without record- </p><p>Journd of the Society of Dairy Technology, Vol. 34, No . I , January 1981 19 </p></li><li><p>ing, the modern trend to lead feeding in the first weeks of the lactation must be a change in the right direction. For some time there was an insistence on the value of steaming-up the cow in the months before calving and although this no doubt has some value in it, the practice was overdone and led to many calving difficulties which are now avoided by returning to the stockmans eye as the judge of whether the dry cow is in good enough con- dition to carry a calf and have reserves for future milk production. However, with bigger herds of 100-300 cows, the stockmans eye is spread pretty thinly over that number of cows. The result is that now there is a trend towards treating groups of cows as individuals. Generally these groups will be newly calved cows getting lead-feed treat- ment and other groups being fed a less-concentrated ration on a declining scale a...</p></li></ul>