Family dairy farmers the Kidds from Quernmore near Lancaster have spent the last 10 years future-proofing their milking enterprise in the hope of building a sustainable farming business for the next generation.

Building a sustainable farming business

Booth Hall Farm is home to 150 all year-round calving Holsteins plus followers. Due to limited local expansion options, the family has focused on shrewd investments to save labour and improve animal welfare to allow the farm to run as efficiently as possible. The herd now produces 9,000 litres per cow per year from 360 grass acres plus some ground earmarked for growing whole-crop cereals.

Brothers David and Neil Kidd will be the fourth generation to run the enterprise and now farm in partnership with their mother Maureen and father Edwin, who still live in the farmhouse. Neil does most of the milking, with David focusing on feeding and rearing the calves. Ultimately, Edwin and Maureen will step back from the day-to-day running of the farm to allow their sons to take on more responsibility and drive the business forward.

Investing in calf housing

“Our first major investment was a new parlour, which was followed by improved cubicle housing for the cows,” David Kidd says. “But our latest project is a new re-located, totally bespoke calf rearing building, which is already transforming the way we rear our herd replacements. Going forward, investment will be channelled into projects like this that save us time. We do not really see ourselves getting much bigger, so it’s all about efficiency.”

David says the old calf accommodation wasn’t ideal, although the calves were reared individually and did do quite well. “However, we were spending too much time washing down the pens and bucket feeding. I was spending about 45 minutes a day making up feeds and feeding calves. We wanted a much easier system.”

In consultation with their parents, David and Neil decided to re-configure the calf housing on the home site. The old calf shed was demolished and this released ground ideally located for a new house for Neil. Following extensive research, the Kidds then erected a brand new, bespoke calf building, giving them the opportunity to build from scratch what they now see as fit-for-purpose, easily-managed accommodation for calves.

“The relocation of the calf house will ultimately allow Neil to move back onto the farm with his family and mean he can be around for any night calvings. It also means we can now rear our dairy youngstock as efficiently as possible,” David says.

Installing a Computerised Calf Feeder

The Kidds also sought advice from local Volac representative Jason Short about computerised calf rearing systems and following his input they became the first unit in the UK to install the new Urban Alma Pro computerised feeder.

Urban Parallel Pro June 2017-4

“Automatic milk feeding machine technology has really moved on and this innovative new computerised system really ticks all the boxes for us,” David says.

Volac’s Jason Short points out that the new machine is a great step forward at a time when the industry is focusing on sustainable, high performance calf rearing.

“The system is capable of feeding up to 120 calves individually and accurately during the pre-weaning milk feeding period. It also allows parallel feeding, which typically means no waiting time at the drinking station and up to four calves can be fed simultaneously. But what is really innovative in this new feeder is its improved hygiene system, which incorporates automatic teat cleaning with disinfection after every calf feed. And, uniquely, the ability to deliver the right dose of any necessary medications, such as electrolytes, to the right calf, at the right time,” he says.

The machine recognises an individual calf’s ear tag when it enters the feeding station and allocates the correct milk portion and concentration accordingly. Once the calf has taken its feed the teat will re-track and be sprayed with cold water and a disinfectant solution. Machine hygiene status has also been enhanced to allow sanitisation with acid and alkali up to four times a day, which cleans and sterilises the feed lines and bowl.

David appreciates these potential hygiene and medication benefits, but is particularly impressed with the touch-screen control system and the fact that it can connect seamlessly via WiFi to his phone or tablet.

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“The calf feeding curves are easily programmable and thanks to an in-line temperature sensor it always mixes and feeds milk at a consistent temperature. The machine automatically knows the daily feeding requirements of each and every calf, so every animal gets exactly what it needs. You can also easily see how often an animal drank and how much it consumed – and if it doesn’t drink enough the machine triggers an alarm on your smart phone to alert us to a potential issue, even if you are not on the farm,” he says.

David says initially he was a bit nervous about group housing the calves, but the new building design means the rearing environment is good and the machine takes care of optimum nutrition. Early life colostrum feeding protocols are also excellent, which means the calves always enter the new rearing building in the best possible shape.

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“We separate all our calves from the cow at birth and tube feed them to make sure they get what they need, aiming to get four litres of high quality colostrum into them via two x two litre feeds within the first six hours of life. Our vet also blood tests calves periodically to check the effectiveness of our colostrum feeding.”


The Kidds believe the new calf house and computerised milk feeder have transformed the efficiency of their youngstock rearing.

“It’s certainly released a lot of my time to focus in other jobs,” David says. “But we’re also rearing high quality milking herd replacements at optimum efficiency, which calve down between 22 and 26 months of age.

“The first calves went into the new building at the end of June 2017 and all we have to do is train the calf onto the teat and the rest is done automatically. About 10% of all the work done on a dairy farm is dedicated to the calves and a big part of that is mixing and feeding milk, as well as cleaning out any buckets and/or hutches or pens. We still have to clean out, but the group pen design and extra space and capacity we built into the original building plan means this is now as straightforward as possible. It’s made a huge difference to the time we spend on this part of our dairy farming operation.”

If you would like to find out more about the Urban Alma Pro, get in touch today.

Rearing to go

Halton Farms, based near Congleton in cheshire is a year-round calving farm. Faced with a hefty bill for rearing replacement heifer calves, Karen and tom halton have taken the future of their dairy replacements into their own hands.

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“It’s almost impossible to find people who will take care of your animals the same way you do,” says Karen Halton of Halton Farms based near Congleton in Cheshire.

Two years ago, Karen and her husband, Tom, were footing a hefty bill of £14,000 a month to rear replacement heifer calves from their 530-head herd of ProCROSS dairy cows.

“Not only was it very expensive, but it wasn’t being done to our standards,” Karen says. “And these calves are the future of our farm – they have to be made a priority. Our livelihood depends on it.”

a Strong start for dairy and beef calves

Currently, the year-round calving farm, which AI services 50 percent of its cows to fertility plus semen, and the other 50 percent to ProCROSS sexed semen, takes a no-nonsense approach to its calf rearing unit. According to Karen, dairy heifer calves and beef calves are managed differently to suit their future roles. However, both are given a strong foothold for a healthy start to life with a priority on biosecurity and colostrum intake.

“It’s in our management plan to eradicate Johne’s Disease from our herd and at calving we keep all positive cows separate from clean cows,” Karen says. “We also have a dedicated calving pen. Once cows begin the calving process, they are moved into the pen to calve, which is then completely disinfected after each use.”

Download our Farmers Guide to Johne’s Disease

Once calved, cows are allowed to lick their calves clean and any dampness leftover is dried away. All calves are bottle fed four litres within the first hour of being born, or approximately 10 percent of its body weight, with colostrum milked from the dam after it has been tested with a refractometer.

“The standard protocol for the dairy calves is to only bottle feed colostrum,” Karen says.

“Occasionally one refuses to suck, so we will have to stomach tube it. However, a trick I have is to mix in electrolytes with the colostrum when they won’t take it. The sweetness makes them more likely to suck and the electrolytes fire them up.”

Post colostrum feeding, beef calves are removed from their dam and placed in a pen with one to two other beef calves and teat fed Volac Blossom milk powder for a week. This trains them to nipple feed before being moved to a larger pen of five calves to ad-lib feed off a milk warmer. Their stay at Halton Farms is relatively short since a beef calf buyer comes once a week to take the three-week old calves.

Find out more about Volac Blossom

Dairy heifer calves are moved into a training pen post colostrum bottle feeding, where they are trained on to Volac’s Förster Technik Vario Smart Feeder, which feeds them up to 10 litres of milk per day. For the first week, calves are kept in the training pen and fed Volac Heiferlac powder before being transitioned to a larger group.

“This machine has been pivotal to our replacement heifer rearing programme. Calves wear collars with sensors that track how much and how many times they are feeding. All this data can then be tracked on the Calf App on the iPad so I can monitor calf performance from the other side of the farm, my kitchen or even on holiday via the CalfCloud,” Karen says. “Intake decreases and less feeder visits often signals the early stages of an ill calf before we can physically see it. These calves go through a lot during their first few weeks of life –from being moved twice shortly after being born, the change from colostrum to powder and socialisation with other calves, making it essential we keep a close eye on their health.”

Along with data tracking, which also includes daily liveweight gain, the machine takes pressure off the labour intensities of rearing calves, with the ability to feed 120 calves at a time and self-clean and self-calibrate. It also weans calves based on the farm’s age-based weaning programme; downward step feeding starts at day 21 before calves are weaned at 56 days of age.

The perfect dairy cow

Along with developing their own calf rearing unit, the Halton’s have also been on the journey of breeding the perfect dairy cow by transitioning their herd to ProCROSS. This three-way composite breed of Swedish Red, Montbéliarde and Holstein genetics is keeping a significant amount of money in the business, says Tom.

“When we started the transition, people would tell me we’d lose the value of the cows. But at the end of the day, what you sell them for isn’t relevant. We’re looking at the big picture in terms of production,” says Tom. “Because of the cross, we get the genetic benefits of heterosis, which is the uplift of positive traits passed down to progeny.”

According to him, while they are milking at 9,500 litres a year, the big pay-out is the increase in fertility and heifers reaching average calving age at 23 months.

“In 2010, our pregnancy rate was at 22 percent. And today we are at 30 percent,” he says. “The breed more than pays for itself with more calves on the ground. The increase in fertility alone is worth £44,000 a year. No one see’s that money – we’re not getting a cheque for it. But it’s also not leaving the farm.”

While their breeding programme gives calves the genetic opportunity to go on and perform well, both Tom and Karen say this wouldn’t be possible without proper calf management in the rearing stage.

“Their health, their nutrition – all of this directly correlates into how they perform later in life,” Karen says. “Not only are we giving our calves a strong start, but the ability to reach their genetic potential.”

A focus on health

“There are a lot of happy cows in here,” Karen says as she walks through Halton Farms main cow shed. High ceilings, wide passage ways and daily cleaned sand beds are just one of the components to the operation’s herd health programme.

halton farm

Calves, which are housed in a dry, well ventilated building, are given clean straw beds in small batch pens that are disinfected between use. At 7-10 days of age, an intranasal is administered to help protect against respiratory disease. They are also later vaccinated against BVD, leptospirosis, IBR and Salmonella.

“We also pull groups of calves at random to test their immunoglobulin levels to make sure they are receiving adequate passive transfer from colostrum,” explains Karen.

Download our Farmers Guide to Housing for Young Calves

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