Reaseheath College’s drive for efficiency will benefit farm, students and farmers

Lean management – the concept of increasing productivity and profit by improving efficiency and reducing waste – is behind a major investment into Reaseheath College’s commercial and teaching farm.

Farm Manager Mark Roue

Farm Manager Mark Roue

Nearly £800,000 is being spent on cutting edge technical and training resources aimed at making the 883 acre campus farm in Cheshire more streamlined and efficient to cope with the decrease in commodity prices being experienced by all farmers.

Investment in the farm is in addition to a £6 million project in advanced agricultural technology and engineering project in partnership with major agricultural companies such as Case IH, New Holland, CLAAS, JCB and A-Plant. These new builds are part of a total £30 million investment underway across campus which also includes additional halls of residence to cater for increased demand for college courses, new sporting facilities and significant expansion to the Higher Education Centre.

Apart from increasing productivity and reducing costs, the farm investment will allow Reaseheath uniquely to introduce the teaching of lean management into its agricultural degree and Level 3 Extended Diplomas from September. The Reaseheath Agricultural Development Academy (RADA) has worked with DairyCo on a project to roll out lean management to dairy farmers by training dairy lean consultants across the country. RADA is hoping to further this work through a European innovation partnership grant.

According to Farm Manager Mark Roue, introducing lean management will help him to run a profitable yet high welfare commercial farm which will offer an excellent example for next generation farmers.

“Lean management is about making small changes to improve efficiency, stripping waste and putting in protocols,” explains Mark, who took up his position last July after managing a 550 dairy cow unit in Berkshire. “In the dairy sector every half pence per litre of cost saved can make a big difference to the financial viability of a business under today’s market pressures.”

At Reaseheath much of the farm investment will benefit the Reaseheath Holstein dairy herd of 250 cows. The herd produces an average 10,950 litres per lactation, putting the herd in the top 10% of the breed.

Level 3 Extended Diploma in Agriculture student Oliver Smith and Assistant Herd Manager Andy Robinson check a digital display in Reaseheath’s dairy parlour

Level 3 Extended Diploma in Agriculture student Oliver Smith and Assistant Herd Manager Andy Robinson check a digital display in Reaseheath’s dairy parlour

All milking and dry cows are housed indoors for better feed and health monitoring, mainly on rubber matting with shavings although some have water beds. Youngstock are turned out in summer months.

Newly introduced technology will include the Cogent Pinpoint monitoring system – a highly sophisticated dual system which identifies individual animals by their collars and plots graphs of mobility and rumination. The graphs can be viewed on a phone and will alert the owner immediately to potential health problems or to the critical oestrus period. This programme will be available for agriculture students to view via the college IT system

The installation of a sensitive lighting system delivering 200 – 250 lux for 16 hours a day and through the night at 40 – 50 lux has also been completed. Higher and consistent light levels should encourage greater intake of food, stimulate higher fertility levels and increase mobility, all leading to improved milk production.

Vertical mega fans have been introduced into the cubicles and milking parlour, benefitting both cows and staff by keeping temperatures low in warm weather.

A hydraulically operated, vertical lift foot trimming crush with a touch screen computer programmed with the cow’s foot history has also been installed. This sophisticated equipment allows Dairy Herd Manager Steve Small and his staff to carry out all foot care while students observe and learn the practice.

New technology to be introduced to the dairy parlour include an Apollo milking system which automatically sprays the cow’s teats when milking is complete. The cluster self-cleans before the next cow. This system will deliver increased throughput, better productivity, less risk of infection transference and reduce labour input.

Reaseheath has also invested in computerised monitoring systems and technology to support shepherd Ollie Bagley in the management of its 500 North Country mule and Texel cross sheep enterprise. The college’s commercial 130 sow pig unit, kept on an RSPCA approved, high welfare, straw based system, has also received investment, resulting in savings in cost and time for Pig Unit Manager James Payne.

Reaseheath has 240 acres allocated for arable cereal crops in addition to 170 acres of maize grown each year. The college has been applying lean management to its growing programme for years by applying the correct amount of fertiliser and chemicals and through the use of technology.

This will be streamlined further through the introduction of the Gatekeeper cropping programme which stores field data and the results of soil and slurry analysis. The system will produce detailed targeted instructions for tractor driver Richard George, who will link in wirelessly via a computer app stored on his phone.  The programme also links into the satellite navigation and field mapping systems on the college’s tractors and crop application machinery.

The updated Trimble 750 field mapping system, using satellite navigation, is another recent technical enhancement. This links into the assisted steering system used by the tractors when drilling, applying and spraying, eliminating waste and reducing soil compaction.

Header caption: Head of Agriculture Iain Clarke explains the choice of nozzles on the farm’s 24m sprayer to Level 3 Extended Diploma in Agriculture students