At first glance, someone with little farming experience deciding to go into the dairy sector might appear foolhardy, but Jon McCosh took a new approach in 2014, focusing on efficiency, genetics, robots and developing a niche premium Jersey product.
The McCosh family has been farming at Kingsbeck, near Biggar, since the 1960s, but with the majority of the partnership wishing to retire from farming, Jon, together with his wife and brother, decided to continue but modernise.
Having negotiated a contract with Graham’s Family Dairy, Jon purchased his Jersey herd from Denmark in 2015 and started milking in February 2016. He said: “From the outset, our ethos centred around the health and wellbeing of the cows. We bought animals with the best characteristics we could commercially find. Our whole farming approach is to make sure we preserve and improve the genetic quality of the herd, while giving them the conditions needed so they can perform to their potential.
“I believe if you give cows high-quality nutrition, a good environment and excellent care, then you can – and will – end up with the best quality and quantity of milk.”
Jon brought in an experienced dairyperson, Jenny Ogg, to manage the herd and he also uses specialist consultants to assist in the holisitic care of the herd as necessary. The original dairy shed was reconfigured by Robert Veitch of Ve-Tech to accommodate the Jersey cows. It was extended by two bays to make space for the Lely Astronaut A4 robots, while extra cubicles and a raised feed passage appropriate for the Jerseys were installed in the shed.
Such has been the success of the robots that Jenny spends one-and-a-half hours each morning monitoring the milking process. In her previous job she used to spend seven hours per day in the parlour. This means that she can focus on the health of the animals, which in turn leads to higher production, with a recorded average production of 687kg of milk solids per cow over 2018.
Jon said: “In dairying, particularly in the system we run, subtle detractions to genetic potential caused by the feed or environment can have a big impact. That’s why we employ a nutritionist to ensure that the diet, which is mixed daily in our Keenan mixer wagon, is optimal.
“We have also soil tested our fields and we target fertiliser application, with the aim of optimising the soil characteristics to allow it to generate the high-quality feed the Jerseys need. In 2018, we averaged 11.7ME and 17 per cent protein in our silage.
“We also use AxFast, AxCool and Whole Crop Gold additive in our silage and whole crop to ensure we get consistent fermentation in the pit.
“Our robots undertake an important role in maximising the potential production of the herd, as a feed plan can be developed to ensure that each cow gets the optimum nutrition to facilitate milk production, good body condition and high fertility.”
He added: “I was not trained as a farmer – I’m a surveyor and engineer by background, but I have learned so much by bringing in specialists. I believe that embarking on a project like this is all about mindset: if you have an opportunity and solution-orientated focus, then you will find opportunities and make things work.”