Innovative foot bath design proving its worth at Ballycairn Holsteins

William and Andrew McCollum, owners of the renowned Ballycairn Holstein herd, liken the challenge associated with the management of a high performance dairy herd to that of continually securing a number one grid position for a Grand Prix racing team.

“It’s all about attention to detail, irrespective of the milk price,” said Andrew.

“Cows must be fed properly and their health must be maintained at optimal levels, day after day. Only in this way, can the long term sustainability of the business be secured.

“In our own case we are striving to produce large quantities of high quality milk, not just from some cows, but from each individual cow in the herd. And the overall management policies put in place reflect these objectives.

William and Andrew farm on the outskirts of Coleraine. Their 300-strong Ballycairn herd is currently averaging 9,500L at 4.2% butterfat and 3.75% protein.

“Our aim is to improve milk quality and cow health. This will entail our implementing a mix of adapted husbandry and breeding-related policies.”

Andrew pointed out that that maintaining good feet represents the cornerstone of the cow management practises followed on the farm.

“If a cow is off her feet, she will not feed, she will not produce milk and she will not breed. Despite the reduction in milk price we have maintained all herd inputs at optimal levels. And this is particularly the case, where hoof care and condition are concerned.

“Foot bathing after every milking is a core component of every cow’s visit to the milking parlour. We have traditionally used Provita Hoofsure Endurance at the recommended 2% solution strength. And this approach has consistently served to prevent lameness and other hoof related problems from occurring.

“Moreover the cows are totally used to the routine. As a result, there are no hold ups in the overall milking routine.

For its part Provita has confirmed that it is now providing a bespoke consultancy service with regard to the design and installation of footbathing facilities on dairy farms throughout Northern Ireland.

“We have developed a footbathing design model which is sufficiently flexible and robust, in order to meet the needs of all milk producers and their specific milking parlour layout. In general terms the new concept comprises a double footbath arrangement in combination with a dilution pump and electronic control box. The end result is a system that provides for a pre wash of the cows’ feet in water, followed by their passage through a footbath solution that is maintained at the correct depth and dilution courtesy of an electronic control mechanism. “

This innovative design has been installed at Ballycairns for some time.

Tommy Armstrong takes up the story:

“We were approached by the family in the wake of them installing a new milking parlour,” he explained.

“The challenge was one of ensuring that the milking team on the farm could ensure that the 300-strong milking group could pass through the footbathing system with the minimal amount of fuss directly after leaving the milking parlour.

“The double footbath concept is now one that is widely accepted as being the arrangement that is most fit for purpose in terms of meeting modern dairy farmers’ management needs. And, in this regard, we have strongly recommended the use of the precast baths manufactured by Moore Concrete. The standard arrangement is to place the baths in line: the first contains fresh water only with the second containing the active solution. A key attraction of the footbath is the bung placement and the ease with which these can be removed.

“The nerve centre of the new footbathing concept is the electronically controlled dilution pump, the design of which has been specifically developed by Provita. This unique arrangement ensures that the level of solution in the footbath is maintained at an optimal level, as is the dilution rate of the Provita Hoofsure Endurance, the active ingredient in the second bath.

“Currently, the new footbathing arrangement on the McCollum farm has been set up to allow two complete passes of the entire milking group, prior to washing out and re-filling the foot baths.”

Tommy specifically pointed out that Provita’s footbathing design service is available on a ‘no-charge’ basis to farmers using Hoofsure Endurance.

“We offer a turnkey service,” he further explained.

“This includes the installation of the dilution pump plus the control box.”