Bicton's Home Farm was purchased in 1947 and over the years it has developed into a thriving educational facility and working farm.
The College farm is run commercially with the aim of producing above average husbandry results and financial returns. A range of practicals and activities are offered to meet the work experience and academic needs of the students undertaking studies in agriculture. Students undertake regular periods of work experience and practical instruction on the units, enabling them to gain a wide appreciation of the differing sectors of agriculture.
The low input/ low output dairy herd at Bicton College consists of crossbred cows mainly Jersey X Holstein, subsequent crosses are Ayrshire and Friesian to produce hybrid stock which are hardier and show hybrid vigour enabling the cows are kept outside all year round on free draining sandy soil.
Current yield is 5000 litres per cow per lactation with butterfat averaging 4.8% and Protein 3.76%. Concentrates are fed as blend at approx 1 tonne per cow per year.
The Crossbred cows are aimed at reducing the production costs of each litre of milk produced, through lower vet and med costs, reduced housing costs, and their superior longevity which keeps replacement rates low. The herd currently comprises of 120 Crossbred cows (with planned expansion to 150), block calving in Feb/Mar/April each year, and producing the majority of their milk from grazed grass or forage.
Tracks have been laid to all grass fields which can be used by the dairy herd, so access is possible even during periods of heavy rain. Some of these have been upgraded in 2011 to provide a more even surface that will help prevent foot trauma such as bruising of the soles. Energy saving technologies in the form of Heat Recovery on the milk cooling system, and a Vacuum on demand vacuum pump were installed early in 2011to enhance the sustainability of the enterprise.
Currently we are milking 120 cows. Replacements are homebred and calve at 2 years old. The milk purchaser is Dairy Crest under a manufacturing contract. We made an investment of £100,000 in a new milking parlour, milk storage facilities, and track ways in 2001, and a new covered feed yard in 2010 erected at a cost of £55,000. A new slurry store was constructed in 2011along with roofing over the collecting yard to prevent rainwater mixing with the slurry. The cows are milked through a 24/48 direct line Waikato parlour.
Dairy Cow Grazing
As the cows calve in February they are grazed on grass that has grown over the winter months and supplemented with grass and maize silage. A careful watch is kept on grass growth to ensure that grazing does not outstrip growth. All accessible grass is grazed with areas only being removed for conservation as grass growth exceeds demand. This is determined by measuring grass DM production weekly with a rising plate meter. Normally daily dry matter production starts to outstrip daily dry matter intake in early April.
Cows are grazed in paddocks and given a fresh area every 12 hours. Tracks have been laid out to most fields to allow good cow access even in wet conditions. Grazing will continue through into the Autumn until November. Most fields have P and K indices above 2. Only maintenance levels of these nutrients are required, i.e. 30-50kg/ha under grazing regimes. The majority of this will be supplied by judicial slurry spreading. More will be needed after silage cut. The more recent re-seeds have a high inclusion of large leafed clovers and chicory, which increase intake at grazing, and provide summer grazing.
Nitrogen is applied from early February, and then in regular monthly amounts throughout the year totalling 240Kg N/ha. The last application is made in mid September to encourage growth through the winter for next season. Trials over many years have shown the grass at Bicton responds to applications of Sulphur, so sulphur is applied with the nitrogen during the spring and summer.
The low input/low output dairy herd at Bicton Home Farm has been developed by crossing mainly Jersey/Holstien progeny with some Aryshire and Fresian breeds to produce a hybrid stock capable of remaining outside all year round. This hybrid is genetically strong and physically hardy, coping well on the free draining sandy soil.
The purpose behind this breeding program has been to produce an animal that has low production costs per litre of milk. The cows are milked through a 24/48 direct line Waikato parlour.
The Farm uses a block calving system in Feb/Mar/Apr therefore producing the bulk of our milk from grass and forage. Currently we have 120 dairy cows, replacements are home bred and calf at 2 years old.
110 North Country Mules are run on the college parkland by a local Shepherd, Graham Hill, this provides student access to sheep and the seasonal activities and practicals in running a flock.
This also helps manage areas of the parkland that would be more difficult to make best use of with the dairy herd.
The sheep kept at Home Farm are also a key part of Lambing Sunday.
Bicton Home Farm has a light sandy loam soil which can suffer during dry summers from drought. This limitation means that the majority of the land is categorised as Grade 2/3. The B3178 main Budleigh Salterton road splits Home Farm, isolating the farm buildings and 43 hectares of mostly low lying land adjacent to the River Otter. The listed parkland surrounding Bicton House is also permanent pasture, because of the large number of trees, planted in the last century, and planned conservation management with English Heritage. These areas are utilised by the sheep flock and in part, the dairy young stock.
Bicton Home Farm rises to a height of 61 metres above sea level and is in the rain shadow of the Haldon Hills, so limiting rainfall to 750 mm per annum. The latitude of the South West peninsula, together with the effects of the Gulf Stream and warm South West winds, provides Bicton with a growing season in excess of 200 days allowing early growth in the spring and a reduction in the length of time livestock has to be housed over winter.