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dairy farm at Bicton home farm
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beef farm, cows at Bicton home farm
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pigs at Bicton home farm
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sheep at Bicton home farm

Bicton's Home Farm was purchased in 1947 and over the years it has developed into a thriving educational facility and working farm.

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 5500 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 at around 15%. Ultimately, the herd comprises of 190 Crossbred cows, 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 190 cows. Replacements are homebred and calve at 2 years old. The milk quota held at the farm is 810,184 litres at 3.99% butterfat, and the milk purchaser is Dairy Crest under a liquid contract. A major 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 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 herd this year has produced over 1 million litres of milk including 48 tonnes of butter.

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 190 dairy cows, replacements are home bred and calf at 2 years old. There has been a lot of investment in the infrastructure of the dairy unit over the past 2 years including a new covered feed yard, slurry store, improved cattle tracks and a heat recovery unit from the milk cooling system.

Pedigree North Devon Cattle

A small herd was introduced in 2007 as an example of a suckler breed of cattle. They live on the parkland and are quite happy to look after themselves and be managed at arm’s length. The heifers and bulls are sold on to other breeders and the bulls are used within the dairy herd because if the ease of calving.

Dairy Cross Bred Beef

The final beef sired calves produced by the dairy herd are kept back and reared intensively each year to finishing around 18 months old. This is another example of a realistic working environment offered by Bicton Farm and is normal practise on a working farm albeit on a larger scale. The small numbers of calves are housed inside and their nutritional requirements and the feed conversion ratio are useful lessons learnt here.

Wagyu Beef

The Wagyu breed of cattle “is the result of crossing of the native cattle in Japan with imported breeds. Crossing began in 1868.... The government wanted to introduce Western food habits and culture. Brown Swiss, Devon, Shorthorn, Simmental, Ayrshire, and Korean cattle (Hanwoo) were imported during this period. The infusions of these British, European and Asian breeds were closed to outside genetic infusions in 1910.” (http://wagyu.org/breed-info/) .

In April 2012, 14 heifers were implanted with Wagyu embryos of which 8 have been positively confirmed as in calf. These will be born in January 2013. Bicton Home Farm is working in conjunction with an ex Bicton Student who is establishing a purebred Wagyu herd on his farm.

There are few herds around on the UK- these embryos were imported from the USA. The project includes 16 dairy cows who were inseminated and in calf to a Wagyu Bull. These cross bed calves will be split between Bicton Home Farm and the partners’ farm in Okehampton. Bicton will rear them under the intensive programme until slaughter and Okehampton will offer a comparison with an extensive system of rearing.

The resulting high value beef is highly sought after and can be worth up to £65 per kilo.

The flock consists of 50 North Country Mules, 20 LLeyn ewes, 30 Aberdale ewes, 50 pedigree Texel ewes, 12 Devon & Cornwall Longwool ewes.

Why do you have so many different sheep?

We intensively manage several different breeds of sheep in order to not only give the student a full picture of the life cycle of an average ewe from birth to table. Not all sheep breeds are the same. They have different nutritional requirements and will mature at different times and give different outcomes in terms of fat to meat ratios. We are also comparing the fertility of the different breeds and the potential difficulties that presents for example the Aberdale ewe is more likely to have a multiple birth such as twins.

Aberdale Breed

This ewe is a result of a Brynock Hill Cheviot Ewe by a Texel Ram which has been found to be carrying the Inverdale gene. This gene is naturally occurring and raises the potential lambing percentage (how many lambs a ewe has at one time) by 40%. The other relevant difference is that they require poorer quality rather than richer quality grass prior to ‘tupping’. This frees up the better quality pasture for the other ewes and enables the students to see research in action. In a commercial setting this is an important factor when choosing what breed to rear. Tupping is the name given to the time when the ram runs with the ewes. The other breeds require the opposite – this frees up more pasture.

Texel Pedigree Flock

This is one of the leading performance recorded flocks in the UK. We currently have the highest index lamb and ram lamb in the UK. We are a firm believer in letting our rams grow at their natural rate off grass, with very little concentrate fed, they are sold in their 'working clothes', so buyers can be assured that the rams do not melt when they are put to work. The 2012 lamb crop has produced 3 ram lambs in the top 10 this year and all lambs are in the top 10% in the UK. Shearling rams and ram lambs are sold to both local commercial flocks and pedigree breeders and there has been interest from Scotland, Wales and Germany.

What is index flock recording?

“Signet Breeding Services provides genetic evaluations to livestock producers to help them identify sheep and cattle with superior breeding potential. The performance recording and measurement services delivered by Signet enable the industry to capitalise on genetic improvement to improve the efficiency and quality of British livestock production. Genetic improvement has a massive impact on livestock production:

  • Improving growth and carcase traits
  • Increasing maternal efficiency
  • Enhancing animal welfare
  • Reducing the carbon footprint of ruminant production

Pedigree Devon and Cornwall Longwools

The farm's core objectives are:

The College farm is run commercially with the aim of producing above average husbandry results and financial returns. To meet the work experience and academic needs of the students undertaking studies in agriculture, a range of enterprises are exhibited. 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.

First Rare Breeds Survival Trust College

Bicton College is the UK's first Rare Breeds Survival Trust's College. Rare breeds are a key part of the curriculum, and Home Farm works closely with Bicton's £3m Animal Husbandry School in teaching animal care, husbandry and conservation as well as related enterprise activities.

Devon and Cornwall Longwool ewes and ram are resident on site along with a flock of Dorset Horn sheep. Berkshire and Oxford Sandy and Black pigs live on the farm as well as rare breed poultry groups (including Cream Legbar Chickens).

Physical and Geographic Features on the Farms

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, dairy youngstock and a small Pedigree North Devon Suckler herd.

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.

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