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Exeter-based professor's bid to double UK milk output in South West

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 21, 2014

By Hannah Finch, Twitter: @GardenerFinch

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A university professor is urging South West dairy farmers to embrace new science which he says will double milk production.

Findings by Professor Toby Mottram, founder and chief engineer at Exeter-based eCow and professor of AgriTechnology at the Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester, suggest that cows could produce 20,000 litres of milk a year, over twice what is produced today.

Fine tuned farming methods, better housing and changes to feed could also lead to one million fewer cows nationally being needed.

Prof Mottram said: “We have got to think of the cows as Olympic athletes. Everything from what they eat to their physical condition is carefully monitored and they go on to achieve amazing things.”

Prof Mottram and his son Sam, managing director at eCow, make instruments for monitoring cattle health that send data direct to a farmer’s smartphone.

They say that better monitoring of the animals can lead to better health and greater milk production.

He will explain his methods in a talk titled ‘Towards the 20,000 litre Cow’ at next month’s ExIST food security conference being held at the University of Exeter.

Prof Mottram said: “We believe that most Holstein cows could produce 20,000 litres

per year but management techniques and tools have not kept pace with genetic improvement.

He added: “I am delighted to be talking at the ExIST conference and I am looking forward to the chance to talk about new technology in dairying.”

Mark Oliver, Cornish dairy farmer and chairman of the NFU South West dairy board, said there was likely to be much interest in Prof Mottram’s findings.

He said: “I’m in favour of technology. The more we know about the cows and the happier and healthier they are will mean we get the best performance from them.”

Dr Chris Bartram, head of nutrition at Mole Valley Farmers has trialled eCow’s pH bolus with dairy farmers in the South West.

He said that live data had helped feed management techniques to increase yield and avoid health complications .

He said: “It has implications for milk yield and milk quality.

“By fine tuning management, there is certainly the potential for higher yields.”

Ian Johnson, NFU spokesman said that the matter was further complicated by milk quotas and global milk prices.

He said: I’m sure this will be met with interest because farmers are always looking for ways to be more efficient.

“But with global milk prices going down, some farmers may see producing more milk as adding to the problem.”

Today dairy cows produce on average 10,000 litres of milk a year although the world record yield is 32,000 litres.

With eCow, Prof Mottram aims to move away from genetics and use new technology to house and feed the cow and use more sophisticated monitoring and sensing equipment, to get to the next level of production.

Prof Mottram said: “More milk from fewer cows is the aim, this will be more profitable and reduce our greenhouse gas and nitrate emissions.”

The company makes a large bolus swallowed by a cow.

It transmits data from within the rumen allowing farmers to achieve optimum ruminal condition which leads to increased milk production, lower feed costs and healthier cows.

Sam Mottram, eCow managing director, said: “Our data shows that something as simple as changing the feeding time can lead to more milk in the tank.”

eCow is also working on a collar that can detect lameness and other ailments in the animal wearing it. It is also working with University of Exeter academic Richard Everson on using cameras to detect health condition scoring in dairy cows.

Prof Mottram began his career as a dairy herd manager in Somerset and went on to develop robotic milking at the Silsoe Research Institute where he also developed cow breath sampling, in-line milk progesterone analysis and, in 2003, the rumen pH bolus. He set up eCow with a new patent for the bolus and used grant money to develop it further.

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  • SmallFarmer  |  August 25 2014, 9:46PM

    Why? Will it benefit the consumer? (No). Farmers? (Some, perhaps). The cows? Far from it - the modern dairy cow is already a tortured, overworked freak with an unnaturally short lifespan. To attempt to double their milk production sounds like abject cruelty to me. "Given a natural healthy life, cows can live for twenty years or more. High yielding dairy cows will last for only around a quarter of that time. They are usually culled after three lactations because they are chronically lame or infertile." [Quoted from the Compassion in World Farming website - see link below.] http://tinyurl.com/k5yzbxj What farmers need is a fair price for the milk they already produce, rather than more technology to boost production at the expense of their animals' health and comfort.

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