David and Wilma Finlay run a 340 ha farm in Dumfries and Galloway. Their three enterprises are the farm (dairy, beef and sheep), manufacture and sale of organic and fair trade ice cream, and a visitor centre with nature trail etc. They have also put up a community wind turbine on the farm.
They now have plans for a revolutionary change to their dairying system, leaving the calves with their mums until natural weaning at 11 months and milking the cows once a day. They are also changing the breed and feeding more grass and less concentrate. This will reduce milk production and milk taken off the cow in each lactation - but it will lead to longer productive lives for the cows, reducing the number of replacement heifers needed: will transform animal welfare; will increase beef production, and will reduce carbon footprint. The new herd will have 140 cows. A new AD plant will treat the slurry producing a more stable fertiliser as well as energy for use on the farm/to put in to the grid. The more social pattern of milking also makes the job more sustainable.
By contrast, most commercial dairies are now milking 1000 cows: keeping cows indoors all year round; using nitrogen fertiliser to increase grass yields, plus feeding high levels of soya-enriched concentrate; averaging 2-3 lactations per cow; and masking high incidence of stress, mastitis and lameness with antibiotics.
This is a pioneering example of a transition technology, providing sustainable meat and beef from relatively poor land which is largely unsuited to cropping.
As an ex-dairy farmer in Cumbria I find the example above fascinating. The type of cattle management explained above was typical of small holder milk production in Nicaragua - I worked there for four years in the 1980s. I'm looking forward to hearing how you get on. What breed of cattle are you planning to use? In Nicaragua it was typically Brown Swiss often crossed with Zebu in the dryer areas.