Fertility Farming

by Newman Turner

Chapter 10
'Yard-and-Parlour' Milking and Compost

The system of wintering and milking the cattle may be regarded as the pivot of the whole system of manuring the farm, and incidentally to the freedom of the cattle themselves, which is essential to their health.

I have operated what is known as the 'Yard-and-Parlour' system since early 1943, and I am satisfied that it is the most economical of labour both in the work of managing and milking the cattle and in utilization of manure.

All except the milking herd and the smallest calves spend the whole of their time out of doors, and the cows themselves are out until Christmas, or even longer if the weather is not extremely cold. The cows are allowed all possible freedom, and are never tied by the neck, except when young to teach them to be controlled by halter. But we have to bring them in for a part of the winter, for the sole purpose of accumulating manure for incorporation with other vegetable wastes of the farm for compost.

At milking time the cows are moved to an assembly yard, where they await the milking process, in full view of the milking parlour, which has an open back. This open-backed milking parlour is important (though it may not always be pleasant in the northern winter), for the waiting cows witness all the operations of milking and production ration feeding, which excites them to give down the milk immediately on entry to the milking parlour.

The cows stand for milking in batches of six or eight. One man can manage six good cows at a time with three milking machine units, though assistance is needed when four units are in use. The operator gives production ration to the first cow, cleans her flanks, washes and massages her udder, draws the foremilk, and attaches the machine at once. Warm water is the most effective for massaging and is readily available where the boiler is used daily. The third and fifth cows are followed in succession.

The performance is then repeated on the second cow, by which time the first cow is ready to have the last drops of milk expelled from the udder by dry-hand massage. This is done by grasping the udder above the teat between the thumb and fingers and with two hands stroking downwards vigorously, first one and then the other side of the udder.

No time is wasted in dipping teat cups between cows, as this has been found to be unnecessary. See Mastitis, Chapter 20. The unit is detached and the milk released from the recording jar after the yield has been recorded (this I consider essential at every milking for accurate records and proper management, weekly weighings are not true records). The second cow is then attached at once, and the process continued down the line.

The cows pass out at the front of the milking parlour and return to the yard or the field.

Cows are arranged in order of milking, according to the quantity of milk given and length of time needed to be milked, to minimize as far as possible uneven periods between cows.

Cows which give their milk quicker than they are able to eat their food are afterwards given an additional production ration. As far as accommodation permits, the very best producers are given a separate house for special feeding treatment, at least during winter nights, though this is very rare, for it is far more economical to have a herd of level milkers -- needing no extra, special feeding -- all managed on a purely commercial scale with the minimum of labour.

When cows are spending their nights in the yard they move from the dispersal yard, after milking, to the night yards, of which we have three, each holding twelve to fifteen cows. We divide them according to yield, so that all the recent calvers go together, and all the cows which are nearing the end of their lactation go together. Newly calved heifers are given a third yard, so that before going in yards with the older cows they get accustomed to their new companions in the fields. Cows are not, as yet, dehorned and we have no trouble which justifies the removal of horns or the work of dehorning them as calves. I still feel that the need for dehorning is an indication of the lack of care in managing the young stock and subsequent handling and arranging in yards, according to the individual temperaments of the cows. We do give some attention to the training of the horns of the heifers if they show signs of growing outwards too wide. The turned-in 'crumpled' horn is the fashionable and attractive style for Jerseys, and horns trained in this way are safe. Labour and accommodation difficulties do, however, make an extremely strong case for calfhood dehorning which is painless.

Each day we cart into the yards ample clean wheat straw for bedding; and, so that there is some pre-mixing of the ingredients before the manure goes to the compost heap, we also spread a small proportion of sawdust, ground limestone and soil, as convenience allows. At the start of the winter the bottom of the yard is covered to a depth of a foot or more with sawdust, which soaks up any liquid manure which may find its way to the bottom of the yard. The yards are also drained to liquid manure tanks, from which we may collect any further surplus liquid which may soak through the bedding and the sawdust. The yards are open to the sky, which I consider beneficial to the manure (as well as the health of the cattle), which receives a necessary proportion of moisture, and thus obviates the need to water the compost heap later. Indeed, one of our 'yards' is nothing more than a kraal fenced off from the corner of the orchard, with the shelter of the wall of a building on one side. Shelter from above is not necessary for the cows, as I quickly discovered from yarding cows in a yard which provided some shedding along one side. Except in the fiercest thunder-storms, when rain beat down unmercifully, the cows preferred to sit out with the open sky above them. With this demonstration of the cow's own choice, and the added value of rain-moistened manure, I gave up all ideas of having my yards covered.

The power of the animal body to retain heat, even in the most extreme frosts, is demonstrated by the icicles which are to be found on the hair of the cow's back, eyes and nose, during frosty weather. If there were any considerable loss of heat from the body during cold weather, then the heat would melt any frost which was on the hair of the cow.

The manure is allowed to accumulate in the yards throughout the winter and similarly in any loose boxes in which calves and calving cows are housed. So long as clean straw is spread each day, so that the animal has a perfectly clean bed on which to lie, the dung below adds comfort and warmth to the animal. The hard labour of daily 'mucking out' is avoided and the only portion of the cattle sheds which has to be cleaned is the milking parlour, which is no more than the width of eight cows. As the cows pass through quickly we generally manage each milking time without any dung being made in the parlour itself. A swill down with the cold-water hose after milking quickly cleans and freshens the floor of the milking parlour in readiness for the next milking.

When the spring sowing is done, and the cows and young stock are all out at grass -- in other words, when there is little other productive work to be done -- we make a large-scale attack on the manure in the yards and sheds. This is carted out with tractor trailer and horse cart to the site of the compost heaps, and compost is made as we clean out the yards.

We have previously, at various times during the winter and spring, collected and deposited at the site of the compost heaps any material to be used in the heaps, such as hedge trimmings, old sacks, threshing cavings, straw, weeds, including couch grass, docks and thistles, kale and cabbage stumps, sawdust, yard scrapings, mud and soil, ditch cleanings and anything of organic origin which may be found on or around the farm.

As far as possible, we site the compost heaps in the field to which the compost is subsequently to be applied, and if we have been able to thresh the previous crop in the field, then we have a rick of straw to be used in the compost, or the remains of a rick of straw which the outwintering young stock may have had for winter rations and shelter. It is convenient to this straw-stack site that the heap is made, generally in a corner of the field which will interfere as little as possible with the sowing of the crop. Most fields have an awkward corner which will serve this purpose.

In addition, we also have a large site for compost heaps near the farm buildings, for though the main activity in compost making takes place in the spring and autumn, there are many times during the year when we have time to build a small heap, and this necessitates a convenient site close at hand so that the work may proceed quickly between other operations on the farm.

How to Make Compost Without Turning

The heap is built by first placing a layer of coarse hedge trimmings, briars or brambles, as the base of the heap, to allow a flow of air under the heap during maturing. This first coarse layer is about a foot thick and ten feet square, and will be repeated for an indefinite length, but it is well to build the heap to its full height of six feet in sections of about ten feet square. Building proceeds in ten-foot square sections, gradually sloping inwards to a width of six feet at a height of six feet.

Upon the layers of hedge trimmings and briars is placed a two- or three-inch layer of softer material such as straw or long grass, to prevent the next layer of manure from falling through. Then a layer of three inches of farmyard manure. This is given a very light dusting of ground limestone or soil. Both soil and ground limestone encourage earthworms and soil bacteria, and though it may not be possible to spread these between each series of layers, every effort is made to place some near the middle and the top of the heap. If sawdust is available, this is put in between each series of layers to a thickness of one inch, or even three or four inches where the compost is later to be spread on the surface and not ploughed in.

Another foot of dry bulky material such as straw follows the first series of layers, then three inches of farmyard manure, a sprinkling of ground limestone and or soil, sawdust, and repeating the same sequence of layers to the full height of six feet. Sewage sludge is a good activator, as an alternative or supplement to farmyard manure in the heap.

Green but wilted weeds, particularly nettles, dandelion, chicory plants complete with roots, cabbage, tomato and potato haulms, charlock, docks, etc., are added with the bulky vegetable layer whenever possible. They improve but are not essential to the compost.

The heap is topped off with an inch layer of soil or three to six inches of sawdust. The weathering which this sawdust will receive on top of the heap will be good preparation for its use in the next compost heap (when the present heap is used the sawdust is thrown back, together with any hedge trimmings which may not have rotted and any weeds which may have grown on the heap, for use in the next heap). If these are not available, we use about six inches or more of straw or a few old sacks, to conserve the heat and to prevent too much moisture penetrating the heap in wet districts. This is also beneficial in dry areas to prevent drying out, and in such areas it may also be necessary to add, during the building, enough water to make the heap as moist as a damp sponge.

Incorporation of adequate air is the secret of avoiding turning. The heap is built as lightly as possible and on no account trampled. So long as each layer is in contact with the next layer, no compaction should take place. The main object of turning the heap is to incorporate more air as the heap becomes compact. But if enough air can be admitted by other means, especially in the initial building of the heap, excellent compost can be made without any turning at all.

If time and labour permit, even better compost is made by giving the heap a turn, but with no turn at all, in a period of six months, farm compost to suit the most fastidious farmer is possible.

5a. The milking parlour at Goosegreen

5b. Milking in progress

6a. Materials for compost -- hedge trimmings, straw, old sacks, etc.


6b. Farmyard manure for compost -- finished heaps in background

Where weed seeds or threshing cavings are used in any quantity the heap is turned once to ensure thorough destruction. For this reason we try to confine the threshing cavings and ripe weed seeds to separate heaps, so that we may avoid the need to turn all other heaps.

The cost of making compost by this method is so infinitesimal that it is hardly worth mentioning, except to discount the erroneous though widespread notion that the use of compost is prohibited to the practical farmer because of its cost. Working entirely by hand, except for a tractor and trailer and an ex-army lorry, two of my men can make 500 tons each year at times when they have no other useful work to do, at an extra cost in labour and materials in excess of normal farmyard manure handling of £25, or 1s. a ton. This of course places no value on the free material available on and around all farms. If anyone knows a cheaper way of fertilizing the land, let him write to me at once, for I am always interested in further economies.

Self-Service Compost Corner

We have all seen the 'umbrella' stacks created by cattle which break into a fenced-off haystack in the corner of a field. But it did not occur to me to turn this annoying habit of cattle to advantage until in our second year at Goosegreen the dry cows and heifers, which were outlying, consumed a large quantity of a straw-stack which had been built after threshing, in the field some distance from the farm buildings. I was surprised at the small amount of waste straw which the cattle left, working into the stack from the bottom and pulling it down from above them as they ate their way in. Without the accident of wayward cattle demonstrating this economical system of self-service, I should not have allowed them access to the stack deliberately for fear of large quantities of waste straw being trampled under as it was pulled out. But once more the answer to a nuisance was to make use of it.

So each year since then we have deliberately threshed at least one field of grain in the field and built a stack of straw in the corner. Immediately after harvest the stubble is disced to encourage weed seed germination, and if the grain crop has not been undersown and there is any danger of an inadequate growth of weeds, we sow barn sweepings or threshing screenings to provide something green to grow through the winter. Then our dry cows and young stock winter out either in or with access to this field, taking their daily ration of green food from the weeds, or trefoil and Italian ryegrass if it is there, and supplementing it with as much straw as they care to pull from the stack in the corner of the field. A small amount of the straw is left on the ground, dunged on and trodden in. In the extreme winter the cattle spend their nights around the stack and take their food as they need it. By the early spring the stack is consumed and there remains the manure, which we tidy up into a compost heap to which we add the hedge and ditch trimmings of the same field, and which in the autumn is ready to be spread back on to the same field.

The Soil Association, at their Farm in Haughley, Suffolk, have improved on this system, where a space larger than that occupied by the compost heap can be spared for the rest of the summer. They sow a cereal of some kind, generally rye, over the area covered by the dung and trodden straw around the site of the stack. This is subsequently cut at a convenient time during the year, either green or mature, and incorporated with the manure underneath it in making a compost heap on the spot.

Next: 11. Field Recording

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