Strategic Dairy Farms appointed in Derbyshire and Scotland

Published 31 July 18

Two dairy units with very different approaches to milking their cows, will add depth and breadth to AHDB’s network of strategic dairy farms delivering farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchange. 

Michael and Tony Ball, from Coton Wood Farm, in Derbyshire, who are robotic milkers, and three-times-a-day milker, William Baillie, from Hillhead f Covington, in Lanarkshire, are the fifth and sixth farmers to join the strategic dairy farm network.

Both farms calve all year round and will openly share their performance data as well as holding regular on-farm meetings as part of AHDB’s optimal dairy systems programme.William Baillie 3

Jon Parry AHDB Head of Dairy Knowledge Exchange, said: “I’m delighted to welcome both farms on-board as this provides more opportunities for farmers to learn from each other.

“The farms give us greater geographical coverage and enable us to showcase two operators who have chosen alternative paths to run successful businesses.”

Farmers and brothers Michael and Tony Ball, from Coton Wood Farm, in Derbyshire, are the first robotic farm, to join the strategic farm network.

The brothers farm in partnership with their parents, who purchased the farm in 1977, and together they run a 500-strong herd across two sites.

Originally autumn block calvers, the brothers faced increasing competition for labour and decided to move to all year round calving with the installation of eight Lely robots in 2014, to manage the milking process. Completed in April 2016, the transition was complemented with automatic silage pushers, scrapers and calf feeders.

Commenting on their appointment, the brothers said “We are really excited to have been chosen as a strategic dairy farm. We want to share our experiences with other farmers and are hoping that becoming a strategic farm will focus our business direction and enable us to pay more attention to key performance indicators (KPI’s)”.

Hillhead of Covington, run by William Baillie, is the first Scottish farm to be recruited. His ultimate aim is to improve his business performance by focusing on two important areas; nutrition and genetics.IMG_1255

He says “I’ve been benchmarking for over five years and I’ve always found it incredibly useful. Now, as a strategic dairy farmer we’ll be benchmarking our performance against AHDB’s key performance indicators for all year round herds. Using that data we will be able to set targets and measure our progress to ensure we are among the best performing dairy farms.”

William bought Hillhead of Covington in 1996 and initially started off with 50 cows. He now has 310 pedigree Holsteins and is aiming to grow the herd to 400 cows. Housed all year the round, the herd is milked three times a day and is fed a diet of mainly grass silage, whole crop and draff. For William, the right diet is key to increasing yields.

The launch meeting for Hillhead of Covington Farm will be held on Wednesday 29 August and for Coton Wood Farm on Thursday 6 September. You can find out more and book your place at these events by visiting

There are six strategic dairy farms located in Cheshire, Derbyshire, Devon, Lanarkshire, Leicestershire and Oxfordshire with more planned. Strategic farms form part of the AHDB Farm Excellence Programme which currently comprises a nationwide network of 55 strategic and monitor farms to inspire the industry to improve performance and succeed through farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchange.