MACKIE'S - THE COWS, THE MILK AND THE ICE CREAM

3rd May 2022

By Lauren Mullan, ECV Dairy Nutritionist

With summer round the corner, the thought of an ice cream brings nostalgic joy to many. What better ice cream to indulge in but the local, family run and sustainably produced Mackie’s Real Dairy Ice Cream.  Now a household name, the Mackie Family have been farming at Westertown Farm near Rothienorman for over 100 years.  Westertown started as a milk retail business in 1912 by Sir Maitland Mackie and has since grown through the years to the business we know today. The production of Mackie’s Real Dairy Ice Cream started in 1986 and  since then, the company has launched over 1000 ice cream flavours.  The company, still in family ownership, now consists of managing director Mac Mackie, development director Kirstin Mackie and  marketing director Karin Hayhow. 

Mackie’s of Scotland pride themselves on the ‘Dairy Difference’ meaning the most important ingredient in the ice cream is fresh whole milk and cream.  100% of all milk used is produced by their own herd of 325 Holstein dairy cows at Westertown Farm.  Originally a herd of Jersey cows, the farm has now developed the herd to Holstein, a more popular cow in the dairy  industry.  Chosen for their efficiency in  producing high milk volumes and maintaining quality butterfat levels,  the Holstein  is known for their gentle nature and hardiness.  This makes them the ideal cow for the modern dairy farm. 

The 1,000 acre farm, ranges between 300-600ft above sea level and comprises of 280 acres of grass silage, 200 acres of wheat, 160 acres of spring barley and 110 acres of winter barley.  A contractor with a forage wagon is sourced to take three cuts of silage and harvest all cereals and straw.

The herd is managed by David Smurthwaite. He is responsible for the 325 Holstein cows and the 300 youngstock including replacement heifers that will go on to be the future herd.  Sexed semen is used to inseminate cows for herd replacements and the rest is inseminated with either Belgian Blue or Aberdeen Angus.  The cows currently produce 12,000 litres of milk per day, with all cows milked through  Lely    robots. The robotic milking system allows cows to choose when to be milked.  The robots give the    added benefit of recording not only milk yield and quality but health measurements too. This includes temperature, weight and activity level.  The robot will send alerts to the cattleman if any issues arise, allowing for improved care of the cows through monitoring.  Westertown was one of the first farms in the United Kingdom to install a Lely robotic milking system back in 2001.  In 2013, the family upgraded to five A4 Lely Astronauts and last year invested in a sixth to cope with the growth of the herd, in terms of both  size and production.  The latest robot is an A5 Lely Astronaut. 

When a cow enters the robot, her collar is read to identify her. This allows the robot to know who she is, where she is in her lactation and how much milk she is likely to produce this visit.  The robot then uses this information to calculate her allocated amount of dairy cake. 

current dairy cake used in the robots is a bespoke formulation from ECV. This is a maize-based cake, formulated to work in unison with the base diet and silage.

In traditional dairy systems, cows are often split into groups depending on milk yield in relation to where they are in their lactation.  However, a robotic milking system is slightly different. To allow robots to work to their full capacity cows are in mixed groups.  This  allows the overall milk yield of the herd to be split across all of the robots to produce an average.   This prevents one robot having to work hard to maintain the yield of all high yielding cows, while another robot is only working at half capacity because it only has low yielders in its group.  It is for this reason that  rationing for cows milked on a robotic system is different from feeding cows milked in a traditional parlour. Balancing the ration has to be a careful process. To get this right, rations are formulated   using feedback from Dairy Manager, David, on the cow performance and data from the robots on cow visits and cow behaviour. As the cows have free choice to go into robots, it is vital that the cake is very palatable and provides a small treat while they are being milked.  It is for this reason that it is made using not only nutrient-dense but appetising ingredients such as sugar beet pulp and maize.

Testing silage monthly is vital to ensure the ration is always formulated to suit the cow’s nutritional needs and matches milk production.  Ensuring that cows’ nutritional needs are met promotes overall health, not just milk yield.  The ration must also consider hoof health to prevent lameness as well as metabolic health. Lowering the risk of acidosis can be difficult in such high yielding cows due to the energy requirement from cereals.

Last year, David decided to treat the home-grown cereals with Home n’ Dry which has grown in popularity in recent years. Home n’ Dry is an excellent addition to any feed grain to increase the protein  content, however the big benefit at Westertown is increasing the pH of the barley.  The cows have a high energy demand which needs to be satisfied by starch to allow them to produce quality milk in    abundance for ice cream production.  Using Home n’ Dry treated cereal in the base ration gives added peace of mind when high yielding cows are fed increased levels of cake to maintain their production. Alkaline treated cereals help to reduce acidosis risk, improve hoof health and maintain the efficiency of the rumen bugs throughout lactation. 

Feed efficiency is always at the top of the agenda for any farm enterprise.  The base to any dairy cow ration is always quality silage. Taking three cuts of silage and harvesting home-grown cereals on farm gives Mackies added control and sustainability. The focus is on including as much home-grown feed in the ration as possible, starting with silage and wholecrop. This significantly reduces the cost of production and reduces dependence on bought in feeds. It is important to note that this only works with high    quality silage and unfortunately the Scottish weather does not always allow for optimum silage production.  Some adjustment may be needed when formulating diets.

At Westertown, the base ration is made up of home-grown and locally sourced ingredients, including silage, wholecrop, draff, wheat dark grains and rapeseed meal.  When rationing these products in a base ration, it is essential that the energy and protein provided is a match to the cake.  This will minimise the risk of over or under supplying nutrients to each individual cow based on their own  requirements.  It also ensures no feed is wasted. 

Innovation and attention to detail across the business have been the key to the success at Mackies. By investing in new technologies such as the installation and continued investment in the robotic milking    system and keeping up with advancing feed technologies, like Home n’ Dry, they have thrived by focusing on the  attention to detail. The improvements to the dairy herd will continue through the generations of milking cows by focusing on quality genetics. Using trained and experienced staff guarantees efficient and healthy cows that get the best care and support through best farming practices. These innovative ideas and practices will allow    Westertown to keep up with growing demand for their delicious Real Dairy Ice Cream.  

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