Cows, sheep and a robot milking maid

From milking robots to setting the standard for sustainability, the farm that is putting animals and biodiversity at its heart and putting an impressive sustainability plan into action.

Dairy cows in the barn feeding on grain

You may think the University of Cambridge is all pretty buildings and books, but you might be surprised to hear that we have our own working dairy farm.

Located at Park Farm in Madingley, the University farm was originally established at Impington in 1900 and moved to Gravel Hill, just off Huntingdon Road, in 1910 where it remained until 1997.

Cambridge University Farm sign

Situated in 500 hectares of farmed land you will find 230 Cantab Holstein Friesian cows alongside 200 heifers (birth to 2 years) who are the farm’s dairy cows of the future. Keeping them company are 250 North Country Mule ewes. The dairy herd produces two million litres of milk each year which is on average 34.7 litres per cow per day. The milk is sold to Arla and turned into dairy products you may well purchase!

Cows are milked 24 hours a day by robotic milking machines which use state of the art equipment and software to know exactly which cow is being milked and when to stop and start the milking process.

A cow being milked in the robot milking machine
A sign for the sheep shed at Cambridge University farm
A picture of the bulk milk tank at Cambridge University Farm

“The farm is a special place. Most people aren’t aware that we are here so we’re delighted to be offering the public the chance to pop along and see what we get up to and how we are working towards improving farming for all.”

Paul Kelly, Farm Manager

The farm’s main purpose is to provide a teaching facility to students at the Cambridge University Vet School who help with fertility testing, lambing and regular health checks for all the animals.

cows eating in the barn

As well as providing teaching to the vets of the future, Park Farm has made sustainability and sustainable farming one of its top priorities. In 2020, a radical and ambitious ten-year Sustainability Policy was adopted with the desire to minimise the carbon footprint of the farm, one of the drivers behind this.

“Sustainable farming is important to us all. The industry needs to be able to adapt to the new desire for sustainability and needs to show this to the public.”

Paul Kelly, Farm Manager

Back in 2021 the farm, supported by the Sustainability Team here at Cambridge, installed a slurry-fuelled Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plant.

It works by collecting fresh slurry from the dairy cows which is pumped into an insulated, sealed tank.

The Anaerobic Digestion plant

In the tank, the naturally occurring microbes are allowed to multiply in the warm conditions. They feed on the food material contained in the slurry producing methane as a bi-product. The methane gas goes on to generate all the electricity on the farm.

Learn more about anaerobic digestion and how the farm is operating a circular economy.

Once all the microbes from the slurry have been consumed, this digestate is pumped into one of the normal slurry towers and is applied to the grass fields to boost growth. Once harvested, the grass is ‘pickled’ to produce silage which is fed to the cows throughout the year.

The farm, which is usually closed to the public, is once again taking part in Open Cambridge. Last year the farm tours proved to be so popular they were fully booked within a few days.

Book on to an Open Cambridge farm tour to discover more of this impressive place - but have your wellies ready!

Tickets for this year’s festival will be opening on Monday 14 August and farm tours will be taking place on Sunday 18 September. Spaces are limited and booking is essential.

About Open Cambridge

a black cow standing and a black and white cow sitting in the barn looking at the camera

Open Cambridge (7-18 September) is a celebration of our community, the heritage, history and stories of Cambridge and the surrounding area and provides an inclusive platform to showcase extraordinary spaces, places and people.

Running over ten days and in conjunction with Heritage Open Days, it is designed to offer special access to places that are normally closed to the public or charge admission. The initiative provides an annual opportunity for people to discover the local history and heritage of their community.

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