The remote Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic are almost self-sufficient in dairy produce, Chris McCullough writes.

Cows are fed up to ten times per day via a robotic feeder. Most of the cows are Holstein Friesian but there are some Norwegian Reds as well. The new barn on Roi’s farm was built in 2019. Roi and his partners invested in two DeLaval VMS300 robotic milkers.

With just over 1140 dairy cows on 16 farms producing milk for 53,800 people, the dairy industry in the Faroe Islands is quite a vital sector.

The Faroes are in the north Atlantic Ocean, halfway between Iceland and Norway, northwest of Scotland, and cover 1400 square kilometres.

It is one of the three constituent countries that form the Kingdom of Denmark along with Denmark and Greenland.

Aside from the fishing industry, which is by far the biggest in terms of food production, dairying, sheep farming and vegetable growing are the main agricultural sectors.

Due to challenging climate, soil types and field structures, most dairy cows on the Faroes are kept indoors. One of the more modern farms is owned by business partners Roi Absalonsen, Nils Absalonsen and Esmar Sorensen, based at Vioareioi in the north of the island.

Dairying has been a traditional enterprise on this farm for hundreds of years, but as Roi explained there have been major changes there in recent years.

“We milk 120 cows that are yielding 32 litres per day on average at 4.2% butterfat and 3.45% protein,” Roi says. “The milk is sold to MBM, the only dairy processor on the Faroe Islands. Our current price we receive for the milk is around seven Danish Krones or 94 euro cents per litre (NZ$1.50).

“The cows are being milked an average 2.8 times per day through our two DeLaval VMS300 robots, with 60 cows grouped to each robot.”

Roi’s grandfather built a new barn while running the farm in 1980. His uncle and business partner Nils took over the farm in 1987 and continued to milk cows.

However, with a restructured ownership, the trio decided to heavily invest in the farm and built a new barn for the cows in 2019.

That was not the only investment required though, as extra quota needed to be purchased to increase cow numbers.

“In total, we have about 60 hectares here on our farm and we manage to buy or rent another five hectares each year.

“Our cows are kept indoors all year long but the youngstock graze outdoors during the summer from June to September.

“Nils, Esmar and myself first drew up the plans to build a new barn in 2013. At that time Nils had 212,000 litres of quota so we bought another 320,000 litres that same year. With more quota purchased in 2019 we now have a total of 1.3 million litres to work with each year.”

Most of the cows in the herd are of the Holstein Friesian, plus there are a number of Norwegian Red cows. The team use AI across the herd to get the cows in calf each season.

The Faroe Islands have quite a mild climate, given their latitude, with temperatures only dropping to 3C or 4C in the winter. Summer days are mostly overcast with temperatures never really getting above 15C.

Heavy rain is common and the islands get 210 rainy or snowy days per year. With this in mind, dairy farmers tend to keep their cows in during the year to avoid damaging the land as they can prove to be too heavy to suit the wetter ground conditions.

Forage is transported into the cow barn all summer and silage is fed in the winter via a robotic feeding system.

“We feed the cows with a robotic TKS system which is a Norwegian system. The robot is set to feed the cows eight to 10 times per day. They are being fed grass and silage as well as mash from the local brewery, plus concentrated feed,” Roi says.

The Faroes are almost self-sufficient in dairy products, with the exception of cheese.

Over the past 10 years milk production has increased by 10%, but the number of farms that include dairy cattle has fallen from 28 in 2012 to 16 in 2021.

In 2012, the Faroe Islands produced 6.8 million litres of milk from 1138 cows. This compares to 7.5 million litres produced from 1147 cows in 2021. Due to advances in breeding the average yield has also increased from 6000 litres per cow in 2012 to 6,600 litres in 2021.

One of the main problems associated with dairy farming on the islands is the lack of a slaughterhouse, so there is nowhere to kill cull cows.

“This is a job we must take on ourselves,” Roi says. “We slaughter the older cows ourselves and sell the meat to the public, just like door-to-door selling. It’s a tedious task but it has to be done.”

Roi and his business partners plan to expand their milk production keeping a close eye on new technology.

“We have invested heavily to reduce labour in the new barn with the milking robots and the robotic feeding system. At the moment we have cattle in a barn in a different location, so in the future we would like to extend the barn so we can house all the cattle under the one roof,” he says.