Crichton Royal Farm has an area of 252 ha. and rises from near sea level to about 75m.
The land was bought by the Crichton Royal psychiatric hospital between 1884 and 1894, to provide food for the hospital and work for its patients. The farm has always been at the forefront of innovation: a milking machine was installed in 1907 and, in 1925, a silo was built for silage, well before these were common in Scotland.
In 1975 the ownership of the farm was transferred from Dumfries and Galloway Health Board to the Scottish Office (now Scottish Government) and SRUC took over the tenancy. In addition to the Crichton Royal Farm, SRUC also rents some neighbouring land.
The Acrehead Dairy Unit was built in 1979 and, in 2002, the Crichton Dairy Unit was upgraded when all the SRUC dairy research was consolidated at Dumfries. Crichton is also an innovation site for LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming).
The main aim of the Dairy Research Centre is to develop, implement and provide information from sustainable breeding and management systems for dairy cattle. Critical objectives include finding ways to improve the health and welfare of UK dairy herds and measuring different systems' effects on the environment.
Two contrasting systems are being examined. The cows on each system are of either high (Select) or moderate (Control) genetic merit, giving effectively four herds across the two systems, described as follows:
A system relying on home-grown feeds, where all ingredients in the cows' diet are grown on this farm. Crops include grazed grass and grass silage, red clover, beans, wheat and lucerne. The quality and yields of the crops are influenced by local weather conditions. Select genetic merit cows under this system have a target milk yield of 7,500 litres per lactation. The cows are housed in the winter months when grass is not growing, and graze during the spring, summer and autumn, always with an appropriate amount of complementary indoor feed.
A by-products system, which relies on bought-in feeds that are by-products or co-products of crops primarily grown for human consumption (for example, straw from a wheat crop, or sugar beet pulp from sugar production). It is a landless system, as far as this farm is concerned. The quality of the feeds used in this system are not influenced by local conditions, but by national and global weather patterns and climate. Cows on this system are continuously housed and the Select animals have a target lactation yield of 13,000 litres.
All the data collected from the systems experiment are stored on the central project database, where it can be accessed by many scientists and students. Information learned from the work is regularly imparted to groups of farmers, vets, interested industry parties and government stakeholders, as well as being published in academic journals and presented at conferences.