22 March 1996

CHESHIRE FAMILY IS HAPPIER

ONE Welsh dairy farmer was so keen to expand 12 years ago that he sold his Cheshire farm of five years and moved with his family to Canada.

It was not a sudden decision. Emyr Lewis visited the country five times and considered America and Australia before moving to Canada with his wife and three sons then aged 18, 15 and 10.

Mr Lewis wanted a larger farm because his two elder sons, Tim and Neil, were interested in the business. He had tried to buy other farms in the UK but decided to look abroad when land prices proved too expensive.

He sold his 100ha (250- acre), 200-cow dairy farm in Cheshire for £10899/ha (£4400/acre). Land in Canada was cheaper. He paid £2170-2420/ha (£880-980 acre) for his 240ha (600- acre) Smeaton Farm, Dorchester, Ontario. But he also had to buy milk quota to cover production for 140 cows at a total cost of £785,000.

At that time there were no milk quotas in the UK, but with some help Mr Lewis soon learnt how to work within the quota system.

"Growing maize crops and alf-alfa was also new and took three years to master," says Neil Lewis. "During these first years our biggest asset was one of the neighbours."

His brother Tim Lewis claims that in Canada cow management is different to that in the UK.

"Cows are not grazed because the spring grass burns up by early June due to the dry weather," he says. "Cows go out for exercise in the summer but are still fed from the silos.

"We also have trouble with cows feet when they go out in the spring. And, next summer we will keep them in – maintaining a level diet to increase milk production and improve breeding performance."

Milkers are fed a total mixed ration from a static mixer using a feed belt that runs above the feed trough. The ration includes forage of 30% maize silage and 70% alf-alfa haylage. The haylage has a much higher protein content than UK grass silage at 24%.

Concentrates are fed mixed with forage and comprise 30kg/head of rolled high moisture maize corn and 0.22kg/head of soyabean meal to balance the ration at 17% digestible protein. The Lewiss also add minerals, lime and salt to the mix which is designed for maintenance plus 35 litres.

The herd has a 9000 litres/cow average yield at 4.2% fat and 3.45% protein.

Another difference in Canada is the cold winter temperatures, often dropping to -30C and high summer levels of up to 30C.

To protect the cows from the vagaries of this climate, they are housed in an insulated barn.

The previous owner had rebuilt the barn with free-access cubicles about five years before Mr Lewis bought the farm. This was at a time when nearly all Canadian cows were tied in stalls and many still are, says Mr Lewis.

Even though the family has settled well in Canada they are still tempted by larger farms.

Moving to Canada allowed the Lewis family to expand cow numbers. But they have learnt many lessons in cow and quota management in the last 12 years.