2 August 2002

SMALLER JERSEY IS GOOD FIT FOR

DIVERSIFICATION

When large Holsteins dont fit the spec, perhaps its time

to try a smaller breed? Jeremy Hunt reports

THE recent arrival of Jerseys is causing a stir among black-and-white herd owners close to Steve and Claire Blands Cumbria farm. And with some cows giving almost 8000 litres, its no wonder.

On May 5 last year, the Blands lost their 140 Holstein milkers in the foot-and-mouth cull, but even on that fateful day they were planning their future.

Mr Blands long-held interest in Jersey cattle and a determination to make more from his milk by direct selling has led to a new breed and an added-value enterprise on the 96ha (230-acre) Abbot Lodge Farm, Clifton, Penrith.

"Jerseys are underestimated. Even I had no idea what these cows are really capable of. If weight of fat and protein is the dairy farmers priority, then theres a strong case for taking 7000 litres at 5% fat from a Jersey and carting less water around the country," says Mr Bland.

Although still selling the bulk of production to First Milk, the Blands are now using Jersey milk to make icecream for a new icecream parlour created on the farm, which is on the east-Cumbria tourist route.

But even before F&M struck the farm, the Blands were considering diversification options for Abbot Lodge – a holding they had taken over only 18-months before the herd was lost.

The cubicle house was built in 1976 and cubicle size was starting to create problems for large Holstein cows. But it soon became obvious that fulfilling an interest in Jerseys would also avoid having to replace the cubicle building.

"The farm was at a crossroads and I knew I wouldnt be able to get black-and-white cows back into those cubicles. Previously wed been averaging 7000 litres from Holsteins with 5000 litres from forage.

"My calculations showed a 7000 litre Jersey at 5% fat and 3.8% protein would earn me as much as an 11,000 litre Holstein cow," says Mr Bland.

When looking around a well known on-farm Jersey icecream venture in Cornwall, they visited the Ventonwyn herd of Richard and Christine Tonks. The Blands were impressed with these American Jerseys – the Tonks had been among the original importers of American Jersey semen.

Cornish herd

Some weeks later they were offered this entire herd, providing them with 115 head of foundation stock, including 60 cows. Herd average of the Ventowyn herd was 6800kg at 4.98% fat and 3.8% protein.

A further batch of 32 Danish-bred young cows and heifers from the noted Farlam herd of fellow-Cumbrian Arnold Thompson have since been added.

"We have two types of breed genetics, but they are not a mile apart. The Farlam cattle are based on high fats – about 6% – but the fats of the American cattle are improving."

Mr Bland says just because he can add value to some of his milk does not mean that he will be less rigorous in his management. "Im a farmer first and foremost and Im committed to exploiting the performance potential of these cattle.

"My ideal cow averages 5.2% fat 3.9% protein and Id like a herd average of 8000kg, even though it could mean three-times-a-day milking."

Already several heifers are giving more than 20 litres. "What we have to look more closely at is how to manage those that are giving 27 litres. Weve newly calved cows peaking at more than 35 litres. Heifers are peaking within three weeks and producing a very flat lactation curve."

The intention is to expand the herd to 140 milkers and to continue using American genetics. But Mr Bland says it would be foolish to try and apply black-and-white herd management mentality to running a Jersey herd.

"Jerseys are tremendous eaters. Its a huge misconception that the Jersey eats less than a black-and-white cow. In my experience a Jersey can out-eat a Holstein and she needs more quality.

Always grazing

"Jerseys are very active, always on the move, always grazing and they behave very much as a herd. Im on a steep learning curve with these cows, but Im convinced that switching breeds was the right decision."

Mr Bland does not agree with the trend among some dairy consultants who are promoting the Jersey as an easy maintenance cow. "An 18% protein ration formulated for a Holstein is not adequate for a Jersey.

"She can take a ration with at least a 20% protein content. Before we bought the herd it was on a mixed ration of grass silage, whole-crop, sugar beet, soya, rape and Megalac to produce a 21% ration and well be feeding a similar mix this winter."

In July the herd was being fed a 21% concentrate in the parlour. Feed intake for the cows, which were averaging 17.5 litres in mid-summer, included 3.5kg of concentrate a day.

The herd will calve all-year-round. This years average milk price is expected to settle at about 22p/litre, although the May return was just over 15p/litre for milk at 5.2% fat and 3.8% protein. &#42

&#8226 Fit in cubicles.

&#8226 High output possible.

&#8226 Breed specific rations.

Claire and Steve Bland are confident their switch to

Jerseys and icecream

venture will be successful.