WELSH GO DUTCH TO FIND BEST HEIFERS
Heifers imported from Holland have increased genetic progress and are out-yielding home bred heifers on two progressive dairy farms. Rebecca Austin and Robert Davies report
A THREE-day tour of Dutch farms identified the 38 heifers chosen for shipment to the Rees familys farm at Danyrallt, Llandovery.
Costing an average of £1275/head delivered, they were selected from a total of 60 seen on the visit.
"We were looking for fairly extreme Holsteins, capable of producing 6000 litres as heifers, 7000 litres as second calvers, and 8000 litres in their third lactations, at 3.2% protein," says Huw Rees, who farms in partnership with his wife Elizabeth, father Cyril and mother Margaret.
"Impressive records were available on all the farms we visited last August, and I am sure we could not have bought animals of the same quality for the same money in the UK. Since calving in September and October they have produced 500 litres more than our own heifers, and their milk protein has been 0.1% higher."
The fast growth of the Crugside herd from 85 to 130 milkers followed the acquisition of a tenancy on extra land. Before, management was handicapped by the restrictive layout of the one mile-long farm, and the fact that around 1000 big bales of silage had to be carried from a second unit three miles away.
The extra 30.3ha (75 acres) increased the total area farmed to 151.76ha (375 acres). It will provide easily accessible additional grazing, and land to grow maize silage and mixed barley and beans for the autumn calving herd.
Management has also been simplified by phasing out of 500 early lambing ewes, and the introduction of a new enterprise that involves buying Speckled-faced ewe lambs and running them empty until sale a year later.
The flock, which can be kept cheaply, is used to clean up pastures. Income is earned from appreciation in values over the year, and sheep annual premium. HLCAs have been forfeited because breeding has been abandoned, but nobody misses the chore of lambing.
Expansion has also involved investment in 300,000 litres of extra quota, and a slatted floor umbrella building to replace a collection of old sheds. For a month last autumn 80 cows shared 45 cubicles, but there are now 125. The next stage will involve replacing the existing present 10 stall circular abreast parlour with a herringbone, hopefully purchased secondhand.
Before the Dutch heifers were bought the herd averaged 6100 litres at 3.17% protein and 4.16% butterfat. The aim is to raise the herd average to 7000 litres, and the margin over purchased feeds from £960 to well over £1000/cow.
Currently the cows get an average of 1.25t of concentrates/head. An 18% protein cake is fed in the parlour at the flat rate of 3.5kg/day. This is supplemented with a mid-day feed of 3kg to 4kg/head of barley-maize gluten mix.
The aim is to always make good quality silage. It is cut early, wilted for 24 hours and then picked up using a chopper baler. Typically, the bales used last winter had 30% dry matter and an ME of 11.7 mega joules/kg of dry matter.
"We have always been interested in pedigree breeding, and my Dad was the first chairman of the South Wales Holstein Club in the early 70s," says Mr Rees, who is the current chairman of Carmarthen NFU.
"The herd has been developed by grading up, and, at last, we are starting to see a herd and not just a collection of animals. Semen from a variety of bulls is being used to raise yield and protein. We are also doing a bit of showing locally, when I admit it is a nice change to look at a cows head rather than her back end."
Though he is happy with progress to date, Mr Rees concedes that he is worried about the threat to calf exports, having seen the price of his surplus calves slump from around £60/head to a little as £12.
"We were forced to bring three calves home, and not send some second quality animals to market. Because we have our own mill and mix facilities and sheds we can turn these into barley beef, but the disruption of exports has cost us around £4000."
The partners also run a 50-pitch caravan site, and Cyril Rees admits it is much easier to make money out of caravaners than cows, not least because they do not have to be fed, and do not suffer from mastitis.