£3.5m expansion plans at Welsh dairy unit

A family partnership that has created a 1012ha (2500 acres) land base incorporating three milking herds by continual expansion is setting its sights on establishing a 1000-cow dairy unit.

Chairman of the NFU Wales dairy board Maurice Jones, who farms in partnership with his son, Fraser, and father, Meurig, has taken every opportunity to take on available land to expand the business from 121ha (298 acres) at Court Calmore, Montgomery, when he joined his father in the business in the 1950s. They now have three, 300-cow dairy units.

Fraser has inherited his father’s expansion gene and the pair are planning to invest £3.5m at one of their units, Lower Leighton.

The driving factor is an ageing 16/16 herringbone parlour installed 35 years ago. It takes up to four hours to milk the existing 300-head herd in this parlour. The Joneses want to replace it with a 72-point rotary. They have yet to convince planners of its merits, but are hopeful of being in a position to start work later this summer.

“We have ordered the rotary because the cost would have increased by 10% had we not committed now. We have taken a gamble, but we believe we have addressed all the planners’ concerns,” says Mr Jones.

The unit would include a three-span cubicle unit. A floodwash system for cleaning the yards has been ruled out because of the issue with smells; they will instead be cleaned using a slurry tanker fitted with a scraper with the slurry emptied into a pit and fed into an anaerobic digester.

The unit would be stocked with replacements from the pedigree Calcourt Holstein herd, with the cows mainly housed. “We house cows until they are safely back in calf. We don’t envisage more than 300 cows out at grass at any one time at the new unit,” says Mr Jones.

The herd, which was established by his father in the early 1950s and has a yield average of 10,000 litres, is bred for type and longevity, with the entire herd served to a Holstein bull. There are cows in the herd in their 13th lactation. If a cow fails to hold to service after a third attempt at AI, stock bulls are used.

Homegrown wheat, barley, grass and maize silage form the bulk of the TMR ration, together with maize grain, soya, rape and beet pulp. The ration is fed at a rate of 0.3kg/litre year-round. Three weeks before calving, cows are housed and fed a high-straw diet.

Feed towers capable of holding up to 1000t of silage and maize are operational at all three units and, as cow numbers have increased to about 300 at each farm, pits have been created. Six pits will also be established at the new unit.

The bull calves are all reared to be finished at 15-16 months and sold to the ABP abattoir at Shrewsbury at a target carcass weight of 300kg. All male calves born from 1 January will be out at grass in the summer and brought in to be finished on an ad-lib ration of barley, beet pulp, barley straw, silage and maize silage.

The farming enterprise also includes a flock of sheep. Charollais tups are used on a mule or speckle face-type ewe and their lambs are sold at the Welshpool market. Store lambs are also bought at Welshpool and from North Yorkshire in September.

The majority of the farm work – apart from sheep shearing and maize drilling – is done in-house by a staff of 20, including 10 Polish workers. “We like to be in charge of everything we do,” says Mr Jones.

That control, however, does not extend to the price paid for his milk. As the newly elected chairman of the NFU Cymru dairy board, Mr Jones would like to see farmers get a better deal from their buyers. “We are paid 4.5p/litre below what we should be getting and this needs addressing,” he says. “Many factory owners wouldn’t get out of bed for what we are getting paid.”

He has seen the demise of many dairy farms, including 300-cow-plus herds, and attributes the survival of his business to spreading his overheads across a range of enterprises, including the equestrian centre run by his wife, Aisla. “The enterprises complement each other and we can also keep control on our costs by doing everything in-house,” he says.

Considering expansion or simply want to replace your existing parlour or buildings? Visit this year’s Dairy Event and Livestock Show at the NEC, Birmingham, on Tuesday 7 and Wednesday 8 September. For more information, go to www.fwi.co.uk/dels2010