Farmers Weekly Awards 2020: Dairy Farmer of the Year

Robert Mallett, Dickson and Mallett, Northleaze Farm, Highworth, Swindon

Robert Mallett is the 2020 Farmers Weekly Dairy Farmer of the Year.

His approach to dairy farming is proof that high-yielding herds can produce milk economically from grazed grass and good quality silage, with autumn-calving Holsteins converting every ounce of nutrition from grassland to milk.

Robert, who farms with his wife Maria and son David, demonstrates that purchased feed can be offset with grazed grass or forage to push milk from forage to a remarkable level.

From three-times-a-day milking, the herd has an annual average yield of 11,407 litres, and 4,390 litres of those come from forage.

Farm facts

  • 180ha (445n acres) family partnership
  • 230 pedigree Holsteins
  • 2.6m litres annual milk sales
  • Only sexed Holstein semen only used to breed replacements
  • Beef from dairy herd intensively fed home-grown forage to finish at 14 months
  • 49ha (120 acres) of wheat grown

Feed costs

At 6.3p/litre the purchased feed cost is exceptionally low for such high output cows.

The level of technical efficiency in evidence throughout the business has been important during difficult market conditions in 2019 – the farm is a Freshways supplier and at the height of the pandemic, the milk price plummeted to 17p/litre and some milk had to be disposed of.

To provide every opportunity for grazing, hundreds of metres of tracks have been laid across the farm to create 1.1ha (2.7 acres) paddocks with all 35 connected by this network.

Cows are grazed in three mobs based on yield – the high-yielders are turned out once a day, after the morning milking and the low-yielders after each milking.

Robert runs a rotational grazing system and carefully monitors grass covers, targeting entry covers of 3,000kg dry matter (DM)/ha and removing the mob once a residual of 1,500kg DM/ha is achieved.

Paddocks are only grazed for 24 hours, giving each mob no more than two feeds in each paddock.

Flexibility is key to achieving this – if grazing covers are higher than 3,000kg, paddocks are pre-mowed to encourage intakes.

Robert has identified weekly measurement of grass cover as a key driver for increasing his farm’s grass-growing potential.

High health status

He constantly strives to improve performance and efficiencies, and this includes reducing antibiotics use.

Some of his thinking is informed by a Bristol University study on a farmer-led approach to changing practice around antimicrobial use.

Robert is now committed to spreading the word on using low levels of antibiotics, starting from the point that they are counterproductive in drying off healthy cows – in 2019, only 14% of cows received antibiotics at drying off yet, at 24%, mastitis rates are below the UK average.

At drying off, by including straw in the diet, milk yields are gradually reduced over several days.

Sealants are used on all cows and antibiotics are only used on cows that have had a cell count over 200,000 cells/ml in the preceding three months.

Antibiotics are never used as a first resort, allowing the farm to get use down to 6mg/population-corrected unit; no critically important antibiotics have been used on the farm for three years.

In all areas of the business, Robert’s approach to milk production is to run a healthy herd at the least cost.

If any farm is going to survive a milk price challenge like the one experienced in 2019, then it will be his. 

Winning ways

  • Efficient milk production from a high yielding herd 
  • 4,390 litres of milk produced from forage
  • Good grass quality maintained through reseeding and utilisation
  • A high health herd with testing for Johne’s, bovine viral diarrhoea, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis and leptospirosis
  • Herd just outside of the top 1% based on Profitable Lifetime Index rankings

A word from our independent judge

“Robert’s clear business focus and control of costs have ensured he has weathered the unprecedented challenges of Covid-19 on a highly exposed milk contract. Attention to detail and planning is evident across the business.’’

 Andy Dodd, Farm Consultancy Group

Other finalists were:

  • Katrina Dunford
    Southwood Common Farm, Evercreech, Shepton Mallet
  • Max Tite
    Tite Partners, Newmans Farm, Sturminster Newton, Devon

Read about the finalists

The Farmers Weekly 2020 Dairy Farmer of the Year is sponsored by Phibro


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