Six of the UK’s premier dairy herds are in the running to receive the prestigious title of NMR/RABDF Gold Cup winner 2011, all of whom demonstrate the highest level of herd management
Kevin Jones, Northop, Flintshire
For Welsh finalist Kevin Jones, who has 260 Holsteins on a mixed 240-hectare farm, the mix of dairy and arable works well.
Farmyard manure is spread on the wheat, while maize and grass get umbilical slurry. With capacity for storing five months worth of slurry, this can be spread at the right times to maximise its potential.
A family farm, Kevin’s father and wife are involved along with three staff. Cows are milked twice a day and managed as one group on a TMR and fed in the parlour. The herd is paddock grazed during the summer.
Average yields are 10,308kg a cow a year, with 3.77% fat and 3.22% protein, a somatic cell count of 168,000 cells/ml and a calving interval of 416 days.
With a growing population, Mr Jones sees opportunities for the dairy industry. “We will have to be more intensive, but still farm in harmony with the environment,” he says. “The changes during the past few years within the dairy industry have led to a slimmer, keener producer who is in an excellent position to take advantage of the opportunities.
“Of course there are the challenges of rising costs to battle with and I know we must grow more of our own feed, make better use of manures and carry on improving the genetics of our cattle to breed the cow best suited to the job.”
The Miller family, Worcestershire
Shanael Farms is a family-run dairy and arable business managed by Mike, Shan, Paul and Steve Miller. They share responsibility for the 266-cow Holstein herd, youngstock and arable land.
Cow numbers are increasing to make full use of the facilities they have, and sales of pedigree genetics – as well as milk sales – are an important part of the dairy business.
Therefore, great importance is placed on choice of sires. Bulls with a high PLI or bulls whose offspring would appeal to UK and European AI studs are used on top pedigree cows. And for their commercial cows, they select good-type bulls to breed a functional-type cow capable of producing 11,000kg and that will last for at least four lactations.
Current herd averages for the year ending September 2010 are 11,801kg of milk a cow a year at 3.7% fat and 3.15% protein with a somatic cell count of 186,000 cells/ml on three-times-a-day milking. Cows are flat rate fed on a TMR and milk is sold to local family-run Cotteswold Dairies, based just 10 miles from the Millers’ farm near Evesham.
Rising costs are encouraging the Millers to make better use of forage and reduce feed rates without affecting yields. “But we have opportunities in the dairy sector,” says Mike. “We haven’t hit quota for five years and it has given us the opportunity to expand. And the opening up of the European cattle genetics markets presents us with more opportunities, too.”
Christopher and Ray Gasson, Hook Norton, Banbury
The Gassons and their farm manager, John Peck, run a Holstein herd of 414 cows in Oxfordshire, and achieve one of the highest herd average lifetime daily yield figures among Gold Cup finalists at 15.69kg a day.
Realising an average calving age for heifers of 25 months contributes to this and they also put great emphasis on maintaining fit and healthy cows. On twice-a-day milking, this herd averages 10,282kg at 3.77% fat and 3.13% protein.
The herd is closed except for stock bulls, which are bought from Johne’s-free sources. And a vaccination programme for IBR, BVD and leptospirosis is in place. Bulk milk screening has been carried out for Johne’s, lameness is scored bi-monthly and mastitis data is analysed through herd recording software with the vet.
“We think the dairy industry should engage more with the customer and demonstrate the quality of British dairy products that are produced in a responsible, welfare and environmentally friendly manner,” says Chris Gasson. “We have an opportunity here.”
To encourage this belief, the Gassons participate in “Meet the Farmer” days to put across their message. And visitors to the farm can see plenty of examples where wildlife habitats have been created, particularly in their 12ha of woodland and four ponds. And to support their environmental policies, Ray and Chris make sure that fertiliser and pesticide use is minimised with more reliance on organic manures.
Chris Simmons, Wotton under Edge, Gloucestershire
Folly Farms makes it into the final for the second year running and again shows off consistent performance across a herd of 320 Holstein cows.
A mixed farm of 173 hectares, Chris Simmons farms with his parents and employs three full-time staff and three part-time night milkers.
Average production for the herd is 11,223kg a cow a year at 3.84% fat and 3.29% protein, with a SCC of 172,000 cells/ml and a calving interval of 406 days. Milk is sold to Farmright.
A top herd for average lifetime yield of 17.44kg a day, Mr Simmons breeds cows with longevity and selects for bulls with good udders, feet and legs. Average replacement rate for the herd is 17% and this low level has helped with the herd expansion plans. Cow numbers have increased by 25 in the past 12 months with home-bred replacements and more expansion on the cards.
“We hope to be milking 370 by end of year,” he says. “We are in the process of putting up a 120-cow shed so we can use one of the existing buildings for dry cows and youngstock. It will, however, create extra room for 50 more cows. We’re also building a large, earth-banked slurry pit that will give five months slurry storage.”
The King family, Dorchester, Dorset
Tom King is also a familiar face among the Gold Cup finalists, having reached the shortlist last year. He runs the pedigree Holstein Vortex herd with his father Alan. Herd size has doubled in the past 10 years to 300 cows with 250-head of youngstock.
To keep more cows, the Kings have converted two existing silage barns into cubicle sheds and built a new feed yard. And the 16:16 Herringbone has been extended to an 18:18 with auto ID, ADF and pedometers to aid heat detection.
Cows are milked three times a day and the averages for the year ending September 2010 are 11,568kg a cow a year at 3.9% fat and 3.03% protein, with a calving interval of 412 days. Somatic cell count is the lowest among Gold Cup finalists at 89,000/ml.
Replacement rate here has reduced and is down to about 16%. “This means we have been able to expand at a faster rate,” says Tom. Calving interval is on a downward trend and it currently stands at 397 days.
A proactive approach is taken to herd health with routine vaccination and Johne’s testing. Milk is sold to Sainsbury’s, and they work closely with other members of the Sainsbury’s Dairy Development Group so lameness, mastitis and any incidences of metabolic disorders are benchmarked.
“We have plans to continue expanding the herd – possibly to as many as 600 head in five or six years time. But we’re also focusing on running a tight and consistent ship to maximise cow performance.”
Tim and Marion Gue, Steyning, West Sussex
Tim and Marion Gue manage the 385-strong Huddlestone pedigree herd with help from four full-time staff, including two herd managers.
The Gues place great importance on team management and believe that to run such a large herd, a good team and a sound management system have to be in place. Day-to-day tasks are split between his two herd managers. One focuses on health management, including mastitis, and calving. The other is charged with foot trimming and record keeping. Fertility is a vital area of herd management and benefits from having both their eyes on the ball – they share responsibility here.
The herd calves from August through to April and is fed a TMR all year round. Average production stands at 10,655kg a cow a year at 3.83% butterfat and 3.15% protein on three-times-a-day milking. Average cell count for the year ending September 2010 was 153,000 cells/ml with a herd PLI of 59 – one of the highest among this year’s Gold Cup finalists. Milk is sold to Tesco via Arla.
“We’re not chasing yields, despite the high figures,” explains Mr Gue. “And we’ve altered our breeding policy from chasing index to focus more on better feet, legs and udders and improved longevity.”
Recent investments include a 120-place calf house, with automatic side curtains to aid ventilation. Plans include building a house for one of the dairy managers, a new 120-cow place cubicle building, which will allow Mr Gue to house all his bulling heifers on the unit and new mattresses for the existing cow houses.
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