2011 FW Awards winner: Dairy Farmer

Gavin Fowler

Higher Boode Farm, Braunton, Devon

Winning ways

• Taken the business from loss to profit

• Designed a model the industry can learn from

• Focused on farm resources and environment

Producing a long-lived, healthy, fertile cow is the Holy Grail for most dairy farmers, and Gavin Fowler has set the standard when it comes to the quest of achieving it.

As one of the first producers in the country to fully engage in a three-way cross-breeding programme, Gavin has perfected the art of breeding health and fertility into his herd. And by only selecting replacements that get in-calf in a set window, he is driving forward herd improvements – something the whole industry can learn from, whatever their breeding strategy.

In fact, this has been pivotal in reducing costs at Higher Boode Farm and the success is clear to see in the unit’s performance figures – profits of more than 6p/litre, along with vet costs of 0.5p/litre, compared to a national average of 1.3p/litre – speak volumes.

Such results are even more marked considering the farm was functioning at a small loss in 2006 and has remained on the same milk contract throughout.

“Rather than changing contract we decided to look at reducing costs for every litre produced,” he explains.

“Our success has been achieved by a careful breeding programme to produce healthy, fertile cows, which are not only easy to keep, but also produce higher-value calves and about 50 surplus pregnant cattle for sale every year.” Such changes are marked considering that eight years ago the farm was buying in cows to keep the herd going,

Achieving a tight nine-week autumn-calving block is key to the success of the system. “We use all-dairy semen in the first 18 days of breeding and if cows don’t get in calf in this window, we don’t give them a second chance and serve them to beef. By doing this all calves are born to first-service mothers and we are breeding fertility into the herd.” Such a strategy has helped achieve an impressive calving interval of 369 days.

Gavin stresses that selecting the correct breed and best quality bulls is fundamental to the success of cross-breeding. His current breeding programme involves a Scandinavian Red crossed onto a Montbelliarde crossed onto a Friesian.

Traditionally, cows were put out to grass in May, but grass was not used efficiently.

Now the herd is out at grass from February to the end of October, with paddocks plate-metered once or twice a week and cows grazed on 12-hour breaks.

Gavin’s commitment to the environment is also impressive and has always been hugely important in the way the family has farmed. The farm is in an ELS scheme and also has 24.6ha in Countryside Stewardship, of which 22.6ha is managed purely for wildlife.

A year ago Gavin also invested in a pair of wind turbines, which are set to halve the energy costs of the parlour and reduce the farm’s carbon footprint – which is already in the lowest 5% of the Sainsbury’s Cheese Group.

Gavin is an active council member within MilkLink and a member of a cheese development steering group.

“Being part of the Milk Link Council and steering group gives me a voice to help influence a small part of the industry.”

Farm facts

• 280 cross-bred cows

• 7,500-8,000 litres a cow

• Autumn calving

• Low-cost grass system

• Three-way cross to Montbelliarde, Scandinavian Red and Friesian

DCo_Logo_CMYK_300dpiSponsor’s View

As a sponsor we want the finalists to be an inspiration to others, as excellent managers of people and animals, and as businessmen. There’s no doubt that this year’s finalists are exactly that

Tim Bennett, Chairman


2011 Farmers Weekly Awards

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