2019 Gold Cup dairy farmer finalists revealed

This year’s shortlist for the 2019 Gold Cup highlights the award’s remit in identifying the best across all sectors, with cross-bred herds, an organic system and top production units in the running.

The winner of the award, sponsored by National Milk Records (NMR) and the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF), will be presented at Dairy-Tech, Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire on 5 February.

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This year’s judges – all dairy producers – are RABDF chairman Peter Alvis, NMR chairman Trevor Lloyd and former winner Simon Bugler.

The Firm of A Harvey

Drum Farm, Beeswing, Dumfries

John, Margaret and Stuart Harvey in a cow shed

John, Margaret and Stuart Harvey

Brothers John and Stuart Harvey, and their mother, Margaret, are finalists for a fourth time. Their cows are not only high-yielding, but also robust – with a lifetime daily yield of more than 20kg/day of life.

The three milkings a day are carried out by one family member and two assistants. Most of the herd is permanently housed, apart from 100 mid-lactation cows and 225 youngstock, which graze through the summer.

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Farm facts

  • Year-round calving
  • 24ha
  • 350 Holstein Friesians (310 in-milk), plus 225 youngstock
  • 400-day calving interval
  • Yields 13,643kg of milk at 3.80% fat and 3.13% protein
  • Three-times-a-day milking
  • Somatic cell count 72,000/ml
  • Milk sold to Lactalis

A grass silage and wholecrop, wheat-based total mixed ration provides maintenance plus 36 litres, and individual cows are topped up to yield with a 15% protein concentrate. Field beans have been added to the rotation to reduce the reliance on imported soya for winter protein.

Herd health is a priority and a more recent focus on mastitis management has seen cases decrease from more than 20% to 9%. Selective dry cow therapy means only 30% of the herd receives antibiotics at drying-off.

Robert Sloan

Firm of Bryce Sloan, Darnlaw Farm, Auchinleck, Ayrshire

Robert (left) and Bryce Sloan in a cow shed

Robert (left) and Bryce Sloan

Robert Sloan runs the 180-cow Townlaw Holstein herd with parents Bryce and Anne and wife Emma. The Sloan family has adopted a proactive approach to succession and Robert (37), became a partner in the business at 24.

In 2011, the farm switched to robotic milking with a new purpose-built shed. In 2016, the Sloans established Darnlaw Jerseys to fulfil a specialist Jersey milk contract from milk buyer Graham’s Dairy.

The 60 cows are run as a separate herd. They are milked twice a day in the original parlour and summer grazed.

Farm facts

  • Year-round calving
  • 205ha
  • Milk sold to Graham’s Dairy
  • 180 Holsteins, yielding 11,980kg, 3.99% butterfat and 3.13% protein
  • Somatic cell count 116,000 cells/ml
  • Calving interval: 427 days
  • 60 Jerseys yielding 7,115kg at 6.02% fat, 4.01% protein
  • Somatic cell count 79,000/ml
  • Calving interval 394 days

Priority is given to positive components, fertility indexes and high sire conception rates due to the increased use of sexed semen across both herds.

Sexed semen is used on all Jersey cows and heifers for the first three services and youngstock are swept with the beef semen.

The Holstein milking herd is served 40% sexed semen for two services, then 40% conventional and 20% beef semen.

Elizabeth Birkett

Rookhaye Farm, Bowerchalke, Salisbury

Elizabeth Birkett standing by a fence in a field

Elizabeth Birkett

Since returning to the family farm 18 years ago, former nutritionist Liz Birkett has added additional income by selling surplus heifers annually.

High health is driving demand for stock, which are part of Johne’s, BVD, leptospirosis, neospora and mastitis health schemes. Less than 15% of the herd show clinical mastitis symptoms and only 11% receive antibiotics at drying-off.

Genetics has played a vital role. The herd profitable lifetime index (PLI) is £147, with heifers averaging £205.

Farm facts

  • Year-round calving
  • 360ha
  • 153 pedigree Holsteins and 120 youngstock
  • Yielding 10,398kg of milk, at 3.88% fat and 3.24% protein, on twice-a-day milking
  • Somatic cell count 112,000/ml
  • Calving interval 382 days
  • Milk sold to Sainsbury’s

“We are also seeing results from genomic testing, which was started in January 2018. This offered the potential to accelerate the herd’s genetic gain and boost performance. The jury is still out, but the PLI of these animals exceeds £300,” says Ms Birkett.

The herd is grazed from mid-April to August and fed a buffer total mixed ration that provides maintenance plus 33 litres, with cows topped up to yield through the parlour.

Stowell Farms

West Stowell, Marlborough

Bryn Moore(left) and Gavin Davies in cow shed

Bryn Moore(left) and Gavin Davies

Stowell Farms features in the final for a second consecutive year.
 The family-owned 1,142ha Stowell Estate saw a major investment in the dairy enterprise in 2011, when a brand-new unit was constructed to expand the 140-cow herd.

Today, the year-round-calving, 526-cow herd is milked three times a day through a 38-point rotary parlour.

Using the Cow Manager eartag system has helped lift pregnancy rates from 18% to 27%, with a 12-month rolling average of 25%, says manager Gavin Davies. It has also helped curb antibiotics use.

Farm facts

  • Year-round calving
  • 1,142ha
  • 526 Holsteins
  • 11,580kg, at 3.79% fat and 3.24% protein
  • Three-times-a-day milking
  • Somatic cell count 137,000/ml
  • Calving interval 387 days
  • Milk sold to Watson’s Dairies

Bryn Moore, herd manager, says: “Its ‘early warning’ of problem cows has allowed quicker intervention and treatment, reducing antibiotics use.”

Mastitis cases have reduced from 100 cases per 100 cows four years ago to 18 cases.

“This has been achieved by correcting milking equipment and reducing teat-end damage, changing parlour routines, altering treatment protocols, allowing more self-cure, backed with anti-inflammatories and improving housing.”

Becci Berry

Brimstone Farm, Coleshill, Swindon

Becci Berry in a field with dairy cows

Becci Berry © Richard Stanton

Becci Berry has overcome some major challenges to earn a place in the 2019 Gold Cup line-up.

Until 2011, she worked in public relations, but when her husband, Richard, died, she stepped in to manage the family farm with her in-laws, Michael and Mary Berry.

Ms Berry now works alongside herdswoman Gillian Maconochie and two stockmen.

Before her husband’s death, he had introduced a cross-breeding programme to reduce cow stature and improve health traits and longevity.

Ms Berry, who was also a finalist in the 2019 Farmers Weekly awards, is continuing this by removing some larger Montbeliarde genetics from the three-way cross and including more Brown Swiss with the Scandinavian Reds.

Farm facts

  • Year-round calving
  • 356ha tenanted National Trust mixed farm (in HLS and ELS)
  • 166 cross-breds: Holstein cross Swedish/Norwegian Red/Montbeliarde/Brown Swiss and replacements
  • Yields 8,824 litres of milk, at 3.81% butterfat and 3.27% protein, on twice-a-day milking
  • Somatic cell count 176,000/ml
  • Calving interval 370 days
  • Supplies Muller

“We have seen improved health and easier management, while performance has been maintained. Fertility figures reflect this, with pregnancy rates of 29% at two services a pregnancy and replacement rates are just 22%,” she adds.

Ms Berry has been at the forefront of using genomic bulls for beef semen and is on a scheme with Meadow Quality that adds £20 a calf, on average.

Andrew King

Barrington Organic Partnership, Barrington, Ilminster

Rosemary and Andy King with farm manager Richard Coombes (right)

Rosemary and Andy King with farm manager Richard Coombes (right)

Andy and Rosemary King achieve yields of 7,882kg from their 243 organic Holsteins.

Good-quality home-grown forages, high health and fertility are the linchpins of the system.

The year-round-calving herd grazes clover-based swards from April to October and is fed to yield in the parlour.

Farm facts

  • 243 Holsteins
  • Year-round calving
  • 220ha
  • Yields 7,882kg milk at 3.75% fat and 3.17% protein, milked twice daily
  • Somatic cell count 74,000/ml
  • Calving interval 374 days
  • Supplies on an organic contract

Just 2t a cow a year (0.26kg/litre) of bought-in organic concentrates are fed, with almost 50% of yield from forage.

Cows are screened quarterly for Johne’s disease using the NMR milk sample – a protocol that meets the new Red Tractor standards required by their milk buyer. The herd is vaccinated for IBR, leptospirosis and BVD.

All calves are tagged and tested to identify any persistently infected animals, which are then removed from the herd.

Rigorous udder health protocols have led to exceptionally low somatic cell counts, with just 4% of cows receiving antibiotics at drying-off.