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Stackyard News Aug 06

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Eight Top Dairy Herds Go For Gold

Eight British dairy herds have made it to the final stage in this year’s NMR/RABDF Gold Cup out of a qualifying 800 herds. Inspected by a panel of judges, the 2006 winner will be announced at the Dairy Event, Stoneleigh, on Wednesday 20 September.

rabdf gold cup

Stephen and Catherine Temple from Copys Green Farm, Wighton in Norfolk, have made the final in their first year of entering. Since taking over the farm they have restructured, moving from vegetable growing and a wide range of arable crops to concentrate more on the dairy herd.

“The aim now is to add value to our outputs and reduce inputs,” says Stephen, an agricultural engineer by training.

Adding value has already started with a cheese-making business using 10% of milk produced by the 100-cow Holstein herd that averages 11,585kg of milk at 4.06% fat and 3.15% protein, with a somatic cell count of 182,000/ml.

Inputs will be reduced by growing more protein – like lupins – for the cows’ ration on the farm and some Brown Swiss cows will be introduced to increase output for forage – a cheaper feed than concentrates.

A second Norfolk producer making the final is James Alston from Uphall, near Diss.

His 254-cow pedigree Holstein herd averages 10,221kg of milk at 3.81% butterfat and 3.19% protein, and cow numbers are on the increase.

“I think 300 cows may be the ideal figure,” says James Alston. “It’s taken a while to get the number up because we’re a closed herd – we expanded using only homebred replacements.”

A team of three run the dairy unit - herd manager, Tim Collins, assistant herdsmen Ian Briggs and Dan Tasker. “Three men, 300 cows, three million litres of milk, three tonnes of forage per cow, and a target labour cost of 3ppl – keeping it in ‘threes’ seems to be a realistic aim,” adds James.

Moving to the south west, Peter Jack from Normandy Farm near Blandford Forum, Dorset has a Crown tenancy of 500 acres (197 ha), which is used for the 150-strong Norman herd as well as an arable enterprise.

Recent progress has seen yields double in the past six years. Averages are now 11,434kg of milk at 3.97% fat and 3.04% protein. Part of the increased production is attributed to a change from Friesian to Holstein bloodlines.

And mastitis cases have dropped – from 152 cases a year to just 22 – and cell counts improved to a current average of 106,000 cells/ml.

“Much of this is down to staff,” says Peter. “Jed Drake has been herdsman for 23 years and he and the team are very involved with decisions.”

Devon producers, William and Marion Ley and sons Gerald and Roland, from Thuborough Barton near Holsworthy, have diversified on their 380-acre (154-ha) farm. “Our core business, though, remains the 180 Holstein cows,” says William. “We averaged 10,945kg of milk at 3.98% fat and 3.30% protein in the last recording year.”

William has concentrated on using alternative products on the farm, the most notable being ‘digestate’, a by-product of the electricity generation, as an alternative to inorganic fertiliser. This has wiped out a £20,000 fertiliser bill, improved soil condition and increased clover in swards.

Meanwhile, Gerald has developed a bull hire business, with more than 20 bulls out on hire at any one time, while Roland has developed a machinery share scheme, which is now used on every cattle farm in the village.

Wilstshire producer Chris May from Longbridge Deverill, near Warminster in Wiltshire, makes up the trio of finalists from the south west. A tenant on the Longleat Estate, he milks 200 Holsteins that average 10,731 kg milk at 4.28% fat and 3.16% protein.

“Keeping the system simple is key,” says Chris, and he won’t be diverted from the farm’s core business of producing milk, even rejecting beef rearing and arable enterprises. “Grass and maize for our own use are now the only cropping enterprises.”

Despite a very practical hands-on approach to herd management Chris keeps a close eye on performance – the main indicator of this being profit. “But I also believe that benchmarking against other herds for all performance indicators is essential.”

West Midlands producer, Grenville Wilson from Rushock, near Droitwich in Worcestershire, has 155 Holstein cows that averaged 10,396kg of milk at 4.28% butterfat and 3.26% protein, with a somatic cell count of 186,000 cells/ml, for the year ended September 2005.

“This performance is the result of both good breeding and correct feeding,” he says. “We breed cows for production – milk and components – and type, although I am prepared to compromise on milk yield when selecting sires, but not components and type.”

Despite making good progress, reflected in successes in local herd competitions, Grenville thinks performance could be better and cow comfort is earmarked as an area for improvement. A new cow house with more room for lying and feeding should be ready for the coming winter.

Grosvenor Farms Hatton Heath herd from Aldford Hall, Chester is also a finalist this year. Run by managing director Mark Roach, with herd manager Mark Farrall and herdsman Rhys Evans, the 301-strong herd averaged 10,804kg of milk at 3.62% butterfat and 3.25% protein in September 2005, but by June 2006 this has risen to 11,089kg of milk at 3.67% butterfat and 3.26% protein, with a SCC of 134,000 cells/ml.

“I anticipate further rises – to around the 12,000kg mark in five years time,” he says. “I’m looking for a steady 2 to 3% increase per year from where we are now. I think that’s more sustainable.”

And in the next five years, expansion could also be on the cards, but Mark is waiting for the right time. “The dairy business has to become more profitable before we progress down this route,” he adds.

Finalists for a second year in succession are Ian and Sally Macalpine from Waddington, Clitheroe in Lancashire.

For the year ended September 2005, the 197 Ribblesdale Jerseys averaged 5,972kg of milk, at 5.95% butterfat and 3.97% protein and with a SCC of 197,000 cells/ml.

Ian moved to Jerseys after foot-and-mouth took his Holstein herd. “We’re pleased so far,” he says. “The Jersey herd’s vet bills are considerably lower than those for our Holsteins and there are all the signs are that the cows should last. They are relatively trouble-free and I’ve one that’s just calved for the tenth time.”

As well as setting his sights on increasing cow numbers, Ian’s other long term plan is to shorten his working day and free up a little more leisure time to spend away from the farm.

The dairy industry’s most prestigious award, the Gold Cup, is open to all milk recording herds in Britain who meet the basic criteria: a herd size of more than 50 cows; a rolling average somatic cell count of less than 200,000 cells/ml; and a genetic merit level above that set for the breed.

Eight herds were selected from all completed entries for their comprehensive business approach and outlook for the future. “This is the industry’s only award that focuses on all aspects, including feeding, breeding and health, as well as the attitude of the producer to staffing, the environment and the milk market,” says Lyndon Edwards, Gold Cup judge and dairy farmer from south Wales.

Joining Mr Edwards in visiting the finalists and selecting this year’s winner is Philip Kirkham, NMR Chairman and West Midlands dairy farmer; Richard Knight, independent environmental consultant; Tim Dobson, dairy farmer and RABDF council member; and Frank Armitage, Gold Cup coordinator.

link Cheshire Dairy Farm Wins NMR / RABDF Gold Cup 2006
link NMR/RABDF Gold Cup Turnout Up
link NMR/RABDF Gold Cup Qualifiers In North East And Yorkshire
link Gloucester Dairy Farmer Takes Top Industry Trophy

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