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.
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
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
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
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
“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
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.
Cheshire Dairy Farm Wins NMR / RABDF Gold Cup 2006
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