2013-06-10   facebook twitter rss

Cumbrian Herd Aims to Turn Silver to Gold

Runner up in the 2012 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup, David Hodgson from Burgh by Sands, Carlisle, Cumbria, has made the final six in this year’s competition and hopes that he may have managed to notch up a place and take the gold this year.

“It’s been a challenging 12 months,” says David who runs the 150-cow Wormanby Holstein herd with his parents and wife. “Like most dairy producers, weather conditions had an effect on silage quality and this had a knock on effect on production. We bought in more feed to make up the shortfall and this put pressure on margins.”

l to r Harry, Margaret, David with baby Matthew and Louise inside new cubicle housing

l to r Harry, Margaret, David with baby Matthew and Louise inside new cubicle housing

Despite these challenges, David and his father Harry – who share the milking with weekend help from a relief milker – feel better placed than many to ride the storm. “We don’t have lots of extra wages to pay and we can decide just how and where to tighten our belts.”

That said, production for the herd has held up and the herd averaged 10,735kg at 3,87% fat and 3.09% protein with an average cell count of 136,000/ml and Bactoscan of 25 for the year ending September 2012.

But milk isn’t the only output form this dairy business. The Hodgsons sell around 40 heifers a year - and probably more this year. David’s wife Louise manages the website and marketing material and the herd is, according to David, building up a good reputation. “We sell more groups of heifers to individual herds and we’ve had a lot of enquiries in the past few months. I think many herds like to buy groups and know where the stock is coming from for obvious reasons.” The herd is vaccinated for IBR and BVD annually and screened for Johne’s disease. Around a quarter of the farm’s income comes from sales of youngstock.

“We use the best bulls available across the herd for type and longevity. Legs feet and udders are very important. Choice of sire is a major investment and we put a lot of time into this,” adds David. “So we’re confident that we’re offering good animals.

And through breeding and management the herd is certainly managing to combine production, type and longevity. Herd average is heading towards 11,000kg and more cows are meeting their target of 50,000kg within four lactations. There are currently 40 EX cows in the herd with 70 VG and 30 GP cows and the herd achieve lifetime daily yield is 13.79kg/day.

Cows are feed a partial mixed ration based on grass and maize silage and homegrown barley with a bespoke dairy blend to achieve maintenance plus 30 litres. They are then topped up, according to yield, in the parlour.

“We’re in a good area for forage production - being only a milk from the Solway coast – so we rely on plenty of milk from forage and aim for about a third. We didn’t achieve this last year so to maintain yields we increased the flat rate feed part o ft he diet. Despite this extra cost, the margin over purchased feed per cow fell only slightly in the past 12 months to £1998.

Milk is supplied to Arla and, being an all year round calving herd, the profile is fairly even. “To us, supplying milk to a large expanding business is important in the volatile milk market that UK producers find themselves in,” adds David.

Looking ahead, the Hodgsons don’t rule out increasing milk production with more cows if the figures stack up. “At the moment it makes more sense to breed everything pure and sell surplus heifers at their peak. We have about 180 to 190 calvings a year – more than we have in the milking herd, so if we decide to expand herd numbers then we will keep more youngstock.”

To maintain this flexibility and, equally important, to improve cow accommodation the Hodgsons have put up a new cubicle building for bulling heifers in the past 12 months as well as made changes to the dry cow accommodation by removing the mats and putting in sand beds.

“We will keep working out the costs and prices of heifers versus the milk price. We’re in a good position to increase herd size by 50% in 12 months if milk prices improve but if they don’t we will continue to develop pedigree heifer sales.”

NMR’s Jonathan Davies, RABDF chairman Ian Macalpine and Gold Cup winners from 2010 Tom and Chris King will judge the six finalists. The 2013 winner and runner up will be announced at the Livestock Event, NEC on July 3, on the NMR stand.


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