TOP HERDS NAMED IN 2023 NMR RABDF GOLD CUP

Four UK dairy businesses have been named as finalists in the 2023 NMR RABDF Gold Cup. The winner will be named at the national dairy event, Dairy-Tech, on February 7, 2024.

·       Bisterne Farms, Sandford, Ringwood, Hampshire

A collaborative approach built on mutual respect and integrity has been the foundation for a new Contract Farming Agreement (CFA) on the Bisterne Estate in Hampshire. And good progress has helped this dairy farm business make it through to the final of the 2023 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup competition.

In 2019, when estate owner Hallam Mills was reviewing the direction of his dairy enterprise, it was decided that a CFA would best facilitate the business’s next chapter.

With George Brown brought on board as his contract farming partner, they have reshaped their dairy enterprise, investing in infrastructure to make the dairy resilient for the next 20 years.

Their desire to return a profit from dairy using a holistic approach that works the cows and the environment in harmony is just one of the reasons why they are shortlisted for the 2023 Gold Cup competition.

The contract partnership means the estate owner provides the land, buildings, houses, and fixed infrastructure for a first charge fee and George provides machinery, power and labour to the enterprise.

Ownership of the herd at Bisterne Farm is shared by both parties, with a 10% return on capital (ROC) paid on all capital the farm owner and contractor have employed in the business.

Now milking 600 predominately crossbred cows within the 1,500-ha estate near Ringwood, the focus is on producing milk from grazed grass.  Their target is to reach 4,000 litres from forage, and they are currently achieving 3,730 litres.

Cows yield 550kg of milk solids per cow per lactation, with attention now turning to the genetic and management gains that will enable them to hit 600kg without compromising herd fertility.

They mostly use New Zealand Friesian sires, with some use of Irish and Kiwi cross bulls. Bulls are selected for:

·       Moderate stature

·       Strength

·       Well attached udders

·       Good milk solids, targeting 5% fat and 4% protein

·       Good fertility

·       Excellent management traits.

Three-quarters of the dairy semen they purchase is sexed, with British Blue and Aberdeen Angus straws used on lower production and Johne’s infected cows, with beef calves sold off the farm at 10 days old.

Work is still ongoing to improve the genetic potential of the herd. George explains: “There is so much we can do, but we find that really exciting as we can see the clear link between reducing our carbon footprint, becoming more efficient and increasing profitability.”

Grassland management is key to helping cows express their genetic ability and make the most of forage. They are incorporating more clover and herbs into their swards to reduce nitrogen inputs, making use of the support available under HLS and the SFI.

Cows graze across a 190ha grazing platform from 4 February to 21 December, with an additional 319ha of silage and youngstock ground, which includes historic parkland and river meadows, of which 190ha is managed primarily for conservation.

The herd was originally predominately spring calving and out-wintered on fodder beet. However, with the farm being on free-draining soils, they have struggled for grass in the summer and have resorted to feeding silage, so they have now transitioned 500 spring-calving cows to a 350/250 autumn/spring split.

George adds: “The plus side of transitioning this way was that it maintained our closed herd status. However, extending the calving interval on this number of animals reduced our efficiency during the transition. We don’t have the infrastructure to house the entire herd, which is why we are still split calving.”

Autumn calving cows are wintered in a 365-cow cubicle shed, feeding on a self-feed system utilising home-grown grass and maize silage. They have recently moved to soya-free diets to enable them to reduce their carbon footprint further, which currently stands at 1.09kg CO2E per kg FPCM, excluding sequestration. They have also reduced crude protein percentages in winter diets.

Managing the cow’s health status is a vital part of the herd’s efficiency, with the farm focussing on prevention rather than cure.

During winter months, cows are milked out of cubicles and bedded three times a week using sawdust mixed with hydrated lime. Post-milking, the teats are sprayed with an iodine-based teat dip.

Cows showing signs of clinical mastitis are isolated into a smaller group where they are milked separately at the end of milking.

The team at Bisterne Farm is hot on mastitis, with any mild cases treated with antibiotic tubes and an anti-inflammatory/pain relief injection. An injectable antibiotic is used for more severe cases, and where appropriate, additional hydration is provided. Once clear of their withdrawal period, cows are tested using the California Milk Test (CMT) before returning to the main herd. Their current case level is 22.6 for every 100 cows a year, and antibiotic usage is at just 7.13 mg/pcu.

The fine attention to detail is only possible thanks to the strong, ambitious team supporting George, with five full-time staff members and three students working on the farm. Seven of the eight workers are from non-farming backgrounds, with the team committed to training the next generation of farmers while showcasing what can be achieved in careers in agriculture.

George adds: “Our young, ambitious team steers our dairy to profitability. We strive to be an example of a modern dairy business that can face the challenges we may see in the future. Our aim is to do the basics well.

“We want to continue to be an employer of choice and maintain the stream of talent coming through our business. We will continue to host consumer-facing events such as university visits, Young Farmers Clubs, and Ex-Offender Charities, and we will build on our successful Open Farm Sunday events, having averaged 3,000 visitors over the past two years,” he says.

Pointers 

·       Strong grazing principles

·       Focus on breeding robust cows

·       Drive to reduce carbon footprint and improve efficiency and profitably

·       Excellent staff management and encouraging new entrants into the industry

·       Hot on maximising cow health and preventing health issues

Farm Facts Bisterne Farm 

·       Milking 600 mostly crossbred cows

·       Average yield: 6,282L at 5.06 % butterfat and 3.84% protein

·       Spring and autumn calving. Grazed outside from February-December

·       Somatic cell count: 162 cells/ml

·       Herd health: Mastitis rate 22.6%

·       1,500 ha, 509 ha allocated to dairy

·       Supplies Arla

·       Michael Eavis, Pilton, Shepton Mallet, Somerset

Sustainability is the name of the game when it comes to Worthy Farm in Somerset, which is famous as the site of the Glastonbury Festival. A previous NMR RABDF Gold Cup winner, in 2014, the dairy business is back in the limelight as one of the four 2023 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup finalists.

This farm has changed considerably in the past decade thanks to the adoption of technology. Clear innovators in the sector, they continuously challenge what is ‘normal’ in dairy farming. A direct synergy between innovative and sustainable local food production is a key focus, and they do this alongside providing a place for education and entertainment purposes.

The real headliners of this farm are, however, the 500 Holstein dairy cows, which are producing more than six million litres of milk a year, from an average of 12,000kg a cow, all through a robotic rotary milking parlour. Milk goes to cheesemaker Wyke Farms, less than 10 miles away, and a third of their supplies are made into Worthy Reserve Chedder and sold to retail outlets.

Managed by John Taylor and wife Pam, the focus is on maximising milk from forage with cows grazing for more than 100 days in the year. They only take one cut of grass silage a year from 315 ha (780 acres) in mid-May, with slurry being the only fertiliser used.

In June each year, around 175,000 music fans gather at Worthy Farm for the famous Glastonbury music festival. Permanent grassland is required to sustain such footfall and is a great carbon sequester. The grassland is permitted the remainder of the year to recover, with some grazing and some broadcast reseeding as the site is cleared.

Improving their sustainability has also been achieved by investing in an anaerobic digestor with a long-term innovative ambition to dry slurry to a prilled, exportable fertiliser.

Further developments connected to this AD plant include an involvement with new technology which could provide a renewable vehicle fuel, which will result in an exhaust emission from their vehicles that is just water.

They have also embraced renewable technologies and rainwater harvesting to take the farm ‘off grid’.  Solar panels power the enormous rotary parlours’ electricity requirement, and rainwater filtration is used to keep the panels clean for optimum voltaic production as well as provide farm drinking water.

Breeding and achieving a high-health herd is key in the farm’s quest for sustainability. Cows are AI’d to Holstein Friesian and all heifers are served by selected Aberdeen Angus bulls.  Due to the herd yield, the voluntary waiting period has been extended to 80 days before first service, and this has proven invaluable for conception rates and the reduction in the requirement to use hormonal treatments.

Sexed semen has been used to generate sufficient heifers for herd expansion, and they are now at their 500-cow capacity. The requirement for heifers has been reduced, leaving more to breed to beef.  They use the latest genomic dairy sires from Alta, which are updated on a quarterly basis.

Herd health is a key focus in this herd. Johne’s screening is carried out quarterly via NMR’s HerdWise service using the milk sample collected at recording. They have also worked hard to reduce the use of injectable antibiotics for mastitis over the past few years.

 

Each cow is treated individually, with bacteriology performed on persistent cases to target treatment, alongside the use of NSAIDs/pain relief for each case.

The new parlour has had a significant impact on the reduction of mastitis cases. It proves that consistent and clean parlour routines (albeit robotic) make enormous headway in combating the spread of mastitis. Current antibiotic usage sits at 32.8mg/PCU.

Staff are also strongly encouraged to report any cases of lameness, with all cows mobility scored daily. Any cow scoring above a 0 is segregated from the herd, treated within 48 hours, given pain relief, and allowed to rest in a loose straw yard.

Preventative measures are key for the farm, and a foot trimmer is contracted every two weeks to trim around 40 cows, in particular those about to be dried off.

Lameness is rarely digital dermatitis and the new parlour has significantly reduced sole ulcers because they spend less time standing. A new foot dip has reduced foul.

The team at Worthy Farm is central to its success. Their core ethos is that all employees are happy working for the business. This is demonstrated in the loyalty and long service of the farm management team and their team development from the apprenticeship level.

Michael Eavis is still heavily involved in the business. John and Pam Taylor have been at Worthy Farm for 25 years and have been a big part of the herd’s progress. Working alongside them are five European dairy staff, one apprentice and two full-time general farm workers who have risen from being apprentices at Worthy Farm

As a direct benefit of the fame spotlight, Worthy Farm welcomes all visitors all year round and has embraced the opportunity to deliver education in agriculture through the conversion of the old milking parlour into a purpose-built education facility known as the Alice Rooms.

Worthy Farm is Michael Eavis’s legacy, a lifetime of work upheld by a phenomenally forward-thinking management team.

Pointers

•       Industry leaders in technology

•       Central in educating consumers

•       High herd health

•       Worthy Reserve Cheddar made from the farm’s milk

•       Putting sustainability at the heart of what they do

Farm Facts Worthy Farm

•        Milking 500 Holstein Friesian cows

·       394ha farm

•        Average yield: 12,000 litres at 4.06% fat and 3.42% protein

•        All year-round calving

·       SCC average:178,000cells/ml

·       Milk buyer: Wyke Farms

·       Routine Johne’s screening

•        5.2% mortality from birth to calving down heifers

Graham Farms, Drumgoon Manor, Maguiresbridge,Co.Fermanagh

Attention to detail in all aspects of their dairy business has seen the Graham family from Northern Ireland shortlisted for the prestigious 2023 Gold Cup Award.

The family operation run by father William and sons Jason and Stuart sees them milking 600 pedigree Holstein cows all year round with milk sold to Glanbia.

Production is outstanding from this all-year-round housed herd, with the farm consistently on the top of the Farmgate Consultancy league table of 85 farms, representing 6.5% of total NI milk production.

Cows are averaging 11,400 litres per cow on a twice-a-day milking at 4.1%f and 3.29% protein. The herd has a pregnancy rate of 41.4%, all from sexed semen /beef, with a calving index of 369 days.

Undoubtedly, the family’s skills, experience, enthusiasm, and hard work have been a significant part of the success of the business now and in the future.

William has been farming since 1979 after attending Greenmount Agriculture College, and his wife Gail is a former Nat West Bank Senior Manager, giving the business a great financial steer.

Son Jason is a qualified vet responsible for all veterinary, herd health, breeding and fertility and is credited for the exceptional calving index, breeding policy and low herd mortality.

His brother, Stuart, is an engineer and returned to the farm in 2012, bringing these skills with him. He has designed and self-built new housing of an unapparelled standard to promote cow and calf comfort. He also looks after staff and HR issues and supply acquisition and is described by his father as being a real ‘people person with admiral business acumen’.

In total, they employ five full-time staff along with part-time milkers and occasional seasonal staff as required. Staff turnover is low due to the excellent working environment.

William says their success lies in their attention to detail. “Right from the straw of semen to colostrum in the calves, we ensure everything is done right.

“There are no silver bullets, but all our bullets need to be silver,” he adds.

Having son Jason working on the farm means herd health is unrivalled. Mastitis cases average 7, and lameness is down to 5 cases per 100 cows. As a result, antibiotic levels are low at 21.8 mg/PCU.

In calf heifers are teat sealed three months before calving, and in cases of mastitis, they have a clear protocol to follow.

1. Mild cases are treated with anti-inflammatory drugs and uddermint only

2. Severe cases get anti-inflammatory drugs, oral fluids and, if required, antibiotics.

As a vet, Jason undertakes culture and sensitivity tests on recurrent cases and will treat them as required from a veterinary perspective to achieve the best outcome for the animal.

For lameness control, routine foot bathing is carried out bi-weekly. At all milkings, animals are mobility scored, and any with a score of 2 or above are identified and seen immediately. Weekly visits are also made by a professional hoof trimmer, covering routine trimming (and at 100 days in milk and drying off in addition) and treatment of acute onset lameness.

Four years ago, they also invested in a 60-point GEA rotary parlour containing most of the added extras they could have. “It has all the bells and whistles, which is important from a staff management point of view, efficiency and cow health,” he says.

The family is renowned for their top-quality breeding stock, with a large number of heifers and in milk cows (~250) sold off the farm each year. They aim to breed heifers with:

·       Functional type

·       Medium stature

·       Using Sire PLI minimum £600

·       Positive for protein and butterfat, with a target 900kg milk solid (fat and protein).

·       Good mammary, locomotion, deep, wide chest through to the rump

·       Longevity

The sale of breeding animals forms a large part of their business’s success, with the income outweighing the total cost of rearing the heifer replacements.

Animals are fed to yield in the parlour, with a push to increase the amount of milk from forage by adopting a multi-cut silage system. This year, they also started introducing clover into the grass swards for extra protein and their ability to fix nitrogen into the soil.

They are also targeting their slurry use by using low-emission slurry spreading equipment to effectively use slurry and reduce the use of purchased fertiliser. The use of slurry additives is also helping them to increase the available nitrogen and reduce the need for bagged fertiliser.

They have signed up with DAERA Soil Nutrient Health System, and the entire farm is being soil sampled to determine a starting point for carbon sequestration.

The drive in the short term is to continue maintaining farm output whilst addressing environmental issues. Their carbon footprint is currently 1.3976 kg per kg of FPCM. They are also actively improving biodiversity on the farm by leaving a proportion of hedgerows untrimmed and fencing off lakeside woodland to encourage certain habitats.

Williams adds: “Good can always become better, and the farm will continue to maintain farm output whilst addressing environmental issues. We are also striving to grow more grass per hectare from less purchased N in the future. This will mean careful attention to the soil samples.”

The farm has recently finished constructing a large store for straights to drive down feed costs and their carbon footprint by buying full loads.

They are also researching clean green energy on the farm and are considering solar panels for the dairy unit.

William adds: “We want to ensure we have a financially strong business to allow for succession.”

Pointers

• Excellent attention to detail

• Push to produce more from grass

• Strong reputation for breeding stock

• Want to do everything right for the cows with no expense spared.

Farm Facts Graham Farm

• Milking 600 pedigree Holstein cow

• Average yield: 11,400 litres per cow on a twice a day milking at 4.1%f at and 3.29% protein

• All year-round calving

• 6% mortality from birth to calving down heifers

• Herd health: Mastitis rate 22.6%, Somatic cell count (SCC) 76

• 351ha

• Supplies Glanbia

 

 

Joe Ives, W&P Ives, Herriard, Basingstoke, Hampshire.

Joe and Claire Ives’ dairy farm business is a finalist in the 2023 NMR RABDF Gold Cup. No newcomer to the top line-up, they were finalists in 2020 and winners of the

Chris May Memorial Cup in 2019, but this time they hope to appeal to the judges with new developments to future-proof the business and improvements to ensure they produce top quality milk in a sustainable way.

This 206-ha tenanted dairy farm dedicates 160-ha to the dairy unit, home to the 250 cow Gladwake pedigree Holstein herd, founded by Joe’s parents, Bill and Peggy. This all year round calving herd is milked through four LELY robots and supported by five full time employees working alongside Joe.

In 2017, Joe and his brother Bob divided up the business to secure the future for their respective families, with Bob focusing on the arable enterprises and Joe on the dairy.

“We work closely, though, whenever and wherever, the farm requires joint input,” says Joe. He and Claire have three teenage sons and cite a strong family ethos as the cornerstone of their success to date.

In the past four years, they have upgraded the dairy farm infrastructure and introduced technology to improve housing, so cows have the right environment for fulfilling their potential.

They have recently completed a far off dry cow building and serving barn for heifers with locking yokes and a robotic cleaner. “This allows for more efficient insemination of maiden heifers,” he adds.

This latest major development completes the current plan, and consolidation is on the cards while interest rates are high and milk prices have dropped back. “It’s important to keep ourselves financially secure and be prepared for opportunities as they arise,” says Joe.

However, investment in the best genetics will continue and Joe has committed to genomic testing of heifers for the past five years, enabling more accurate selection of heifers and cows to breed replacements from.

The aim is to breed efficient, profitable, long life heifers from the best bred cows using sexed semen. About 65 heifers join the herd each year, with another 60 being sold as calved or in-calf heifers. Beef semen is used on the remainder.

“With the help of genomic proofs, pedigree breeding and robotic data we are in a good position to breed highly efficient, healthy and content cows for ourselves and our customers.”

Herd health is monitored carefully, and the Gladwake herd is screened for Johne’s ,BVD, IBR and leptospirosis through the Premium Cattle Health Scheme. Cows are monitored electronically through the robots and any cows that are highlighted are checked manually and appropriate treatments administered. Cows with repeated cases are culled. The herd’s mastitis rate has reduced in the past four years and is currently 9.4 cases per 100 cows.

“We also monitor lameness routinely,” adds Joe. “We get feedback on any problems from the robots, but we also score cows monthly and have an independent scorer in once a year. We foot trim all cows in house so we can be on top of any problems straight away. All cows get a foot trim at 100 days into milk and at drying off.”

Technology also helps them monitor body condition with weights recorded at every milking. The nutritionist and vet will investigate any worrying trends.

“We’re keen to prevent problems,” adds Joe. “We use selective dry cow therapy for 75% of cows, and we’ve reduced our antibiotic usage year-on-year.” Non-critical antibiotic usage in this herd is currently 4.95mg/PCU.

He stresses that his cow data and milk records remain fundamental to the herd’s improvements. “We combine good records, new technology with sound stockmanship to make decisions and improve herd performance. We have a team here who are all dedicated team to achieving this. This is fundamental to our success.

“Our key goal is to produce the best quality product, both milk and cattle, for our customers as efficiently, sustainably and profitably as possible.”

Pointers

·       Improved infrastructure to future-proof the business

·       Records and data are fundamental to herd management decisions

·       New technology is used alongside good stockmanship for monitoring and managing cows

·       Investment in top quality genetics is a given

Park Farm – Farm facts

·       Herd size: 250 cows, plus 240 young stock

·       Yield: 13,700 litres

·       3.91 % fat and 3.19 % protein. Total solids 995 kg/cow

·       All-year-round calving herd, robotic milking

·       Calving Interval: 385 days

·       Conception rate: Cows and milking heifers 42%, maiden heifers 70%

·       Herd health: Mastitis rate 9.4%

·       Lameness: 96% of herd mobility score 0 or 1

·       Herd replacement rate: 25% and sell surplus heifers

 

These four herds are selected from UK dairy herds meeting the Gold Cup 2023 criteria for the year ending September 2022 of:

·       More than 100 cows/heifers with qualifying lactations in the milking herd

·      Annual somatic cell count average of 200,000 cells/ml or less, or 250,000 cells/ml for organic herds

·      Minimum £PLI value specific to the breed, or minimum £SCI or £ACI value

All entrants completed a detailed form with information on their system, progress and targets for the business. Finalists are selected and undergo an on-farm inspection by judges Robert Craig, RABDF Chairman and Cumbrian dairy farmer, immediate past Chairman of RABDF and Devon dairy farmer Di Wastenage, NMR’s veterinary adviser Dr Karen Bond and 2020 Gold Cup winner Essex dairy farmer John Torrance.

Presentations of the NMR RABDF Gold Cup awards 2023

The winners of the NMR Silver Salver, The Lilyhill Cup and the Chairman’s Cup awarded to qualifying Gold Cup herds with the highest combined fat and protein production for their breed, and the Chris May Memorial award for the herd with the highest lifetime daily yield will be announced alongside the presentation of the 2023 NMR RABDF Gold Cup at Dairy-Tech on 7 February, on the NMR stand at 4pm.

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