Henry Gent: 'I would not swap my cross-bred cows for Holsteins, not even if you paid me'

livestockfarm life

Henry Gent farms 120ha (300 acres) and the same area again on short-term agreements, all grazing, near Exeter. All land is organic and he sells milk from his 300 cows to the Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative. Married, with grown up children, he has a team of five people looking after the dairy herd and followers and also runs chickens which go to a local abattoir.


For 40 years I have turned a bit of a blind eye to advice to cut leys at short intervals. This year I have tried it and we made second cut on May 26, after first cut on April 19. I have become obsessed with making better quality silage, hopefully with better protein, because of the cost of organic concentrates, especially high protein concentrates.


This year everything has worked in our favour, with excellent weather in April and again more recently. We also had some decent rain in between the two cuts, about 56mm, which was just as well, especially as we did put on a light application of slurry straight after first cut.


With the wholecrop which is still to come, the clamps should be full by the end of July, and I hope not to touch any of them until autumn calving is well underway. Unless we get a drought. Meanwhile, we started serving on April 28 and after three weeks there were only eight non-bullers in about 160 cows and heifers, which was pleasing. I may be asking for trouble by publishing the submission rate, as the eventual in-calf rate always seems to be a bit disappointing on this farm, usually about 80 per cent.


Perhaps this is not too bad with a service period of only nine weeks, and as we calve again and serve again in autumn, we usually allow most of the not in-calf cows to drop a block and have another go then. The autumn calvers are getting a bit closer to drying off, as they calve over another nine-week period, starting on August 1.


In the run up to drying off the visiting hoof trimmer gives them all a going over. We had only one lame cow for him, but the rest have probably benefited from a tidy up. The improvement in lameness and fertility on this farm is mostly due to three factors: firstly an excellent team working with an excellent vet, cross-breeding, and not too much concentrates.


Like most organic farmers, I would not swap my cross-bred cows for Holsteins, not even if you paid me. I gather that the market is waking up to the value of crossbreds.

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