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Over The Farm Gate

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LAMMA 2021

LAMMA 2021

Herd performance boosted by making a series of small tweaks

Constantly making small improvements can add up to a big difference over time, as the Hall family who milk pedigree Holsteins near Shelley, West Yorkshire, have found out.

For a number of years, the Hall family’s Woolrow pedigree Holstein herd has been in the top 1 per cent in the NMR annual production report, but in 2020 leapt from eleventh to third place with a 50kg increase in combined fat and protein during the year.


Sally Hall, who runs the business with her partner, Matthew Teal, and parents, Chris and Margy, says: “I do not think the jump is down to one specific factor but to good staff and a number of tweaks we have implemented. We use the report to benchmark ourselves to make sure we are heading in the right direction.”


They are currently milking 670 pedigree Holsteins which are housed all year round, averaging 12,988kg at 4.02 per cent fat and 3.29 per cent protein. The herd is all year round calving, with an autumn spike to provide more milk when there is increased demand from the milk buyer.


Sally says: “The milking cows have been housed for about 10 years. We did used to graze them, but one summer we could not get them out due to building work being done in the yard, and realised it suited the cows much better to be inside.


“We tried zero grazing but it was too labour intensive and much of our land is too far away from the farm for it to be practical.”

 Sally Hall
Sally Hall

Sally says: “The milking cows have been housed for about 10 years. We did used to graze them, but one summer we could not get them out due to building work being done in the yard, and realised it suited the cows much better to be inside.


“We tried zero grazing but it was too labour intensive and much of our land is too far away from the farm for it to be practical.”


Sally returned to the family farm in 2014 after completing a degree in agriculture at Newcastle University and has also visited the United States several times looking at dairy units.


She says: “Initially, I thought I wanted to work as a consultant, but soon realised what I really wanted was to push on with the herd here at home.


“The trips to the States have given me an insight into some massive units over there and it is the systems and practices they have in place which really interest me, rather than genetics alone.”


Sally’s younger sister, Rachel, now a qualified vet working in North Wales, was studying for her finals at home last year.


Sally says: “We were thrown together when we normally wouldn’t have been because of the pandemic, but I think we learnt a lot from each other during that time, which helped both of us.”

One of the first things Sally did on returning home was to switch the herd to three times a day milking.


She says: “It is all about marginal litres and I was concerned we were not maximising the potential of the cows. They were leaving milk on the beds and milkings were taking too long. After the change, they jumped 5 litres per cow in a month.


“It also improved our care of the calving and transitional cow. Because we are starting earlier and finishing later there is someone around most of the time to monitor them.”


After calving, cows are routinely given a rehydration drink which includes calcium and phosphorous and any which will not drink are treated on the assumption that they have sub-clinical milk fever.


Since January, collars with rumination monitors have been used which detect any sudden drop in rumination and send an alert to the computer and phone. The same collars are also used for heat detection.


Sally says: “We are using an increasing amount of technology and I think it is something which will attract young people into the industry.


The Halls employ a workforce of around 30 which are a mix full and part-time all of whom are local.


Sally says: “We are quite prepared to take on young people and train them and we accept they are not going to stay forever. Several have gone on to manage other units.


“I learnt a lot about staff in the States - little things can make a big difference. Covid obviously created a few problems as it impacts on people in different ways. It has changed the way we hold staff meetings and manage the rota and we have had to put additional protocols in place.”


Two members of staff are trained foot trimmers as Sally believes it is important to set the heifers up with good feet and then keep up with maintenance.


The aim is for first lactation heifers to be trimmed three times during that lactation and second lactation cows and above, twice during their lactation.

Milk is sold to Arla on an Aldi contract. Sally says: “We are part of the Arla 360 scheme which requires a really high standard of animal health and welfare and hygiene. It pays 1p/litre above the standard Arla price and it encourages us to work at continually increasing our standards, so is good for everyone.


“It is a manufacturing contract, so we need cows which can produce high fat and protein for really good quality milk.”


A relatively new introduction to the farm, is multi-cut silaging with the aim of cutting every 28 days to increase energy and protein to produce more kilos of solids from less kilos of concentrate.


Sally says: “We are a very steep farm which is mostly clay, so most of the land is down to silage grass. We do grow some cereals for wholecrop but we do have to buy in a lot of cereals and straw, mainly from other local farmers.


Cows are all fed the same TMR comprising of silage, whole crop wheat, soda grain, a pre-mix, soya hull and rape meal.


In the recording year, the farm nutritionist was David Jacklin, who has now retired, so Sally says thanks are owed to him.


Since late last year, Joss Fawcett from Kite Consulting has been the herd nutritionist, and starch has been increased in the ration which Sally feels has gained extra milk protein.


In terms of genetics, Sally says her father has always had the philosophy of spending on the herd, not individual cows, choosing bulls for high production and was an early user of genomic bulls.


The family currently have 660 heifer replacements in the system which are reared on four other sites locally, returning home six weeks before calving.


All heifers are genomically tested and the aim is for them to calve at 23 months of age. They are reared in groups and are eligible for AI when the youngest in the group is 12 months old, they have been BVD vaccinated and weigh 350kg.


Sally says: “We enjoy rearing heifers and it gives us flexibility. We usually have some to sell, but if we want to increase numbers or need more replacements they are there.

“The aim is always to keep improving the genetics, so we do use British Blue and Aberdeen-Angus semen on the bottom end of the herd.


“Likewise, while we do have cows up to their tenth lactation, space is at a premium, and if an animal is not performing, whatever its age, it will have to go, to make room for a better one.”


The family are continually making improvements to the infrastructure of the farm and two years ago completed a new calf rearing facility. Prior to this calves had been kept in hutches.


Sally says: “It has revolutionised the way we manage calves with a big saving on straw and labour. It has a gravel filled drain down the centre which massively reduces bedding usage and also ammonia.”


Calves are fed pasteurised whole milk for the first three weeks, then heifers are switched to milk replacer powder. Bull and beef calves are sold at three to five weeks old.

A new shed to house dry cows is also nearing completion which will enable milking capacity to be increased.


Sally says: “The next major investment I would like to make will be in additional slurry storage. We currently have an earth lagoon and although we have an umbilical system, much of our land is away from home so we are not always able to utilise it. So I would like to have some satellite slurry stores. We also need to look at reducing water usage and recycling water.


“We have instigated a lot changes in the last few years, but I am aware there is always more to do, so we will keep pushing on, constantly looking at what we can do to improve performance.”

Woolrow Farm


  • 486ha (1,200 acres) mainly contract farmed
  • Mostly silage grass plus some winter wheat and winter barley
  • 670 pedigree Holstein cows plus followers
  • 948kg combined fat and protein (2020 NMR production report)
  • Three times a day milking
  • Calving index – 385 days
  • Total Herd Recording via NMR to register calves with Holstein UK.
  • Herd on the BVDFree England programme
  • Monitored for Johne’s disease
  • Use selective dry cow therapy with 17-20 per cent of cows needing antibiotic tubes.
  • Weekly vet visits for fertility and to test calves for serum total protein (STP).
  • Cow are split into six groups but milked as one through a 20/20 rapid exit parlour
  • Dry cows are fed twice a day.




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