Last year’s Royal Welsh Show was a career peak for Iwan Morgan and his family’s Erie herd, taking both the inter-breed champion and reserve in the dairy ring. Laura Bowyer catches up with him at home in Carmarthenshire.
Just outside Carmarthen at Nantybwla, Iwan Morgan runs 140 pedigree Holsteins along with 50 pedigree Jerseys, both under the Erie prefix, alongside his parents Edward and Eiddwen, wife Menna and sons Harri and Tomos.
Iwan says he was over the moon with the results of the 2015 Royal Welsh Show, taking champion Jersey, reserve champion Holstein and the Fitzhugh inter-breed pairs, being the first home-bred pair to ever take the championship. But at last year’s show, where temperatures soared, the family took both the inter-breed championship and reserve with Holstein Nobold Windbrook.
Joan taking the top spot, followed by the Jersey, Erie Baywatch Grove.
Edward established the pedigree herd at Nantybwla after visiting Canada, and at the time was one of the first to bring Holsteins into this country. The Jerseys came to the farm in the 1990s, with foundation stock coming from Ashley Fleming’s Potterswalls herd in Northern Ireland along with imported Canadian cows.
Iwan says all of their best animals go back to cows which he saw in Canada. Iwan himself spent five months working for Cormdale Farms, near Toronto, during his sandwich year from Aberystwyth University.
He describes how, during his time in Canada, he saw some of the best cows in the world and they were the most influential times of his career, still influencing him today. He adds he also spent time working on a purely commercial farm in Somerset, which he says was invaluable.
Iwan says: “When I was a student working in Canada I could not afford the amazing cows I saw, but the cows here today have genetics which go back to those great animals.”
The two breeds are run together and he says through having both, he has more stock and embryos to market.
To be prepared for the Royal Welsh, Iwan says you need to be ready by May and adds calving date is not so important for a show animal anymore as cows milk for so much longer than they used to.
He says: “You need to get the right cow, get the feeding and breeding right and pay attention to detail.”
When it comes to his 12-strong show team, they are bedded on straw yards, fed more long fibres and hay and lucerne is added to their diets. He says his show preparation is largely just down to keeping the cattle healthy, with clipping, washing and leading starting two months before the show.
He says: “Showing is a hobby but it is also an important part of our business which promotes our breeding. It is a good time to meet other people and it is good to have competition to keep you on your toes. Competing against the top exhibitors is the best way to know where you are. Every critic is watching that ring when you take them out and every fault can be seen.
“I get a lot of help at shows to make these successes possible, particularly my friends Kev and Sian Rickard, of Starlet Holsteins at Newport, and Kev’s half siblings Ben and Christie Baker. I also get some boys clipping cattle including James Doherty and Luke Harris. I could not do it without these people as it is a 24-hour job every day of a show and there are a lot of time pressures the night before with washing, feeding and cleaning.
“There is something special about the Royal Welsh. You are surrounded by your friends, family and neighbours, plus the media coverage which is so good there. You cannot help but be inspired when you see the quality of stock on show, attracting the best cows from Wales, Scotland and England.
“We all work off each other at the Royal Welsh and the exhibitors are getting more and more professional so if you do not put the work in, you will waste your time. It is an expensive trip between accommodation, animal entries, staff, feed and transport; it is like moving your entire farm for the week, but at the same time the work still needs to be done at home by someone while we are away.”
This year the family will only be showing Holsteins as the Jerseys did not calve quite at the right time.
Operating a paddock grazing system in spring, Iwan says they find it easier to get cows in-calf on a winter ration, as although calving all-year-round, most calve in autumn.
Iwan views classification of cows as very important, saying it is tremendous to have an independent view of your cows, adding every time they visit the farm he learns something new.
“Classifying and going to shows is the best way to run a good herd,” he says. “Otherwise you can get complacent.
“I personally do not think classifiers get enough credit as their work is continuously improving the national herd over the years.”
An additional 36 hectares (90 acres) were purchased four years ago and now the farm spans 97ha (240 acres) of grassland in one block, with an additional 24ha (60 acres) of summer grazing for heifers rented. In winter a total mixed ration of grass silage, wholecrop, brewers’ grains and a blend are fed and cake is provided in the 16:32 De Laval herringbone parlour.
Iwan says: “When we bought the other farm a few years ago we put in a new parlour, more cubicles, cow tracks and paddocks as we doubled our cow numbers.”
He says they did look at a spring calving and grazing system but adds they found it difficult to get enough food into their type of cow and notes the right cow and the right farm is needed to make such a system works.
Four bulls are run at Nantybwla – three Holsteins; a full brother to Nobold Windbrook Joan and two Lustre sons. A son of Erie Baywatch Grove, the 2016 Royal Welsh champion, is also used.
Iwan says: “As much as I like genomics, we use bulls from highly scored cows with high lifetime yields which have worked well on the farm, and their progeny then do well for us.
“Some of our heifers have been genomically tested and I have been amazed by just how accurate the traits are. Genomic readings help to match bulls and identify any fertility issues so you know which cows should not be bred from. It is definitely a breeding tool, but I would not make decisions solely from genomics and would also use bulls from families which I trust.”
British Blue semen is put to cows which are identified as problem breeders, with these calves and most bull calves going through Carmarthen market. Ten of each breed are kept and grown on and sold locally, although Iwan says due to the rise of reproductive management systems from artificial insemination companies, his own bull sales suffer slightly, though heifers on off-lying ground will still need bulls for the ease of management.
Pedigree animals are mainly sold from the farm and Iwan favours buying-in females as calves, saying you can get more for your money when they are at this age.
“I would not bother showing cows without good breeding. If you have cows which do well in the showring, and have good pedigrees, you can then market embryos, cows and bulls from them, otherwise it is difficult to make money from these animals.
I only ever flush a cow if I know I can sell the embryos before I have done so.”
Iwan explains they are now doing less embryo work than they were and says sexed semen is being made use of more as it is a cheaper option, with 60 per cent of heifers being put to it. But they will flush one or two of their best cows.
He says: “When you go out to milk in the morning, it is these special cows which keep you inspired to push on. It is hard work but very rewarding. Moving forward, I would love to be able to have a cow good enough to represent the UK in the European Holstein championships.”