Riverdane Holsteins did ‘the double’ at last year’s AgriScot, taking the super cow and super heifer titles. Katie Jones meets the Nutsford family ahead of this year’s show.
The Nutsford family’s Riverdane Holsteins are synonymous with the Holstein breed, with animals owned by the family often seen performing well in the showring.
At last year’s AgriScot, not only did their super cow and super heifer wins mark the fifth year the Nutsfords had taken a top honour at the show, but it was also the first time both titles have been won by animals from the same breed and same exhibitor.
Mark Nutsford, who runs the herd with his wife Susan and daughter Jodie, at Ravenscroft Hall Farm, near Middlewich, Cheshire, says it was a special achievement last year.
He says: “AgriScot is a fantastic show and is a great shop window for our cows, so to win both titles last year was pretty incredible.”
Plans for this year’s AgriScot show team have, however, hit a huge bump in the road with the impact of the collapse of Tomlinsons Dairies where the Nutsfords sent their milk, meaning they are still undecided about making the trip to Edinburgh.
Back at home the family is milking 150 Holsteins three times a day to produce an average annual yield of 11,500 litres per cow.
The family has been at Ravenscroft Hall for 20 years, says Mr Nutsford, whose interest in dairy farming stemmed from spending time on his grandfather’s farm in North Yorkshire.
He says: “Before we moved here I owned a lot of cows all over the UK and the world. Susan had the same passion for dairy cows and had herself been brought up on a dairy farm.
“We were actually looking for a smallholding to keep our calves, but I came across this farm when I was doing some embryo work next door.”
The farm was purchased and Mr Nutsford is keen to acknowledge help they received from family at that time.
He says: “We brought the calves we owned back here and brought some cows from my in-laws to get numbers up.”
Herd numbers increased over the years and then, in 2008, the entire herd of 200 head was sold to the Wilsbro herd in Cornwall.
Then followed a period of restocking, and Mr Nutsford says they scoured the world to find cows and cow families they wanted to buy.
He says: “We bought into some key cow families which we wanted to work with, and had kept a few of our own cow families via embryos. We wanted a herd of high quality animals.”
The Nutsfords also bought some animals in partnership with other breeders and Mr Nutsford says this meant they were able to afford more expensive cows and share in the genetics.
“Partnerships have been key to what we do. For example, the cow we won with at AgriScot, Sahara Sanchez Ambrosia 3, is owned in partnership with Barmick Holsteins, Staffordshire.”
When looking at breeding decisions, Mr Nutsford says type and production have always gone hand in hand at Riverdane.
He says: “You cannot have one without the other; it is impossible. Balanced breeding is what we are all about at Riverdane.
“If dairy producers only go for production, type will suffer. If you get two or three generations of high production cows, type will start to suffer.
“If you want to maintain high production, you have to have strength and capacity in them.”
As well as showing dairy cows at every major show in the UK and Europe, Mr Nutsford has judged at many shows on home soil and abroad.
This year he judged the All European Championship Holstein Show at Libramont, Belgium.
He says: “In my opinion European shows are the best in the world in terms of atmosphere and quality of the top end cows there is second to none.”
Recently he travelled to Madison, Wisconsin, to visit the World Dairy Expo, a trip he often makes to ‘keep an eye on what is going on’ in North America.
He says: “I believe that Europe has caught up with North America in terms of genetics and we now have just as big a gene pool in Europe as in North America.
“The biggest difference between the two is that everything is fragmented in Europe. There is no common approach to genetics or to eradicate disease and regulate production.”
He says much of this genetic progress in Europe is down to sexed semen and embryo transfer (ET), something he is involved in through the other arm of his business, Celltech Embryo Transfer.
Mr Nutsford, who does the night milkings five times a week, works on the Celltech side of the business alongside Tom Lomas.
Mrs Nutsford works on-farm early every morning, before heading into the office to handle the paperwork for Celltech and the farm.
The Nutsfords are keen to acknowledge the team involved in the success of the Riverdane herd. Daughter Jodie, who is currently studying veterinary science at Liverpool, is very keen on the farm, and while Mr Nutsford is off-farm on Celltech business, herd manager Oliver Greenhalgh and fulltime assistant Kane Blain-Smith take on the day-to-day running.
Mr Nutsford says: “On the days when Tom and I are not on farms doing ET work, we will be here. It is very much a team approach with everyone including our vet, Ben Pedley, being key to what we do.”
For several years the Nutsfords have been watching the progress of the robotic milking industry and plans were underway to replace the existing parlour with four milking robots with the help of a Countryside Productivity Scheme grant, and also take cow numbers up to 200.
However, Mr Nutsford says the application for a grant has been refused following wrong advice given by Countryside Productivity Applications and now the family must rethink its options.
He says: “This decision and the news of Tomlinsons Dairies’ collapse means we will seriously need to rethink our strategy going forward.”