Farming on top of Hadrian’s Wall, Burgh-by-Sands, Cumbria, the Hodgsons have one of the most admired Holstein herds in the country. Louise Hartley reports.
Harry, Margaret, David and Louise welcome you to their farm on Thursday August 11 2016 for a full herd inspection and elite sale from top cow families.
Those interested in attending can register now for their free lunch by emailing email@example.com.
Securing this year’s prestigious Holstein premier herd and master breeder award and twice nominated for the RABDF Gold Cup, David Hodgson has a herd with impressive pedigree and production figures.
Moving to Wormanby Farm in 1971, the family started grading up their 80-head commercial British Friesian herd to pedigree Holsteins in 1985.
Currently averaging more than 11,000kg, the herd now has 58 Excellent and 80 Very Good cows, including 30 Very Good two-year-olds.The rest are not yet scored or are Good Plus heifers.
Believing attention to detail and staying ahead of the game are key factors for success, David says his tablet has been a good investment.
“I like to research everything and anything and the iPad is great for getting more information on any ideas we have,” says David, who farms with his wife Louise and parents Harry and Margaret.
The latest research project has involved looking into different parlour options and the economics of expansion.
The current parlour is the original 16:16 herringbone and despite undergoing various upgrades, it has started costing money. As a result, pros and cons of a rotary versus robotic system have been carefully discussed.
David says: “We would need four robots to handle the volume of milk the herd is producing and six or seven to accommodate any expansion.
“One of us would also have to be on call all the time, and with only me and my father onsite, this would be very tying. Economically, it would also cost more to install robots than a rotary.”
The family has therefore opted for a 36-point rotary, which will cut milking times from two-and-a-half hours to one hour and provide an easier route to expansion.
But when it comes to building and planning permission, the Hodgsons have to jump through more hoops than usual.
Louise says: “The farm is right on top of Hadrian’s Wall and many of the buildings on the steading are listed which makes getting planning permission tricky.
“We have to plan a long way in advance if we want to put a new shed up. The main cubicle shed took two-and-a-half years and a lot of expense to complete.”
With building hopefully due to start next year, the family, who are members of the Arla co-operative, believe it is important to invest in the future.
David says: “Even though the dairy industry can change quite quickly, it is important to have a firm, progressive plan. There are many large dairies dispersing, which will hopefully balance out some of the oversupply and I hope to see an upturn by late summer or early autumn.”
Another thing David regularly researches are bulls which he says helps him make breeding decisions, with cows individually mated through DIY AI.
“We usually use 20-25 straws off one bull and there are about 12 different bulls in the AI flask at one time. We use a small amount of sexed semen, but have generally been lucky with heifer calf numbers and would rather use top quality genomic bulls than sexed.”
Two of David’s favourite bulls are Maple-Down Goldwyn Atwood and Ms Atlees Shottle Aftershock.
He says: “I started using these two bulls as soon as they came on the market. They both have superb pedigrees and there was a lot of hype about them in North America.
“We have been delighted with their breeding, with third-calvers off both sires doing exceptionally well in the herd. One daughter includes Wormanby Atwood Linda, which was honourable mention All Britain senior two-year-old last year and has been nominated once again this year.”
David, who sells stock across the UK, especially to Scotland. Sold through Carlisle auction and also privately, 10-15 breeding bulls are sold annually too.
Acknowledging showing provides a chance to showcase stock and advertise to potential buyers, David focuses on the two biggest dairy events in the country – UK Dairy Expo, Carlisle auction, and UK Dairy Day, Telford International Centre.
He explains: “The UK Dairy Expo is right on our doorstep and is a great advert for heifer and bull sales. Telford is the Holstein breed’s premier show and because cows are shown in their club teams, everyone mucks in and helps each other out.
“We get a lot from the exposure at these two shows. You do not feel you are taking cows to support the event, which can be the case with locals shows. On the contrary, you gain a lot from exhibiting.”
David shows with his cousins Richard Hodgson, who is also a livestock photographer, and Andrew Holliday, dairy sire analyst at Cogent.
The Hodgsons have entered six milkers to UK Dairy Expo, including the All Britain nominated Feizor Knowledge Melody 3 VG89, owned with Stephen and Anne Morley, Southwaite.
Also in the show team will be the first-milking cow the family has bought-in for 10 years, Petteril Lavanguard Carol VG89, owned with David, Marion and Andrew Holliday, Burgh-by-Sands.
David and Harry have invested heavily in land over the last few years to become as self-sufficient as possible.
Growing their own forages, including maize and barley, is cheaper and provides better quality control, David says.
Milking cows receive a flat rate ration throughout their lactation of 30kg grass silage, 15kg maize, 2.5kg urea-treated barley and concentrate.
The TMR feeds for 32kg plus maintenance and only the highest yielding cows (giving more than 40kg daily) are topped up with 3kg concentrate in the parlour.
Dry cows receive a TMR of 5kg straw, 10kg second cut silage, 5kg maize silage, 1.5kg dry cow blend and dry cow minerals.