The Dutton family farm 680ft above sea level in the picturesque Derbyshire countryside. Bruce Jobson visited Roy and his brother Andrew, chairman of Holstein UK
The Dutton brothers have overseen the family business development since their father, Herbert, moved to the then 130-acre Brookley Meadows Farm, Thurvaston, in 1957 with 40 milking cows.
Roy, the elder by ten years, was already cutting his schoolboy teeth on farm chores before one- year-old Andrew had barely started to walk.
Today the brothers farm 400 acres and are respected for their 175-cow Royan pedigree Holstein herd and their attention to management detail. While many farmers use contractors to undertake farming operations, the Duttons prefer to carry out the work themselves, explains Roy.
“We prefer the flexibility of being able to cut and harvest our silage when the grass quality and ground conditions are right,” he says. “We prefer to maintain as much control as possible and thereby aim to produce quality forage for the herd.
“If inclement weather conditions delay a contractor, you can wait weeks before getting to mow the grass and lead the crop home. We farm close to 700ft above sea level and can still get cold snaps and frosts in late April and May.”
The Duttons take three cuts of silage beginning with a 200-acre first cut across the entire grazing platform. Second cut and third cut is taken over 60-70 acres and 30-40 acres respectively.
In order to accomplish a large first cut, the milking cows remain indoors until the entire platform has been cut and ensiled.
Grassland receives a dressing of 35 units of nitrogen in April and this year first crop was taken in the last week of May and early June, and the crop is expected to yield in excess of 12 tonnes per acre. The 60 acres of second cut ground receives a top dressing of 70 units of nitrogen immediately after the crop is lifted, and the same occurs following second cut as well as a covering of slurry.
The Duttons aim to maximise their resources in order to drive levels of efficiency, according to Andrew. He says: “We are unable to directly control milk prices but we can have better control of our inputs and costs involved.
We are seeking to produce more milk from the same amount of feed, or the same amount of milk from less feed – it’s about maximisation of our natural assets.
“We have used a Keenan TMR mixer wagon for the past six years and purchased a new Mech-fibre 320 machine in winter last year. The system incorporates the latest PACE technology and we are able to monitor the diet closely and make adjustments via the Keenan Intouch centre. This allows the diet to be fed on a consistent basis, day after day.”
The herd is milked twice daily through a GEA fully-automated parlour
Following the introduction of PACE over the past winter and spring, the herd increased production by 3.04 litres per cow per day, an equivalent worth of 68p. Over the same period, cost per litre of milk produced declined by over 3ppl from 13.84p to 10.76p.
Feed conversion ratio (FCR) has improved from 1.13 to 1.39 litres, ECM per kg DM fed, this being an increase of 22%. Cows are consuming 2.65kg DM less per head per day, a cost saving of 39p per cow per day.
Average yield is 33 litres per day with an annual herd average of 9500 litres at 3.95% fat and 3.1% protein, and a calving interval of 402 days.
The herd ration is formulated by North West Farmers (NWF) and comprises grass and maize silage, mash filter grains, blend and 28% protein pellet and home-grown cereals. Wheat straw is included in the ration to slow down rumen activity.
This summer the herd was fully turned out on June 10 and youngstock and in-calf heifers followed on.
The Duttons breed and rear all their own heifer replacements on farm, and target service age at 15 months resulting in an average age at first calving of 25-26 months, according to Roy. “We cannot keep all of our heifers and regularly consign animals to the auction at Leek market, although sometimes we sell first and second lactation animals.
However, longevity plays an important part in our breeding pro- gramme and we prefer a broad mix of age groups within the herd. We currently have one milking animal, Royan Solitaire 2 Ex94 7E, back in-calf aged 17 years old.”
Roy (left) and Andrew Dutton run the renowned Royan pedigree herd
The brothers pay close attention to breeding the right type of cow for their environment.
Although the pair notes the increasing use of genomic technology to identify the next generation of potential super sires, the preference is to use second crop proven bulls with greater levels of reliability. Current herd sires include Jeeves, Lavenguard as well as genomic sire Lavaman. Sexed semen is also used within the herd as well as Cogent test semen, states Andrew.
“Breeding cows that last is important and we want trouble free cows that offer longevity and ease of management. With the decline in milk prices, animals need to remain within the herd longer to pay for their replacements, remain healthy to reduce vet costs, and remain productive as well as reproductive.”
The herd is milked on a twice-daily basis through a five-year-old GEA fully-automated 10/20 herringbone parlour. At the same time, the Duttons decided to expand their existing facilities and also constructed a new 80-cow cubicle housing facility.
The building also has solar panels on the roof that helps generate electricity for on-farm use.
Earlier this year, the Duttons started supplying milk to Crewe-based Fayrefields. The company specialises in hard cheeses, bulk butter and a full-range of milk powders and proteins.
The farm received 23ppl and 22ppl in April and May respectively, and is currently receiving 21p in July, and Andrew considers the move as being long-term benefi- cial to the business.
He said: “Everyone knows the challenges facing dairy farmers, and in the current circumstances we wanted to secure a more viable milk price. Other local farmers have taken the decision to move their contracts to Fayrefields and we are all achieving on average a 4ppl increase on previous prices.
Just over 12 months ago, UK dairy farmers were receiv- ing 35ppl. Future “Today, on average, milk producers are receiving 12 to 14ppl less – the equivalent of a 33% decrease. No other industry can cope with such a dramatic decrease in prices. In the first four months of 2015, our milk sales were down £43,000 compared to the same period in 2014.
However, we remain committed and optimistic about the long term future of the dairy industry,” he says.