To help safeguard their future, a dynamic dairy farming family has joined forces with an award winning creamery. Rebecca Jordon visits Cornwall to find out more.
After 20 years of producing milk at either cost of production or less, the Jenkin family has finally found a milk supplier which is as determined as itself to secure a symbiotic future for further generations.
As of next April, Treworgie Farm, near Manaccan, on the Lizard peninsula, Cornwall, will begin a 12-month rolling contract with Rodda’s, the creamery renowned for its Cornish clotted cream awarded EU Protected Designation of Origin status.
By directly sourcing the 53 million litres it requires annually, Rodda’s is able to offer a contract which provides a sustainable income for the 44 producers which have signed up and committed to its requirements. To date, the creamery has relied on Arla to source its milk supply.
The Jenkins’ commitment and faith in this contract is reflected in the investment of three double-unit robots, which started milking 250 Holsteins this month.
Roger Jenkin, who works alongside his wife Dorothy, son Hayden and daughter Christina, says: “If we can just keep our heads above water at 19p/litre until next April, we can see a future with Rodda’s by offering us a shared price.
“Had we been supplying Rodda’s this August, we would have been receiving 3ppl above our current supplier’s price.
“I believe the industry is going to pick up because world supply is dropping, but it might take some time before this happens.
“My son and daughter were keen to keep milking, but we had to find a way to do it. It has not been easy and has taken hours of planning.
“Only when the bank understood how committed Rodda’s was to working with its farmers in the long-term did we get the go-ahead to invest in a future in milk production.
“I am proud to be supplying Rodda’s with our milk. Their products, which supply a niche market, are not only Cornish but also high-end. While this might be fulfilling, it has given us the opportunity to make our lives better.”
None of this would have been possible if the Jenkin family was not managing cows to a high standard.
The installation of a 16-bay 200-cubicle house three years ago was a great step forward in improving herd management.
Cubicles were lined with memory foam mattresses which have increased cow comfort. They are regularly bedded with sea sand which prevents slippage in passages and corrects any deficiencies in soil pH when manure is spread.
Rubber matting has been laid at the entrance and exit of the parlour to prevent cows slipping.
Hayden has taken a keen interest in herd health. As a result, cows are regularly foot trimmed and the herd is vaccinated against mastitis, with levels controlled through use of the automatic dipping flush.
High yielders are managed indoors, but during the period of their lactation when they are not producing within the top 50 per cent of the herd, lower yielders are outside on a paddock grazing system, which surrounds the shed and uses a network of crushed concrete cow tracks.
Roger says: “Depending on grass growth, 95 cows rotate around 35 acres divided into 21 paddocks. This ensures they have fresh growth in front of them at all times.”
Grass leys are medium- to long-term perennials, but as Rodda’s requires milk with a 4 per cent butterfat specification, Hayden is considering introducing some Italian ryegrasses.
Hayden says: “I am looking into the benefits of feeding wholecrop in an attempt to increase butterfat.
“A longer fibre in silage and shorter in maize will increase butterfats, so there is a consideration to harvest our third cut silage as bales, which will have a higher dry matter content than clamp, to keep milk quality as level as possible throughout the year.”
With silage averaging 11 metabolisable energy, 30 per cent dry matter and 14.2 per cent protein, each high yielder’s daily total mixed ration is completed with 2.5kg crimped barley – home-grown across 24ha (60 acres) – and 2.5kg of 30 per cent protein bought-in blend.
Roger says: “Cows are offered Xkg a day to average 10,000 litres a year at 4 per cent butterfat and 3.2 per cent protein. The lower yielding portion of the herd receives just 2kg of each constituent.”
Genetics is another area where Treworgie improve performance, with Genus selecting sires for high protein and butterfat.
Roger says: “We breed all our own replacements and focus on high £PLI. We increasingly rely on sexed semen to achieve an economically viable milk production system.
“To produce a level milk supply for Rodda’s, we calve year-round, aiming for 10-12 heifer calves born each month. The £10/service extra cost for sexed semen is worthwhile.”
Calves are the responsibility of Dorothy and Christina and cows which are not highly scored by Genus are targeted to produce bull calves.
This enterprise provides another income with steers finishing at 300kg deadweight at 19-23 months old and sent to St Merryn.
Heifers are reared on powdered milk by machine for eight weeks, while bull calves, all of which are castrated, have milk for the same period from the parlour.
During summer, all calves are turned out to grass and receive a barley and protein ration at a rate of 1kg/head until mature. Steers are finished in a low-cost system based on grass, round bale silage and 4kg of barley per day.
The decision to move to a robotic parlour from their 20:40 herringbone was not taken lightly.
The family visited nearly 30 parlours as far afield as Germany and Holland as well as throughout the South West, before settling on three double BouMatic Robots.
Roger says: “Once we committed ourselves to a future of milking cows, we needed to decide how to do it.
“One option was extensive production off grass. This might be good in spring, but it would not produce enough high quality milk in autumn, so it would not have fitted in with Rodda’s requirements.
“Three times-a-day milking was out of the question, as we do not have enough land to increase cow numbers and the system would require more staff. In the end, robots ticked all the boxes.
“Unfortunately, we have had to lay off staff, but not without ensuring they were secure in work elsewhere. However, the labour savings will eventually pay for the robots.”
The Jenkin family is aware there is a steep learning curve ahead this winter in order to maximise potential efficiency robots offer through data analysis.
Roger says: “Cow collars will pick up when a cow is bulling. At milking, we shall be notified by the robot’s computer. The advantage of this is enormous.
“I feel it will allow my children to see themselves on a level playing field with their peers.
“They are now not just farming, but using the latest technology. In some cases, this is more advanced than some of their friends are using in an office situation. They will have prestige in what they are doing.
“The dairy industry must remain dynamic if it is to continue moving forward and succeed. To achieve this, the industry must have young people coming through.
“The fact Rodda’s thinks along the same lines is a bonus. I like the way it operates and I believe Rodda’s will look after us.”
Rodda’s is delighted with the enthusiasm shown by like-minded producers in the area.
Its head of milk supply Peter Moffat says: “To succeed we needed a closer relationship with our farmers.
“The success of our business relies on our milk supply. Introducing a direct supply contract has strengthened our links with local farmers and thereby secured the future for Rodda’s and our farmers for the next generations.”
The new direct supply contract will pay a base price which will be the higher of the two published milk prices by Arla and Dairy Crest at Davidstow on January 1, 2016. To this will be added Rodda’s premiums according to the level of butterfat and milk quality.
A Rodda’s ‘basket’ will manage any price movement on a quarterly basis. This takes average of price variations paid by different producers in the West Country, both those controlled by world commodity prices and retail-aligned contracts based on cost of production.
Peter says: “As dramatic fluctuation in milk prices is challenging to farmers and their businesses, we have introduced a formula which aims to give more security.
“The next generation is the future of both our industries and we want to share our success with our suppliers now and in years to come.”