When William Patten came home from university to manage the family’s dairy farm in 2011 he embarked on an ambitious programme to change the businesses’ black and white flying herd to a pedigree Jersey herd. Katie Jones reports.
The Jersey cow is a relative newcomer to Baddington Farm, near Nantwich, Cheshire, which initially was bought as a pig and beef unit by the Patten family in 1947.
The late Brian Patten, and his wife, Gillian, decided to turn the farm into a dairy operation in 1980 and up until five years ago were milking a flying herd of 190 black and whites.
Then in 2011 Mr Patten’s ill health meant he was no longer able to manage the farm, and this is where eldest son, William, began his own dairy farming story.
Despite just finishing a degree at Aberystwyth University in English literature and creative writing, and having plans to go travelling with friends, William agreed to come home and manage the business while the family considered what the next step would be.
“The more I got involved with the farm, the more I wanted to be a dairy farmer,” says William. “And as I started to look around, and think about the different routes for the farm, the more I felt the Jersey cow would suit our buildings and farm.”
Mr Patten, who passed away this June, was persuaded to try some Jerseys and four were purchased to mix in with the rest of the herd to set the foundations of the Baddington Jerseys.
Now, just five years later, the herd of 190 is fully pedigree and the herd’s first home-bred heifers have started calving down.
"I like a good engine on a cow, and want her to last a long-time and produce a lot of milk"- William Patten
“It soon became apparent these Jerseys were fitting into our cubicles better than the larger black and whites, and they could also cope better with our wet clay-type soil,” says William.
“And another big attraction was the breed’s ability to produce more fat and protein on a three-quarters of the feed, compared to the Holstein.”
However, it was not just the functionality and constituent quality of the breed which appealed to the family, William explains they also saw the breed as their route to a successful future in a difficult dairy industry.
“It seemed to me the market was going down the route of larger and larger herds, and instead we wanted to remain a family farm. So we decided to focus on the quality of our milk, and make sure we were doing a good job of that, before thinking about embarking on any out and out expansion.
“Also you have to enjoy what you are doing and I enjoy working with Jerseys.”
In June this year the herd was part of the World Jersey Cattle Bureau’s tour of Ireland, UK and Jersey; further testament to the huge progress the relatively young herd has made in only a few years.
On the day more than 120 international visitors from American, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Guatemala, Jersey Island and the UK visited Baddington Farm.
“We were so proud and privileged to have them visit us and it was a wonderful landmark in what has been a very challenging, yet rewarding journey”, says William.
To improve his cattle management skills William attended several training courses at nearby Reaseheath College and has also visited America twice in recent years to learn more about Jersey genetics.
He says: “I won the Jersey youth travel award in 2012 to go to the USA, and this really was the making of me as a dairy farmer. At the time I knew nothing about the breed and I learnt a lot from travelling with other breeders and gaining some knowledge of genetics.
“And then I went again in 2015, which was also a great way for me to pick up new ideas and find new bulls. It was a great refresher of what I had seen the first time I went and I plan to go every three years in the future to continue furthering my knowledge.”
Using the information gathered on his travels William began using American and Canadian bulls on the herd, which has continued to the present day, with the exception of one Australian bull and several young British bulls, which are used on the herd’s maiden heifers.
The family decided they did not want a Jersey bull at the farm, as they felt AI was the best way to introduce the best genetics to the herd, and also because they do not have the facilities to safely house and handle one. Everything is inseminated to AI, with William doing all the AI work.
“My skills lie very much on the cow-side of the business,” explains Will. His mother, Gillian, looks after the paper work, and also acts as a relief milker and calf rearer, and the farm’s one employee, Matt Dykes, who has been at the farm for 15 years is responsible for the tractor work and calf feeding.
William’s younger brother, Charles, who at 15 years old is already showing a keen interest in the farm, helps out during school holidays and is more interested in the tractor and machinery side of the farm, something which William admits he is less keen on.
Being a ‘bought-in’ herd William has implemented a strict breeding programme to ensure only the best genetics are taken forward. The top 50 per cent of the herd are bred to the Jersey and the rest to a beef sire.
“The beef-sired calves are sold at Market Drayton auction and this means the cows which are not genetically valuable to us still have a milk value and also a value in their calf”, says William. These animals will eventually be culled out of the herd as William increasingly focuses on the type of Jersey cow he wants to breed.
“When we were originally sourcing the Jerseys we travelled from Exeter to Carlise to buy. We were looking for animals from high health status herds, and wanted a more modern type of Jersey.
“I like a good engine on a cow, and want her to last a long-time and produce a lot of milk, so I need a type of cow which is going to sustain that.”
The herd is fed for a balance between high yields and good components. In the past the winter ration has comprised grass silage, maize silage and blend but this year there will be no maize in the diet and instead wheat will be included. Cows are buffer fed in the parlour.
At housing the herd is split into high and low yielding groups, but graze a paddock system as one group during the spring and summer.
Forage is something William says he is keen to improve upon.
“Like everyone we want to get more from forage and we have started a proper reseeding programme and would like to invest in a subsoiler and topper to help us make more from our grass.”
The aim is to calve heifers at two years old although anything which looks to be taller will be served to calve at 23 months.
As well as working with a nutritionist to ensure heifers are at the correct weight for the target calving age, there is also a focus on maintaining a high health status.
“We monitor for Johne’s disease and have an eradication programme in place so do not feed any waste milk to calves. We vaccinate for BVD and are clear of leptospirosis.
“This means once we have got enough of our replacements coming through and we have culled the bottom end of the herd, we will be in a position to sell some replacements.”
Looking ahead there are some immediate plans William would like to set in motion, including the update of the 14:14 herringbone parlour, which currently means the twice-a-day milking is taking longer than desired. However, there are also a number of longer-term goals in the pipeline.
“The idea is to one day diversify and be able to produce our own added value products to sell from the farm. We have still got a lot to do before we are in a position to do that but that is our main goal.
“As soon as there are signs of improvement within the dairy industry we will be looking at ways to expand the business. But we want to stay as a family farm, that is what we enjoy and want to get better at that.”