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Montbeliarde move a success for Peak District hill farmers

Switching to Montbeliardes has provided additional income streams and more job satisfaction for a family farm. Chloe Palmer reports.

When the Furness and Taylor family partnership came to a crossroads with their pedigree herd of Holstein Friesians, they decided to buy a small group of Montbeliardes to see if they would thrive in an upland situation.

Rather than opting for a higher proportion of Holstein genetics to give a more productive animal, David Taylor and his son-in-law, Martin Furness chose a breed they felt might be better suited to their hill farm.

Old Hall Farm is all grass, with land rising from about 300-365 metres (1,000-1,200 feet) so a hardy cow which can make the most of forage was a key consideration for the family.

Mr Furness says: “We can grow grass well on this farm but only over a short season. The Montbeliarde has a wide muzzle, allowing it to graze effectively and it is extremely good at converting forage. We are now achieving more than 4,000kg of milk from forage.


“The Montbeliarde ticked all the boxes for us because it is a strong, robust cow with excellent feet. The breed is exceptionally fertile, so it holds well to sexed semen, conceiving to an average of 1.5 straws and the calves always make a good price.”

Although Mr Furness acknowledges there has been a small reduction in milk yield, there are Montbeliarde cows in the herd achieving 13,000kg.

He says: “I liken the Montbeliarde to a diesel engine. When she comes into milk, she will have a slow start but then she will get going and reach the higher yields eventually. We can also expect more lactations from a Montbeliarde and a valuable cull cow at the end of her productive life.”

Old hall farm

  • Situated in the village of Wormhill, near Buxton, in the Peak District National Park
  • The Taylor family has farmed at Old Hall Farm since 1883
  • David Taylor took over the farm in 1971 with his wife, Margaret, and in 1979 they bought it from their landlord, the Bagshawe family
  • Their daughter, Alison and her husband, Martin Furness joined the farming partnership in 2011. Martin and Alison have three daughters: Amy, seven; Lydia, five; and Lucy, one
  • 102 hectares (252 acres) all grass, with 84ha (208 acres) owned and 18ha (45 acres) rented. Of the owned land, 21ha (52 acres) is located in the neighbouring village of Litton, five miles away
  • 300 cows kept across the two farms. Milking herd of 120 cows, with 100 in-milk
  • 70 pedigree Holstein Friesians average 9,579kg, 40 Montbeliardes average 8,454kg and 10 pedigree Jerseys average 6,260kg
  • 110 followers, with 20 newly-calved Holstein heifers sold either at Leek auction or privately each yearn 70 store cattle (Montbeliardes crossed with either British Blues or Limousins and some Holstein cross British Blues) sold aged 18-24 months through Bakewell auction


Mr Furness believes the Montbeliarde’s longer, flatter lactation curve accounts for its ability to cope better with a wide range of conditions.

“In 2012, the herd’s Montbeliardes coped far better with the wet weather and poor grass quality – we hardly saw a dip in yield. When we occasionally have hot days up here, all the black and whites stand in the shade under trees, whereas the Montbeliardes are in the middle of the field grazing.

“The ease of management has been a breath of fresh air because they are such a robust cow.”

As the milk price crisis deepens, the value of calves and stores from Montbeliardes has been a blessing for the family. Supplying Meadow Foods, they have been hit hard by recent price cuts, but Mr Furness says the Montbeliardes have provided additional sources of income.

“We like to have something else to sell. Pure-bred Montbeliarde calves go for £300 and a British Blue cross Montbeliarde sells for up to £440 at 42 days old.”

A pedigree flock of Westgate Texels is another string in the family’s bow and they achieved considerable success last year, winning reserve champion at Chelford auction’s elite sale and champion at Bakewell ram sale.

“We do not have the labour available to lamb many ewes and I can make more money from 70 pedigree Texels than I can from 250 commercial ewes,” says Mr Furness.


Switching from the Holstein Friesians to Montbeliardes has not happened overnight, despite the family’s enthusiasm for the breed. Mr Furness’ wife, Alison, says the extended time to make the move was deliberate.

“We are making the change gradually and learning as we go as Montbeliardes really are different. We also chose not to have a dispersal sale. Instead, we are selling the black and whites as freshly calved heifers to maximise their value.”

Mrs Furness does all the artificial insemination, experiencing the breed’s characteristics at first-hand.

“The temperament is different; they are feisty and have more energy than the Holsteins so I have to be a little more careful handling them,” she says.

Mrs Furness is also responsible for calf rearing and she has noticed a distinct contrast in calf behaviour.

“The Montbeliarde calves are straight up and suckling immediately after they are born and they prefer powdered milk fed through a teat.”

Mr Furness appreciates the breed’s easy-calving traits and attributes this partly to conformation.


He says: “The Montbeliarde has a high tail head and a sloped rump, allowing for easier calf delivery and no retention of cleansings. We must aim to retain these conformational qualities in the breed.”

Although the breed has only been a feature of life at Old Hall Farm for less than five years, Mr Furness already has a clear vision of the animal he wants on-farm.

“I want to see a strong cow with excellent legs and feet and an udder which will last. She must have a good temperament and give 8,500-9,000kg but still have some beef characteristics so we can sell her male progeny for a good price.”

Mr Furness says they are ‘getting to know their Montbeliarde families’ and serve their females with sexed semen.

Heifers are served by a Limousin bull and British Blue semen is used for any Montbeliarde females deemed not suitable for producing replacements.

“We aim to sell our beef cattle as strong forward stores at 20 months old in spring and autumn batches. We typically sell our British Blue cross Montbeliarde stores for up to £1,200.”


With so many different elements to their main enterprises, Mr Furness aims to keep management as simple as possible, not least because there is only family labour available.

The herd calves all year with a larger proportion of animals calving in autumn so they are not producing milk when the price is lowest.

“The milking herd is managed as one group and cows are fed a maintenance diet plus 20 litres through the passageway and individual cows are then fed to yield in the parlour.

“There is no need to feed Montbeliardes for body condition,” says Mr Furness.

The milk cow ration comprises grass silage, brewers’ grains, a 24 per cent protein blend, a small amount of straw, plus minerals and a supplement.

Calves are allowed to suckle for 24 hours to ensure they receive ample colostrum and are fed their mother’s milk for a further three to four days. They are switched to powdered milk, initially fed through a teat bucket and then from an automatic feeder, which has proved a worthwhile labour saving investment.


At weaning, calves are given ad-lib pellets and then a ration containing pea hume in place of straw, added for its palatability and scratch factor, mixed with an 18 per cent rearer nut with biotin for hoof quality prior to grazing turnout in summer.

Cows are turned out from May to October in most years, occasionally later if it is a dry, mild autumn. Making the highest quality silage to last the long winter is a priority at Old Hall Farm and this has necessitated investment, says Mr Furness.

“We cannot risk using contractors because we have such a narrow window of opportunity when the weather is right, so we do it all in-house.

“We take two cuts of silage most years, but if the weather is dry and warm in May we can occasionally squeeze in three cuts.

“Montbeliardes like the longer chopped silage because they prefer more roughage.”

A large group of pedigree Montbeliarde heifers are now filling an entire shed and Mr Furness is excited about the prospect of an exclusively Montbeliarde herd.


“If I am going to work with a herd of cows every day, I have to like what I am looking at.

“I want to develop the Wyedale pedigree herd and I am now using some of the highest rated genomic bulls to progress genetic development.”

Currently, the family has no ambition to expand its small farm, instead aiming to focus on improving what they already do.

“We want to be able to continue to manage everything on the farm ourselves and we have to make every enterprise pay,” says Mr Furness.

“We want to build a herd of functional, productive pedigree cows and continue to maximise milk from forage.”

Westgate pedigree Texel flock

Westgate pedigree Texel flock
  • 70 pedigree Texel ewes lambed inside in late February. Scanning rate was greater than 200 per cent this year
  • Ewes receive no supplementary feeding when out at grass and are only housed one week prior to lambing and for seven to 10 days after, when they are fed some haylage and 18 per cent cake
  • All lower grade ram and ewe lambs are sold as prime lambs in July and August, at between 40-50kg liveweight
  • Ram lambs are wintered on newly-seeded grass leys and fed 0.5kg of concentrate from May, before being sold as shearlings between August and October. In 2015 the top price for a Westgate ram was 1,650gns for the reserve champion at the Chelford Elite sale. Shearling rams averaged £605 last year
  • About 30-40 ewe lambs kept each year, with some retained as replacements and the remainder sold privately
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