With no intention of housing their cows all-year-round, the Mattinson family have a passion for breeding and grazing. Louise Hartley reports from Cumbria.
Having moved to Rosewain Farm, Wigton, 10 years ago, Frank and Margaret Mattinson and their twin sons James and Philip now run a 270-head herd of Ayrshires. Their well-known Troutbeck herd takes its name from their old farm between Carlisle and Brampton.
Brothers, Philip and James, who are keen members of the Ayrshire Young Breeders Society, left school at 16 to work at home.
They now undertake most of the milking, breeding and foot-trimming work and their father Frank is responsible for the feeding and field work. Their mother Margaret works part-time for Harrison and Hetherington and feeds the young calves.
Philip and James, who make all the breeding decisions and semen selection, prefer to use proven rather than genomic semen and have made several trips abroad, including to Switzerland, Holland, America and Germany, in search of good bulls.
The pair have used 600 straws of the Red and White Holstein, Poos Stadel Classic, which made a good stamp across the herd. They hope to take two of their second lactation Poos Stadel Classic daughters to the Royal Highland Show this year, in their team of about five or six.
Recently returning from Holland in search of another bull to put back over the Classic-bred heifers, Philip and James say they find visiting herds and looking at daughters an extremely good way of sourcing new bulls.
Philip says: “If you look through a semen catalogue, you might see the bull’s best daughter, or see a daughter at a show, but this does not always give a true representation of the type of daughters it can breed. We are not fixated on studying bull proofs, but prefer to see how a bull breeds out.
“When we visit other countries to source a bull we usually visit six or eight farms, sometimes looking at hundreds of daughters off one bull and speak to farmers about what they think of its breeding.”
James adds: “We look for a bull which is functional. We want milky cows, which are not too extreme and milk well off-grass as grazing is an important part of the system.”
Everything is bulled with AI except from maiden heifers which are mated with current stockbull, Marleycote Buster. It was champion bull at the Ayrshire National Sale at Carlisle last November and was bought from Richard Baynes, Northumberland.
One of the herd’s best cows is the third calver, Troutbeck Antic 17, which the Mattinson’s hope to be taking to this year’s Royal Highland Show. It was Cumbria’s highest yielding cow for fat and protein in the Cumbrian milk records competition last year, beating all other breeds. It was also reserve champion at AgriScot in 2013, behind Blaise Tomlinson, Leicesteshire’s Sandyford Clover 10 cow.
It is by L-Maples Ace of Hearts-Red, a AI test bull bought by Philip and James for £3 per straw.
Philip says: “We thought he would be a good cheap bull to use for sweeping up, but in fact he has proved to be a fantastic sire. The three heifers we got off him have all gone Excellent. You cannot get him anymore which is a shame.”
One of Troutbeck Antic 17’s sons, Troutbeck Romantic is used in the herd as a stockbull.
Some embryo work is carried out on-farm, with the Mattinson’s putting in about 30 embryos per year.
Cross-breeding also features in the AI programme.
Frank says: “If one cow is getting a bit too extreme we cross it back to the Ayrshire, and use a Red and White bull on anything we want to put a bit more stretch and milk in to.”
A section of the herd is also kept pure Ayrshire for showing. With the bull Palmyra Tristar Burdette one of the main Ayrshire bulls currently being used.
“We have used him quite a bit and have had some nice daughters come through,” says James.
The twins are also using Sandyford Lucky Charm, an AI bull out of the famous Sandyford Clover 10 and one of their own home-bred bulls, Troutbeck Skyfall, which was sold to David and Christine Sanderson, Wigton, and is now also in a stud programme.
On returning from their trip to Holland, the Mattinsons are now gearing up for this year’s Royal Highland Show.
The duo first got in to show scene when they bought the two-month-old pure Ayrshire calf, Myerscough Jess 123 from Harry Barton, Lancashire.
James says: “We ended up showing her at the All Breeds All Britain calf show, which was then held at Stoneleigh and won the breed and inter-breed champion. She then went on to secure the junior championship at our first Highland Show 10 years ago.”
Jess, which now is in its ninth lactation and classified EX92, has bred well for Philip and James, and this year they hope to be stepping in to the showring with its granddaughter, Troutbeck Burdette Jess 3.
“Showing is good for publicity when we sell our surplus heifers. It helps get our name out there and we also really enjoy it,” say the Mattinsons, who also take cows to AgriScot and the UK Dairy Expo.
The sale of surplus heifers forms an important part of the family’s income, with about 50 heifers per year sold privately, mainly to local Holstein breeders and through Carlisle auction.
The family also keep about five bulls per year to sell for breeding. Their top price to date is 3,500gns for Troutbeck Outlaw, sold at the Ayrshire society sale to Thomas Cameron, Campbelltown.
With the herd remaining closed for the past nine years, stock is rarely bought-in and the farm in a four-year bTB testing zone, Troutbeck’s high health status proves popular with farmers when selling stock.
Cows are usually housed for about six months per year, being turned out on April 1 and coming back inside in late-October.
When inside, cows are fed a total mixed ration of silage, brewers’ grains and a mineral blend, feeding to 30 litres of milk. They also receive a maximum of 9kg concentrate in the parlour.
Grazing is an important part of production on the farm, as Frank explains.
“The farm is pretty dry and free draining and all in one ring fence, so it is ideally suited for grazing,” he says.
“The herd grazes on a rotational paddock system, usually spending two days in one field and returning to the same field every eight days, depending on grass growth. Although grass growth over the last few months has not been as good as previous years.”
Reseeding is done regularly to keep the grass young, with two fields usually ploughed per year.
“We have always grazed the herd, it is the cheapest way of production and it works well for our business,” adds James.
Before the Mattinsons came to Rosewain, the farm was ran as an arable and sheep unit, so they reseeded all the arable land with grass leys.
Philip says: “The farmer before us built a concrete road from one end of the farm to the other, so we did not need to invest too heavily in cow tracks. One side of the farm is grazed and the other is taken for silage.”
Two cuts of silage are taken per year, usually with a forage wagon.
“We started using a forage wagon when we decided the forage harvester chop length was too short, says Frank.
“We conducted a trial in the first year. One half of the grass was cut with a forage wagon and the other with the forage harvester.
“Not only did the cows sort through the silage, preferring the longer grass, but the grass cut with the forage wagon had a 10 per cent higher d-value than the grass cut with the harvester when tested.
“Maybe this was because the forage wagon had a gentler harvesting process and did not batter the grass as much.”
Silage for the dry cows is carted home from the rented farm, as it is older and stronger grass.
The Mattinsons have invested in several types of renewable energy on-farm. An 11kW wind turbine was put up four years ago and a £25,000 9kW solar panel tracker was installed last February.
Frank says: “In the morning the solar tracker is projected towards the east and moves around to the west as it tracks the sun. It will hopefully be paid back in six years."
Both the turbine and solar tracker provide the house and farm with electric, with surplus going into the grid
“The great thing about these types of investments is they do not require labour or diesel and just make money – hopefully.”