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Six top notch finalists under starter’s orders

To help you study the form, we’ve given the six finalists in this year’s prestigious NMR/RABDF Gold Cup a short trot around the paddock. This is what the form book shows.


Simon Bugler, Dorset

Herd health and maximising income from sources other than milk have been high on the agenda in running the pedigree Holstein Bettiscombe herd in Dorset.


Simon Bugler is the fourth generation of the family who now manages the high yielding herd of pedigree Holsteins – 570 cows in milk plus 700 followers at Pilsdon Dairy Farm, Bridport. He runs the farming partnership with his parents Roland and Heather with 12 full-time employees.


Simon says: “We want a herd of cows which will be able to produce the milk but will be able to have a calf and maintain a good level of health throughout the lactation.”


The housing has an integral 40:40 Boumatic quick exit parlour which milks the cows three times a day. Cubicles are sand bedded with a flood wash system for passageways.


“Mobility scoring is down to between 1 and 2, according to the farm vet, and digital dermatitis is negligible,” adds Simon. “We are sure this is down to the automatic footbaths which empty three times during each milking. Formalin is used twice a week. This all helps to keep the cows’ feet clean.


“We also found housing the cows year round has improved foot health and resulted in fewer foot ulcers and stone damage. Feet are trimmed twice a year at 70 days calved and just before drying off.”


Simon Bugler

The decision was taken to house the cattle year round six years ago which Simon says has improved cattle health as well as lifting yields. Cases of mastitis have recently reduced to 20 per 100 cows, down from around 35 in 2014. Cell count runs at 111,000 cells per ml and Bactoscan at 6.


The herd achieved 11,260kg of milk, at 3.56% butterfat and 3.1% protein, on three times a day milking in the Gold Cup qualifying year to September 2015. Calving interval was running at 380 days. Since then average yield has edged over 11,600kg and cell counts have fallen in this allyear- round calving herd. And while they believe a 13,000kg herd average is achievable, they would not sacrifice herd health and fertility to get there.


“Welfare and health targets are key to maintaining our Muller Sainsbury’s milk contract,” says Simon. “We have weekly vet visits, primarily to check on fertility and PD cows, but also to take into account the general health of the herd. And we follow a strict vaccination programme for BVD, leptospirosis, salmonella and IBR. Recently all our calves have been ear sampled for BVD which so far have proved negative. Johne’s is also monitored and we have a control plan in place.”

Farm facts

  • 570 Holsteins in milk, plus 700 followers
  • Purpose built unit for cows in 2010 includes 40:40 Boumatic rapid exit parlour
  • Sand bedding with liquid spread via umbilical system
  • Milk sold to Muller on a Sainsbury’s contract
  • Calving interval of 380 days
  • All young bull calves sold to Blade on Sainsbury’s system.


Mastitis control is an area which Simon has worked hard to improve. “We have changed the pre-milking protocol in the past few years. We have three milkers at each milking and they foremilk 10 cows at a time with two washable wipes – within a 90 second interval – to achieve a good milk let down,” he says.


Continuing the theme of cow health, Simon has cut antibiotic use at drying off and now up to 95% of the drying-off cows have no antibiotic treatment, just Orbeseal, whereas previously all were double tubed.

Tomos Davies, Carmarthen

The Davies family’s Carmarthen-based herd has made it into the final six in this year’s competition. This is the third time the Davies family has entered – and the first time they have made it to the final.


Not surprisingly, Tomos Davies, who farms in partnership with his father Glyn and mother Myrtle, is extremely pleased on making it to the final on his third attempt – not least because it shows the business has moved forward and improved during the past decade.


Tomos, Glyn and Myrtle Davies

The family runs 325 milkers, plus 230 young stock, at Rhydygors Farm in Talog. Housed all year round and fed a TMR, the Holstein herd’s average production, for the year ending September 2015, was 12,109kg at 3.92% butterfat and 3.21% protein, with a somatic cell count of 191,000 cells/ml.


Yields have certainly increased during the past few years due to consistent feeding, with advice from nutritionist Andrew Holland, and a switch to three-timesa- day milking.


“We added an extra milking in October 2013 and not all the team were keen. So we agreed we would give it a go and I said if it didn’t work out then we’d stop the third milking on Christmas eve,” explains Tomos.


Suffice to say the team hasn’t looked back since, and neither has the herd.


“The expected extra 10% in yield was, in reality, more than 20%. Heifers are producing 30% more milk than they would on twice-a-day milking.


The herd’s TMR comprises grass silage, a custom blend, caustic-treated wheat, fat, minerals and buffers. All cows are fed the same ration and just 1kg of concentrate is fed per milking. “One of the challenges on our unit is that we’re reliant on a single forage. At 265 metres above sea level, our farm isn’t suited to growing maize or any other crop – just grass. So that’s what we’re feeding cows to produce large amounts of milk, maintain milk quality and get back in calf.”


With Andrew’s help, the Davies make it happen. “We’ve worked with him for more than 15 years and during the past two years we’ve seen a dramatic lift in yields. We have sold 12,000 litres per cow during the past 12 months and, month on month, that figure is still increasing.”


Tomos adds that, with some tweaks to dry cow feeding and management, 13,000 litres per cow is within their reach.


Fertility is also impressive and has improved since the herd began using Genus RMS in 2014. Calving interval has come down from 420 days to 406 days, and Tomos says he’ll push on until it falls to around 390 days. “I also want fewer open cows at 200 days – we’re working towards less than 5%,” he adds.


Herd health is also a focus of attention. The herd’s mastitis rate is just 16 cases per 100 cows and significant improvements have been made in terms of young stock health and growth rates since the Davies employed a dedicated calf rearer.

Farm facts

  • Herd run on a 145- hectare unit (80 owned and 65 rented)
  • 325-cow Holstein herd, plus 230 followers
  • Improvements in young stock and fertility management during past three years
  • Milk sold to Muller Direct Milk
  • Good fertility – 54% incalf 100 days post calving
  • Focus on calf health – mortality just 1.2% during past two years
  • Rolling MOPF per litre – 12.22ppl
  • Production, for year ending September 2015, was 12,109kg at 3.92% butterfat and 3.21% protein, with 191,000 cells/ml.


“The secret of our success is meticulous hygiene and colostrum management. And all calves are tagged and tested for BVD.”


Having struggled with this disease for a number of years, all animals on the unit are tested for BVD, and Johne’s disease is also monitored on a quarterly basis through milk recording.

David Irwin, Co Tyrone

Having adopted the motto ‘if you can’t get bigger get better’, David Irwin not only runs a high yielding, high health status herd, but has also built up an enviable reputation for selling high quality breeding stock which is worth in excess of 5ppl to his business.


David farms in partnership with his parents David and Sylvia and, along with two full-time staff, they run the pedigree Redhouse Holstein herd of 170 autumnwinter calving cows plus followers at Derrycreevy, near Benburb, Co Tyrone.

David Irwin

The 93-hectare unit is mainly down to grass with 20ha of spring barley grown for inclusion in the dairy rations. The milking herd is fully housed and averages 12,300kg milk at 3.84% fat and 3.21% protein on three times a day milking.


Since completing his electronic engineering degree seven years ago, David has been working full time on the farm and is very much an early adopter of technology. Recent investments have included a Westfalia heat detection system to improve submission rates to AI; a switch to triangular vented liners in the milking clusters to improve teat end condition; CCTV in the calving pens; and new headlock gates in calving pens to aid handling and allow milking in situ so he can feed colostrum within an hour of calf birth.


Rations are formulated with the help of independent nutritionist Steve Swale, and diets are reviewed monthly based on the most up to date straights and silage analysis to keep as consistent a diet as possible in front of the milking herd. The cows are lead fed in the parlour to 45 days and then to yield.


David says: “We feed a relatively high level of concentrates at 4.5t/cow but we have a high stocking rate and grass rents are uneconomical in this area. Overall feed costs are running at 8.5ppl against a March milk price of 21.5ppl.”


Running a block calving herd also requires a keen focus on fertility, and a combination of good heat detection, DIY AI and good stockmanship to make sure cows are fit and ready to breed as soon after calving as possible. Currently, David and his dairy team of two full- time staff are maintaining an impressive calving interval of 384 days.

Farm facts

  • Pedigree Holstein herd of 170 cows plus 120 followers
  • Milk sold to Fane Valley Co-Op
  • Production on three times milking to end of September 2015 – 12,300kg milk at 3.87% fat and 3.21% protein and an SCC of 144,000 cells/ml
  • Focus on fertility – 384-day calving interval
  • Emphasis on high health status herd – accredited Johne’s and BVD free
  • Pedigree stock sales generate equivalent 5ppl revenue
  • Farm diversification – two 73kW wind turbines producing electricity for farm and National Grid.

High health status

David’s concentration on developing a high health status herd with good fertility has enabled him to grow sales of pedigree stock. The herd is accredited Johne’s and BVD free, and is vaccinated for IBR and is also TB free.


“Since we started using genomic testing we have seen a dramatic improvement in fertility – five years ago we would cull 30-40 barren cows, now the number of empty cows is in single figures,” he says.


This improvement in fertility, combined with such a pro-active approach to overall herd health and nutrition, has cut the involuntary culling rate to just 10% and has released more breeding stock to sell. Between 60-70 weaned heifer calves are sold each year along with about 50 freshly-calved cows and heifers and 20 stock bulls.


“The other knock on effect of genetically selecting for fertility is that we can hopefully push yields in future without compromising our calving block,” he adds.

Adrian and Sharon Mcfarland, Co Tyrone

A combination of good technical performance and an emphasis on producing high quality forage have earned the Northern Ireland farm of Adrian and Sharon McFarland a place in the finals.

Adrian, Ryan and Sharon McFarland

Adrian farms in partnership with his wife Sharon and they have been joined on the farm part-time by their eldest son Ryan who has recently finished his university studies. Together they run a herd of 106 Holstein-Friesian cows plus followers on their 64- hectare farm near Omagh, Co Tyrone.


Running a smaller unit does mean they have to be technically efficient to survive especially in the current economic climate, and it is the McFarlands’ attention to detail and cost control which has won them their place in the final.


The herd calves from September to March and is TMR and parlour fed in winter and grazed in summer. It produces an average 8069kg milk at 4.2% fat and 3.28% protein, with an SCC of 101,000 cells/ml.


Farming in the west of the province, where annual rainfall is in excess of 51ins (1300mm), makes for challenging grazing and forage-making conditions.


“Three years ago we invested in our own forage wagon which has allowed us to take advantage of the few dry windows in the season to make high quality silage,” Adrian explains.

Soil fertility

In addition, Adrian and Ryan have focused heavily on improving soil fertility through extensive sampling and targeted use of fertiliser to optimise grass growth and quality, which they hope will take them close to their target forage yield of 18tDM/ha. A combination of high D value grass silage and well managed strip grazing means the herd is averaging 1835 litres of milk from forage/cow (3443 litres/ha) which is an improvement of 800litres/cow in just 12 months.


Herd health and biosecurity is a key area of focus for the McFarlands who run a closed herd to reduce the risk of TB infection. They have an extensive vaccination programme for leptospirosis, BVD and IBR as well as routinely monitoring their Johne’s disease status through NMR’s Herdwise scheme. A combination of a scrupulous parlour routine with pre and post-dipping, breeding for low cell count cows coupled with good housing hygiene, means the herd is also running at an impressively low annual mastitis rate of eight cases/100 cows.

Farm facts

  • 106 Holstein-Friesian cows plus 44 followers
  • Production to year ending Sept 2015 – 8069kg at 4.59% fat and 3.28% protein with an SCC of 101,000 cells/ml
  • Milk sold to United Dairy Farmers
  • Emphasis on forage quality – milk from forage 1835 litres/cow
  • Focus on fertility – 55% in-calf at 100 days and 4% overall barren rate
  • Excellent udder health – eight cases mastitis/100 cows/year.


This same attention to detail and high level of stockmanship is also reflected in the fertility performance of the herd with 55% of cows in-calf by 100 days post calving and only 4% recorded empty at 200 days.


The McFarlands’ policy of getting on top of potential problems as soon as possible not only delivers high herd health but also keeps their annual replacement rate to under 25%.


The prolonged period of low milk price has also not only called for technical efficiency but also a close eye on costs. In the financial year just ended, the McFarlands achieved a margin over purchased feed of 18ppl and an overall cost of production just under 20ppl, excluding family labour. This has been achieved through good control of overhead costs in particular.

Richard and Grant Walker, Dumfriesshire

Farming company directors Richard and Grant Walker farm in partnership with their mother Shona and together they run a herd of just over 500 Holstein-Friesian cows on their 329ha grass and arable unit at Lakehead Farm, at Closeburn, Dumfriesshire.

Richard (left) and Grant Walker

Over the past four years, since the brothers returned from university, there has been substantial investment in farm infrastructure and the herd has seen a threefold increase over that time.


Richard and Grant head up a young enthusiastic team of five that look after the herd of pedigree Holsteins which averaged 10,575kg of milk at 3.88% fat and 3.33% protein in the Gold Cup qualifying year ending September 2015 on a flat rate TMR system. Yield average is now above 11,000kg.


“Cow health and fertility hold the key to the success of our business. If we keep the cows in good condition, everything else falls into place,” says Richard.


Working closely with Kite Consulting nutritionist Tim Davies, they aim to formulate rations which minimize body condition loss in early lactation as this determines how quickly cows get in calf and reduces the risk of metabolic disorders and other health issues.


“Through minimising the interval between calvings, the range of cows is reduced so we can feed a consistent TMR for the whole lactation, aiming for a daily intake of 24.5kgDM of a 17.4% CP ration based on high quality grass and whole crop silages, plus home blended straights, providing 290MJ ME per cow per day,” Richard explains.


Successful large herd management relies on clearly defined roles and protocols which all the staff buy into, as well as continuous detailed recording of the physical and financial performance of the unit.


Feed usage relative to milk output is constantly analysed on a daily feed monitor excel file. This gives the ability to see real time variations in MOPF as quality and quantity of feed input varies. Buying straights allows feed market opportunities to be exploited giving more control of input costs.


The Lakehead team is committed to a high level of stockmanship and this is particularly evident when it comes to herd fertility.


The farm uses Heattime activity monitors and the herdsman, Daniel Henderson, carries out inseminations. Their attention to heat detection at Lakehead is well rewarded with an impressive 62% of cows in calf at 100 days, and a current calving interval of 382 days.


Although mastitis levels are well below the national average at 32 cases/100 cows, the Walkers have identified mastitis incidence as a key area where costs can be recovered. Routine teat end scoring aims to measure and monitor levels of hyperkeratosis, and in addition they are constantly looking at the parlour operational set-up and cubicle management protocols to drive down the rates of clinical mastitis in the herd.

Farm facts

  • Herd size – 515 Holstein-Friesian cows plus 405 followers
  • Five-year business investment programme
  • Milk sold to Muller Wiseman’s Co-op Dairy Group
  • Production for the year ending September 2015- 11,180kg milk at 3.88% fat and 3.33% protein with a SCC of 161,000 cells/ml
  • Focus on fertility – 100 day in-calf rate of 62%
  • Age of heifers at first calving 715 days
  • Zero to eight week calf growth rate is 0.78kg/day
  • 175ha grass silage and 70ha wholecrop barley/wheat.

Business skills

As part of their involvement with the Co-op, Richard and Grant are now involved in the Co-op Farming Pioneers project. This gives them the opportunity to further enhance their business skills through better understanding of the retail environment, and to meet and share ideas with other young, like-minded farmers from other sectors of agriculture.


“This ethos of sharing best practice and the Co- Op’s approach to benchmarking performance also helps us to continually develop our business,” says Grant.

Brian Yates, Castle Douglas

Brian Yates is thrilled that, once again, his family’s Castle Douglas-based herd has made it through to the final line up.

Michael (left) and Brian Yates

The 280-cow herd is based on a 137-hectare unit at East Logan and managed with help from his wife Sheila, son Michael and daughter Anna, as well as herdsman Trevor Hough and parttime worker Leslie Craik. The pedigree Logan herd also qualified in 2014 and 2015.


A close look at his business reveals it is attention to detail which has paved the herd’s way to success. Housed all year round and fed a TMR, the herd’s average production, for the year ending September 2015, was 12,273kg at 3.83% butterfat and 3.09% protein, with 102,000 cells/ml.


Impressive yields are fuelled by feeding a consistent ration and benchmarking the performance of his herd – something which has proved essential during the past ‘difficult’ 12-month period. Feed conversion efficiency stands at 1.58 litres per kg of feed – the Scottish average stands at 1.34.


The herd calves all year round and its fertility figures are also eye catching. The in-calf rate 100 days post-calving stands at 53%, with just 6% of cows not in-calf by 200 days.


Brian says: “We monitor activity levels using pedometers and technology in our Westfalia parlour to help us identify heats efficiently, and we also have regular vet visits to preempt fertility problems and deal with any we do pick up very quickly.

Farm facts

  • Herd run on a 137-hectare farm
  • 280-cow Holstein herd, plus 320 followers
  • Invested in business during the past four years
  • Three times-a-day milking – liners changed every three months
  • Milk sold to Arla
  • Excellent fertility – 53% in calf 100 days post calving
  • Focus on health – just 10 cases of mastitis per 100 cows
  • MOPF per litre – 13.05ppl
  • Production, for the year ending September 2015, was 12,273kg at 3.83% butterfat and 3.09% protein, with 102,000 cells/ml
  • Feed efficiency – 1.58 litres/kg.


“We have added 40 cubicle spaces by creating an extension at the side of the existing cow shed.


“Cow comfort was already good on our unit, so this was really just to enable us to milk heifers, in the short-term, until replacement stock prices pick up,” explains Brian.


“It also gives us the option to run a heifer group in the herd, which could be handy since the age at first calving is now close to 24 months old. The heifers are a little immature and may benefit from being grouped in the milking herd.”


The mastitis rate for the herd stands at just 10 cases per 100 cows, but he would like to see it lowered even further.


“The average cell count has been below 85,000 cells/ ml for the past 10 months and, again, we have worked hard at it,” says Brian.


The herd is milked three times a day using a comprehensive routine which comprises dry wiping, stripping out and using a post-dip teat barrier.


Brian says: “We use Udder Gold barrier and we are also using triangular-shaped liners in the parlour. Both have helped to improve teat-end condition and, therefore, udder health.”

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