The Jersey Cattle Society will be holding its National Show at this year’s Dairy Show. Debbie James meets one of the exhibitors ahead of the event and reveals some key insights.
Among the dozens of colourful rosettes adorning the walls of James Evans’ living room hangs a black and white photograph of him as a bespectacled seven-year-old, shyly clutching the halter of a fine looking Jersey cow.
Fast-forward 32 years and another photograph, this one in colour, captures James at this year’s Royal Welsh Show, smiling broadly and with a more confident pose shortly after one of his cows, Saxown Colton Heidi 19, had been named as reserve breed champion.
In the three decades that separate those two images, James’ interest in the Jersey has been steadfast and he now runs 35 cows and followers. The herd, which is run at Broadway Farm, Llawhaden, Pembrokeshire, has an average classification of 93.
He regards the island of Jersey, where he spent many childhood holidays, as a second home. He spent his university sandwich year on the island working with John Le Feuvre’s Elite herd.
He says: “I visit Jersey at least twice a year and feel privileged to help some breeders show their cattle there.”
Back at home he keeps Jersey cattle under the Mydrim prefix. The herd was originally established in 1979, but after it was dispersed in 1987 James took over the prefix.
He says: “Even at school I had a passion for Jersey cattle and knew it was something in which I wanted to succeed,’’ he reflects.
He was committed to the Jersey breed even though his circle of friends favoured Holsteins and Friesians.
Barrie, James’ father, says: “He used to get stick for having Jerseys because everyone else had black and whites but there are now a lot of those Holstein herds that also have some Jerseys.”
Father and son went on to establish the Future Dreams prefix as a joint venture in 2001, which is run alongside the Mydrim herd.
As part of the Future Dreams arm of the business, the pair invested in embryos flushed from a global legend of the Jersey breed, Huronia Centurion Veronica Excellent 97.
James says: “It was quite something for us to get hold of those embryos. To this day, Mother does not know how much we paid for them. But they were worth every penny.’’
The embryos resulted in Future Dreams Signature Volcano Excellent 94, a bull used in artificial insemination across the UK, and a heifer, Future Dreams Signature Veronica, which went on to be classified as Excellent 94 and has since produced six heifers.
James works full-time as a ruminant specialist for Mole Valley Farmers so numbers of animals are not a priority, but having the right animals is.
“We sell a few but if we had the room I would not be selling any,’’ he says.
His days start with the morning milking at 6.30am before he heads off to work. He then milks again at 7.30pm and also feeds the cows late at night, when he checks on them before he goes to bed.
“I can have a busy day but when I come home and spend time with the cows I find it relaxing. It is only other farmers who will understand that,’’ James says.
The herd is housed at night and fed a ration incorporating home-grown big bale silage and good quality hay, sugar beet, lucerne and a blend.
Concentrates up to a maximum of 7kg are fed in the abreast parlour. The aim is to calve heifers at two years old. Calves receive colostrum for the first four days and are then reared on whole milk for 12 weeks.
After weaning their diet is equal quantities of hay and straw together with calf rearing nuts. A month before a show, a special type of lucerne is added to the ration – 2kg/day for the cows and 1kg for youngstock.
“It gives them extra bloom,’’ says James.
Diet, together with genetics, is key to getting the best from the herd, he says.
“I have had people asking me what I feed. For me, the emphasis is on fibre and energy, not protein.
“Farmers are so keen to drive cows for more and more milk but in so doing they are burning those cows out; they are not keeping them healthy.
“I have a 14-year-old cow which is back in calf for the 12th time and is still producing 6,500 litres.’’
As well as longevity, James’ cows also deliver on milk yield – one of his cows is producing 9,200 litres annually.
Among James’ show highlights this year was winning the reserve champion Jersey heifer at the Royal Welsh Show with Future Dreams Resurrection Summertime Veronica, an animal classified VG88 at two years, which he describes as one of the best he has ever bred.
“She is just so well balanced, so uniform, everything about her.’’
Its dam is the EX94 Future Dreams Signatures Veronica brood cow, the only daughter in Europe of Huronia Centurion Veronica Excellent 97.
James loves nothing more than showing his animals – he will be exhibiting seven at The Dairy Show – but says the success he attains is a team effort, not his alone.
“When we go to shows our success is not just about us, it is about the team too. I have the best person leading the cows, the best person getting them ready, and so on.
“You are only as good as the team you have around you. Yes, the animals might be mine in name, but it is the team that helps to make everything fall into place.’’
It can be costly to turn a team of animals out for a show and, with this level of investment at stake, effort is needed, he says.
“If you cannot get it right after spending a lot of money getting there, then what is the point?
“My team put their heart and soul in, they know it is the be all and end all for me.’’
James foregoes holidays and going out at weekends to concentrate on showing and managing his herd, although he admits that the former would probably be less stressful. And it is through this hard work that James has built up a herd to be rightly proud of – every animal in the herd is VG Excellent.
He adds: “At least six generations or more have been VG Excellent, we have not had a Good Plus heifer on this yard for 16 years. I have set that bar and I stick to it.”
All breeding is done through artificial insemination, with bulls currently being used including two of his own, Mydrim Cwmerica Tornado and Future Dreams Signatures Volcano. Other AI sires being used are Colton, Tequila and Excitation.
But neither is James afraid to use some of the older sires in his AI flask, including Remake, Gemini and Jade.
“In genetics you should never be afraid to go back. Yes go forward, but do not be afraid to go back to something you trust,’’ he says.
As well as the rosettes and photographs jostling for space in James’ home, there are numerous beautiful portraits of Jersey cattle painted by Frank Poskitt, vice-president of the Jersey Society of Great Britain, who died in April.
James was four when he first met Mr Poskitt and they jointly owned Saxown Colton Heidi 19. Before he died, Frank asked James to deliver a eulogy at his funeral. Mr Poskitt was his mentor.
“He once said to me that winning is about having a good cow – but that it also has to be one which has universal appeal, one which can be liked anywhere in the world. And he was right.’’ James says he has been taught by many legends among Jersey breeders.
“Now it is time for me to give some of that knowledge back to the next generation.’’