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UK Dairy Day preview: Passion for pedigree and productivity helps Penrith dairy farmer

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Holstein clubs across the UK will be busy preparing their team of cows for this year’s UK Dairy Day, held in Telford. Part of Border and Lakeland’s 12-strong show team will be a heifer from Matt Williamson, Penrith. Wendy Short reports.

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Matt Williamson (right) is set to take a two-year-old heifer to UK Dairy, in Telford
Matt Williamson (right) is set to take a two-year-old heifer to UK Dairy, in Telford
Setting itself apart from most shows in the country, the Holstein show at UK Dairy Day has been designed uniquely so any Holstein breeder, regardless of whether they show cows or not, has the opportunity to compete.

Holstein clubs across the country show their cows as a team. Any breeder can put forward a cow and the club selects the best to compete at the show. Cows are looked after and shown by a team of people from the club, meaning even if a farmer has no showing experience, they can still send their cows to compete at the highest level.


Preparations

With less than two weeks to go, teams will have been selected and preparations will be underway for September 16.


With 296 registered members, the Border and Lakeland club will be descending on Telford with 12 cows looked after and shown by a team of eight Holstein enthusiasts, all managed by Glyn Lucas.

Part of the show-team is Matt Williamson who also has a cow in their final group.

Milking the 225-head Ingleden herd with his father Andrew and mother, Jill at Inglewood House, Penrith, Matt is once again looking forward to UK Dairy Day after being part of Border and Lakeland’s show team last year.

Travelling down with Matt will be his two-year old heifer, Ingleden Windbrook Galilee. Going back to a cow bought from the now dispersed Bilsrowan herd from Peter Tomlinson, Lancashire, which descends from an imported French cow, there are now 20 family members in the Ingleden herd.

Windbrook Galilee is backed by four generations of Excellent animals, with its grandmother being one of three Excellent sisters, all of which are still on-farm.

Their year-round calving herd also includes a handful of Brown Swiss which ‘add a bit of colour’ and compete with the Holsteins quite happily. “Proteins are slightly higher and they tend to have an even lactation,” says Matt. Milkers are run in three groups: high yielders, late lactation and heifers.

Inglewood House covers 80 hectares (200 acres), with a further 24 hectares (60 acres) rented. The home farm is ring-fenced and, to make the most of the acres, the milking proportion are housed all year.

 

Housing

Matt explains: “We house milkers all year and by just grazing youngstock and dry cows we can make the most of the land we have, as our cows are bred for capacity and high milk yields, not grazing.”

Milkers are bedded twice daily, using oat husks and hydrated lime. Previously bedding with sawdust, Andrew and Matt have seen no difference in mastitis since switching to reduce costs.

The herd, which yields more than 10,000kg per lactation, is fed a total mixed ration (TMR) of grass silage, a branded wheat processing by-product, wholecrop wheat, caustic wheat, a protein blend, protected fat
and minerals. The ration is topped up by concentrates, fed in the 20:20 Westfalia parlour.

Supplying milk to Meadow Foods, the Williamsons now have to forecast production every three months and have kept a level profile for the last four years, keeping within a 5 per cent range of yield. Rations are carefully manipulated to maintain the level profile and avoid producing ‘B litres’.

 

Diet

Including processed straw in the dry cow TMR has had positive results. The diet of 25kg per head includes 6kg of processed straw, which has encouraged intakes, reduced sorting and made the diet more consistent, reducing problems around calving.

Reducing the calving index has been a breeding goal for Andrew and Matt, with the figure falling from 405 to 389 days. This is partly due to their success in reducing the voluntary waiting period for breeding cows, aimed at allowing them to spend more of their lifetime at peak yields.

“Fortunately we had plenty of replacement heifers coming forward this year which has also allowed us to cull hard for sub-standard fertility,” adds Matt.
Serving
Any individual not served after 55 days is checked by the vet.

Pedometer activity meters have increased serving accuracy, proving particularly helpful with identifying silent heats and cows which come bulling at night. Both Matt and Andrew are qualified for DIY AI.

A passion for Holstein breeding and managing cows are the drivers at Inglewood House, but maintaining an efficient business is key for survival.

An example of this is their approach to tractor work. The father and son team only have a tractor, telehandler, mixer wagon and silage trailer on-farm, with all the main tractor work put out to tender with local contractors.

“From silaging to slurry work, ploughing and hedge cutting, all the ‘big’ jobs are put out to tender. We are fortunate to have many good contractors in the local area and can therefore choose the most cost-effective options without comprising on quality,” explains Matt.

 

Breeding

Breeding
The Williamsons are breeding functional cows with high type, concentrating on lifting fat and protein levels through diet and sire selection as they believe milk contracts will put emphasis on constituents in the future.

A computerised mating programme based on linear profiles is used for sire selection and 60 per cent of bulls picked out have genomic figures; the first genomic daughters are already milking.

Matt gained experience on breeding with the Cogent Futures Programme in 2013, which gave training on genetics and sire analysis. The course included a visit to the company headquarters, a study tour of Northern Ireland and a visit to Holland. One of his aims is to lift fats, so this has influenced the choice of bulls, although he is careful to maintain type.

In the AI flask are three proven bulls – Amighetti Numero Uno, Ladys-Monor RD Grafeeti and Heavenly Golden Dreams – and six genomic bulls, including Ladys-Manor LQ G Lanvin, Edg Duty-Free and Stantons Pulsar.

Farm facts

Farm facts
  • The Williamsons moved to the farm in 1992 from Winton, Kirkby Stephen. The previous farm was in the centre of the village, with cows having to walk across a busy road. Having a farm in a ring fence and getting out of the village was a major factor in the move

 

  • Herd of 225 pedigree Holsteins

 

  • Clay loam soil

 

  • Herd average yield of 10,200kg at 3.9 per cent fat and 3.1 per cent protein

 

  • Milk sold to Meadow Foods on a standard contract

 

  • Average somatic cell count is 150

 

  • One full-time employee, plus a relief milker

 

  • Calves are reared in hutches until weaning

 

Show success

Show success

The family competes at local shows in Cumbria and for the last year two years have shown at the UK Dairy Expo in Carlisle, which is only 10 miles away from the Williamsons.


Their greatest show success has been with Ingleden Capri Hyacinth, which came second in its class at Holstein UK’s All Breeds All Britain Calf Show in 2004.


Class

This year, they took a cow and calf to Penrith Show, where the cow was second in its class and the calf came fourth. They also stood third with a cow at UK Dairy Expo in March.


Having inherited a keen interest in pedigree Holsteins from his father, Matt has been involved in Holstein Young Breeders (HYB) since he was eight years old. Both his older sister Sarah, who is a qualified vet working at a dairy practice in New Zealand, and younger sister Rachel, who is studying business at Northumbria University, are also keen members.


Last year Matt and six other HYB members represented the UK at the European Young Breeders School in Battice, Belgium.


“Being a member of HYB is great fun,” says Matt.


“But meeting like-minded young people gives me an opportunity to discuss ideas and learn how other farmers are doing things.


“Milking cows is something we have always wanted to do as a family, and I hope we can continue on into the future.”

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