After making their debut appearance at last year’s Dairy Show, Chichester College are set to return to Shepton Mallet this year in hope of making a repeat performance. Laura Bowyer visits the college’s Brinbury Campus.
With herdsman Amy Aylwin on the halter, Dairy Shorthorn Brinsbury Gentle 3 led Chichester College to victory at last year’s Dairy Show and this year they are returning, hoping for the same success.
With a new farm manager and a continued enthusiasm for improving the herd, the college will once again make the journey from its West Sussex campus to Shepton Mallet.
The college has run Dairy Shorthorns for some 25 years and farm manager Alex Hollands says the breed suits what is now a low-input grass-based system, while also having a good temperament, having to be around and be handled by so many different faces and groups of people on the college farm.
Although not in what you would call a dairy area, nor perhaps even a stock area, Chichester College continues to keep livestock husbandry at the core of its teaching offering. And some of the past-students clearly cannot keep away. All staff are Chichester College-educated, including Mr Hollands and Miss Aylwin, who returned to work with the farm’s cows immediately after finishing her education.
Showing, they say, benefits them in two respects. Firstly, it is good promotion for the college as a place of education and those who study there, but it also improves the reputation of the herd in the instance of stock sales, adding another revenue stream to the business.
Mr Hollands says: “Showing gets the students out and they undertake all the halter training and show preparation.”
As well as the Dairy Show, the Surrey County Show, South of England Show and the All Breeds All Britain national calf show are also attended by the college and its students.
Miss Aylwin says: “We were absolutely over the moon to get breed champion the first time we showed at the Dairy Show. It just proves we have the cows to win and we hope we can repeat our success there this year.”
After working her way through the ranks, Miss Aylwin, 22, is now responsible for the herd of 108 pedigree Dairy Shorthorns and 40 Ayrshires, with 40 heifers to shortly join the herd.
Miss Aylwin says: “Ayrshires were added to the herd to up yields and protein levels. They are not standard Ayrshires, being stockier, hardier and not bred for their looks, nor do we show them. However we use top 1 per cent genetics on both breeds.”
She says: “Across both breeds we are aiming for an all-round cow with good feet and a good udder which is easy calving and docile. We are not pushing yields but instead working to increase milk quality.”
Cows averaged 6,100kg last year across the farm’s autumn and spring calvers at 4.07 per cent butterfat and 3.35 per cent protein.
With 75 agricultural students using the farm as a resource, a duties rota is adhered to and Mr Hollands says students are key to running the farm, and they are able to stay on-site if they are doing the morning’s milking. Students are largely aged 16-18, studying for Levels 1-3 of a diploma in agriculture.
Surrey’s School of Veterinary Medicine also uses the farm for teaching purposes, using the herd data in its studies. The Cattle Information Service has developed a dummy version of the herd’s records for access by students, without affecting the real data.
Show animals are kept within the herd and are not given preferential treatment.
A Sussex bull is used as a sweeper.
Mr Hollands and Miss Alywin hope to further develop the quality of dairy cattle on-farm. Two bulls, a Beef Shorthorn and a Sussex, are kept and used as sweepers, with their progeny leaving the farm at one week of age. A young Dairy Shorthorn bull is being grown on as the college is struggling to find new Dairy Shorthorn genetics which do not share a back-breeding with the current herd.
The semen used is from high profitable lifetime index (£PLI) bulls and largely sourced from Shorthorn Sires UK, previously Red Cattle Genetics, the breeding arm of the Dairy Shorthorn society. An amount of sexed semen was used in the herd to increase heifer numbers but it is now nearly at capacity, as it is limited by shed space.
Heifers are put in-calf at 18 months and weighing 350kg, being a little more than 50 per cent of their mature body weight, and the college farm operates at a rate of 90 per cent submission to first service. All heifers are classified, as are any cows which catch the eye.
Calves stay on their dam for 24 hours and then put on a milk replacer until weaning at six weeks, weight dependent.
Cows are kept on loose straw yards and face-feed silage clamps as well as an amount of hay. Ring feeders are also used for heifers so they are not bullied at feeding.
Mr Hollands says: “Face feeding works well with our set-up. The cattle were on a total mixed ration but they put on weight on this system. Since changing, fertility and yields have been boosted while also requiring less labour.”
Concentrates are fed in the parlour and, depending on time of day, amounts will vary from six to eight kilos over the two milkings.
Miss Aylwin says: “We regularly muck out and have to focus on our milking procedure to keep on-top of mastitis. We pre-strip and wipe and then use a barrier dip.”
The subsequent farmyard manure proves useful in maintaining the farm’s soils which were stripped of nutrients wheat and barley for many years. No arable production is now carried out at Brinsbury College, but students gain experience on neighbouring large arable farms.
Emphasis is put on grass usage and a rotational grazing system is followed across high sugar perennial rye-grass leys. Cows go into a fresh paddocks after every milking, which can be two hectares (five acres) to 7ha (17 acres), with the bigger ones strip grazed. Grass is measured weekly using a rising plate meter while data is recorded using the Agrinet programme, monitoring the residuals.
Leys are reseeded every five years and there is also permanent pastures in the rotation. The last rotation will be on October 1 before cows come in, only returning to grass in February.
Mr Hollands says: “We are happy with where the herd is and now we are in a position where we can be pickier with what we want to improve which, for us, is the legs and the rear udder attachment. We are also trying to breed a lower set of pin-bones into our herd. The cows suit the system and they are the earner for the business.”
226 hectares (560 acres) total farm size
194ha (480ac) of grassland – the rest is woodland
90ha (222ac) grazing platform
250-head closed flock of Lleyn sheep and some mules
A Berkshire sow and gilt