After taking the red and white championship at last year’s UK Dairy Expo, Dave and Claire Jones will once again make the 300-mile trip to Carlisle, entering with three animals this year. Laura Bowyer reports.
With a strong track record in the showring, Dave and Claire Jones have had a career in cows which some people only dream of, and it has not stopped yet.
Mr Jones’ family home, Church Farm, Wilcrick, Monmouthshire, just a stone’s throw from the Severn Bridge, is the birthplace of both Wiltor and Sahara Holsteins.
Originally with an ambition to pursue a career as a rural chartered surveyor and auctioneer, Mr Jones spent time working for a number of firms near his South Wales home before spending four years with Harrison and Hetherington, valuing stock in the north of England at the time of foot-and-mouth disease.
He says: “The day after being offered the valuing job, foot-and-mouth broke. I was called and asked to go north immediately and from the start of March until the end of June, Edward Brown and I valued 20,000 cattle. We then spent the following year restocking farms.”
The main family is Pinetree Missy
After four years of travelling up and down the country between Cumbria and South Wales, while Mrs Jones and their three young children stayed at home, he moved firms and spent a year working for Norton and Brooksbank in Tetbury, Gloucestershire.
It was at this time he met Sheikha Noora Al Khalifa, a member of the Bahraini royal family and business woman, and after some discussion, she bought part of Church Farm. In 2006, Dave started working for the Sheika, managing the Sahara herd.
Mr Jones says he has always been interested in pedigree breeding and even bred pedigree rabbits when younger. Together with Claire, who herself grew up on a dairy farm nearby, they have had victories showing the Sheika’s well-known Sahara herd, as well as their own Wiltor animals. In fact, over the last eight years they have either bred or exhibited 10 class winners at the All Breeds All Britain calf show plus a number of show winners in the UK and Ireland.
Wiltor Chipper Rosie won last year’s UK Dairy Expo red and white championship as a second calver. Rosie, by Sandyvalley Chipper and out of Hollysprings Mighty Lawnrae, was judged giving 44kg and will return to Carlisle this year.
Mr Jones says they enjoy showing and ‘the competitiveness’.
“The UK Dairy Expo is one of the two main dairy shows in the country. If you can win a class there, you are doing well.”
Mr Jones explains he believes there are two type of cows; cubicle cows and show cows.
“Show cows catch your eye and have more style than cubicle cows, with a better, finer bone quality and being more feminine, but not necessarily the biggest. They are like the Miss Worlds of cows.”
Cows destined for the show circuit are put on a slightly different diet to the milking herd at Church Farm, having access to a lot more fibre. Clipping of these animals starts weeks before a show, then again a couple of days before.
Wiltor Holsteins also go to UK Dairy Day, the Royal Welsh, the All Breeds All Britain calf show, and their local Usk Show.
They have got three animals entered for the UK Dairy Expo: Wiltor Chipper Rosie Red, Wiltor Integral Jodie Red, and Wyndford Doorman Atlee.
Only housing a small number of Sahara cows these days and having bought the farm back from the Sheikha, the couple now run 61 hectares (150 acres), milking 60 pedigree Holsteins and carrying 100 followers.
Mr Jones says one of their aims is to sell bull calves to AI companies. All calves are genomically tested and any bull calf with a chance of getting into a stud will be kept and offered to semen companies pending its genomic results. Hair samples are sent to the US for testing and both UK and US results are obtained from these readings to increase the animals’ marketability.
He says: “The US TPI trait formula is the worldwide language of genomics. If you want to sell round the world you need this figure. Genomic testing is so accurate it is unbelievable.”
Mr Jones says the largest part of their income is selling breeding stock, particularly bulls, but he sees this changing, saying it is harder to get bulls into artificial insemination (AI) studs now.
He continues: “We do a lot of embryo transfer work and have invested in popular cow families, which change over time. When buying in stock, we look for type and genomics, focusing on production, health and type. I like a nice combination of these traits.”
For the last two years the Jones’ have sold consignments of heifers; in February 2016 they had a sale of 40 heifers, and in February 2017 they sold 60. At both these sales the average stood at 3,000gns. And back in 2010, heifers sold averaged 5,000gns.
“Moving forward, I hope to keep more cows and put embryos in them. I flush maiden heifers and put these embryos into the milking herd and younger heifers,”
In the herd, 50 per cent of the cows are used as surrogate mothers, and they also carry out some IVF work with the advantage being eggs can be taken off females while pregnant.
He says: “A lot of the embryo work is again with the aim of top genetic animals, especially bulls. The most successful bull we have bred is Wiltor Dreamer which is housed with Cogent and has nearly 4,000 female progeny in the UK. Other popular bulls they have bred include Sahara Baloo and Wiltor Cruise.”
Wiltor Bestman recently joined the Genus stud and is one of the highest profitable lifetime index (£PLI) and type merit bulls available in the country.
Mr Jones says: “We also sell a lot of bulls privately and I am sure the bulls we have in AI studs encourage private sales.”
AI bulls are used in their own herd, mainly using American genetics, with the three most popular being Wiltor Bestman, Woodcrest King Doc and Claynook Casper.
Heifers are calved at 23-24 months and the target calving interval is 390 days. Currently, 70 per cent of the milking herd is two years old, producing 35 litres per head by day.
He says: “Our target production is 13,000kg at 4 per cent fat and 3.30 per cent protein, milking twice a day through a 12:12 herringbone parlour. We sell to County Milk.”
On a freshweight basis, cows are fed a total mixed ration of two-thirds 12ME maize and one-third grass silage, plus 6kg of a 30 per cent crude protein blend which is put through the mixer wagon, along with minerals.
In the parlour, an average of 3kg per head is fed to a maximum of 4kg for two-year-olds for their first lactation and 5kg for anything older.
Every animal on-farm which has had two or more calves has been classified Very Good (VG) or above. After a recent classifier visit, 20 fresh two-year-olds were scored to average more than 85 points.
Cows are housed but go outside in summer by day for a couple of hours to exercise. However being in a bad area for TB, Mr Jones says he might keep them inside all the time in a bid to minimise any risk of infection.
Sand cubicle bedding, which Dave describes as the ultimate in comfort, also helps keep mastitis levels to a minimum.
Mr Jones is able to foot trim the cows and they go through a formaldehyde or copper sulphate footbath twice a day on the way to the collection pen.
Sourcing genetics from across Europe and the US, Mr and Mrs Jones visit the Swiss Dairy Expo, Lausanne, in January and the World Dairy Expo, Madison, Wisconsin, which is held in October every year.
“We go to see the cows on show but also to buy embryos,” he says.
“Moving forward, we are looking to retain heifers to expand the milking herd as our son Matthew wishes to come home to work,” says Dave.