Forage for Knowledge - Meet The Farmers

Published 19 June 17

16 farmers will be participating in this year's Forage for Knowledge grass analysis. With a mixture of spring, autumn and year-round calving systems, and anywhere from 150 to 800 cows, they're a varied bunch. But they all have one thing in common, they aim to make a profit from grazing and quality forage.

Pat Kimpton & Jess Bowyer, Waterside Farm, Perthshire

After milking in New Zealand for 3 years, Pat and Jess returned to the UK to milk 160 autumn calving herd under contract for Robin & Barbra Young. The herd are predominantly crossbred with a target of producing 6,500 litres per annum on 1.5 tonnes of concentrates. The 102ha farm is all grass, aiming to support grazing for 6 months with minimal concentrate at grass. Turnout is not possible until late March and cows are housed at calving in October. Thirty five replacement heifers are reared annually with the remainder bred to beef. They hope to expand the herd and grow their asset base during the duration of the 5 year contract.

David Lee, Winnington Green Farm, Welshpool, Powys

David, previous president of the British Grassland Society milks 400 spring-calving cows on the Welsh Borders on a low cost grazing system. Operating with a high stocking rate of 4 cows/ha on the milking platform, the emphasis is on grass utilisation with 14-15t/ha grass grown. An 89ha milking platform is supported by an additional 70ha of grassland and 12ha of whole crop.

Alistair Cliff, Burwardsley, Cheshire

Since starting off on a Cheshire county farm with just 32 cows, Alistair now milks 450-cow herd across two units near Chester. The daily running of one farm, Bankhead, is down to herd manager James Williamson. From 2018, both herds will be autumn calving; one herd has previously been spring block calving. Replacement heifers are reared off site on 250ha of Bolesowrth estate. Most of the young stock are out-wintered on deferred grazing. Alistair was also the winner of the 2012 Farmers Guardian Dairy Farmer of the Future Award.

Freddie Lawder, Beaulieu, Hampshire

Freddie leads the team at Dynamic Dairying Ltd who manage the 320 cow herd on a contract farming agreement. Since February 2013, the herd has converted from an AYR high input system with Holstein and Montbeliarde cows to an autumn block calving self-feed silage and grazing system. The herd is now crossed with predominantly NZ Friesian/Kiwi-Cross and Swedish Red genetics. The grazing platform is 100ha with 60ha of grass and maize silage as well as 40ha of very marginal marsh grazing in summer for dry cows.

James & Lucy Muir, Hopton, Stafford  

James and Lucy milk 420 spring-calving cross bred cows on 220ha in Staffordshire. At New Buildings Farm they operate a low-cost New Zealand style grazing system. The herd are turned out in early February until November. Utilisation of quality pasture is the main driver and James and Lucy are aiming to produce 6000 litres from a maximum use of 1 tonne of concentrates. By measuring grass on a weekly basis to create a grass wedge, they cut any surplus to feed on the shoulders of the season. The aim is to breed high-quality heifers to maintain high butterfats and protein; they target a kg of live weight to a kg of milk solids per animal.

Dan Burdett, Cockhaise Farm, West Sussex

Dan contract farms a 240-cowherd in West Sussex with an average yield of approximately 6,700 litres from 1.5 tonnes of bought in concentrates. Calving in a tight 6-week block calving from late August through to early October, Dan aims to produce as much milk from forage as possible. From the total 240ha, the organic herd graze 62ha grazing platform on a mixture of grass/clover and herbal leys from mid-February through to late October. Cows are housed over the winter on a grass and whole crop self-feed silage system. Dan rears all calves outside from birth to weaning before being housed on self-feed silage over winter. Replacement heifers are reared away from the farm to allow Dan to increase herd size towards the target, 300 cows.

Keith Davis, Lydney Park Estate, Lydney, Gloucestershire

Keith is herd manager at Lydney Park Farm, managing 1000 Jersey cross cows on once-a-day milking on a low cost, grass-based system. The cows grazing a milking platform of 264ha with a stocking rate of 3.75 cows per ha. All young stock along with 250 dry cows are outwintered on differed grass and bales silage. The overall stocking rate is 1250kg of live weight/ha (approximately 2.6 LSU/ha). The arable crop area is 40ha. Keith aims to expand cow numbers to 1,150 by 2018.

John Owen, Gelli Aur College, Carmarthen

John manages the 211ha Gelli Aur College in Carmarthen. The farm consists of two 250 cow herds. A spring-calving crossbred herd yields 5,200 litres which graze an 88ha grass platform and an autumn calving herd producing 6,500 litres. John has been part of the recently completed three-year project, Grass Value project, which highlighted the potential to maintain high-quality grazed grass throughout the season.

Duncan Howie & Sarah Kent, Annscroft, Shropshire

Duncan & Sarah milk 280 cows south of Shrewsbury in Shropshire. They are currently transitioning from all year round calving to an autumn block grass based system, with the aim to maximise forage from the grass. The milking platform of 60ha supports the herd through the grazing season and an additional 40ha, previously used for maize and whole crop wheat is being brought back into grass over the next year. Heifers are reared on a locally rented farm. 

Ben Walker, Attleborough, Norfolk

Ben milks a 160-cow Holstein Friesian autumn calving herd, on 69ha of grassland in Norfolk. After returning to the farm in 2011, Ben and his father have been transitioning the farm from an 11,000-litre all-year-round housed and calving system to an 8600-litre autumn block calving with rotational grazing paddocks. Calving is now in a 12-week block from 1 September to 30 November with cows housed until February in straw yards and grazed for the remainder of the year. Concentrate use has fallen from 4.2t/cow to 2.3t/cow. Milk from forage is steadily increasing and is currently at 39%, up from 6% in July 2011. A further 18ha is rented for grazing in-calf heifers and 30ha of maize grown each year. With the intention of increasing the milk from grass, Ben and his father have decided to cross breed; last year’s calves are all Jersey-sired and the cows are in calf to Jersey sires again for this autumn.

Danny Wragg, Bearstone, Market Drayton  

Danny milks 350 cows on a spring calving system in North Shropshire. The herd is a mixture of a three-way cross from Holsteins and New Zealand crossbred. Danny aims to run a low-cost system and maximising grass content in the diet is key. A total of 192ha is split between two holdings solely used from grass. The young stock are on a separate 56ha unit and housed over winter. With a young herd, they are on target to reach 5,300 litres this year with an average parity of 2.2. Danny’s long-term targets are to achieve 5600 litres from as little concentrates as possible with a 3.5 cows/ha stocking rate.

Tony Evans & Wil Armitage, Thrussington, Leicester

Tony and Wil milk 300 cows, 200 spring calving and 100 autumn block calving on a contract farm agreement with the farm owners, Peter and Cheryl Holmes. Both calving blocks last a maximum 10 weeks. The cows grazing a milking platform of 74ha with a stocking rate of 4 cows per ha. Manor Farm are on a solids based milk contract and the herd are currently yielding 5,800-5,900 litres high in solids (480kg). Grazing from February to November, Tony and Wil aim to maximise forage utilisation and have a high return on capital from a low-cost production system. 

Tom Blanchard, Marlborough, Wiltshire

Tom milks 380 cows in a split block calving system near Marlborough in Wiltshire. In 2008, when Tom returned to the farm, 36ha was under permanent pasture and the rest as arable cropping supporting a high-yielding dairy herd. Since then, the farm has been transitioning to a grass-based system, moving much of the arable area into grass leys with the herd now managed on a 101ha grazing platform supported by 46ha of maize and 8ha of fodder beet. The aim is to achieve a spring-calving herd at 6,000 litres consuming one tonne of concentrate and the autumn-calving herd yielding 8,000 litres on two tonnes of concentrate.

George Brown, Ainstable, Cumbria

George Brown is herd manager at Cairnhead Farm in Ainstable, Cumbria. The herd of 390 spring calving cows are mostly New Zealand Friesian with some Jersey crossbred yielding 490kg milk solids (5,500 - 6,000 litres) per year. At an elevation of about 600ft, the milking platform is 120ha and there is a further 60ha used for young stock and silage ground. Calving begins in mid-February with cows grazing into November.

Paul Richards, Splattenridden Farm, Hayle, Cornwall

Paul milks 330 cows on an autumn block calving system at Splattenridden farm while also growing potatoes and vegetables. The 160ha farm is situated on light soil, 400ft above sea level. The farm benefits from its proximity to the coast, both the north and south Cornish coasts are visible from the farm, with good growth during the winter months. One hundred replacement heifers are reared outside and cows are self-feed maize and grass silage. Target turn-out date is early February.