Camarthen Grassland Society Spring Tour Report

Camarthen Grassland Society Spring Tour Report

Monday, May 20, 2019

Carmarthen Grassland Society Spring Tour April 2019

Attracted to Pembrokeshire by the BGS Spring Farm Walk at Trellyffant, Nevern, the tour was extended into the next day taking an overnight stay at St David’s, the smallest city in the UK.

A dry breezy day near the northern coast of this famed agricultural county was reflected in Peter Cozens outlook on dairy farming which was a philosophy identical to the farm’s original owner, Rex Patterson, of low cost milk production from small bodied cows converting grazed grass without fuss.  Peter’s aim is to have a smaller Friesian-type cow with the herd consisting of around 190 Friesian x Jersey cows now with Ayrshire and Norwegian Red genetics included.  Heifers are mated to the Jersey bull.  Cows yield 6500 litres at 4.53% butterfat and 3.55% protein, with 3340 litres from forage.

Calving occurs during August and September due to lack of grass growth in mid-summer, but it also means that the reduced work load in the summer months allows staff to take holidays at the best time for families.  However, milking does not stop through the summer with around 40-50 late calvers and barren cows being milked and ready to guide the heifers, calving before the main herd, through the milking system. The herd experienced a higher than usual barren rate this year thought to be due to the 2018 drought having led to cows calving at a lower condition score than in previous years coupled with a reduction in the length of the service period.  TB problems, part of the farming scene in West Wales, also limited sale of cows calving out of sequence and the purchase of essential replacements when required.

Cows calve outdoors on grass stored to maturity in two paddocks convenient to the house.  Strip grazing is utilised and calved cows are put over the fence to ensure they have a good “fill up” immediately to avoid metabolic and gut problems whilst being available for the daily afternoon round up.  Calves are collected once per day with Barbara, Peter’s wife, taking charge of the calf-rearing operation and ensuring that all calves receive colostrum. 

Grazing management is kept simple, via a central track leading off to a series of paddocks grazed for as long as possible, with Peter keen on the use of electric fences to manage allocations.  Cows are generally turned out in April, although on-off grazing can be used earlier if conditions allow.  Pasture is grazed down in October, pre-housing, as it is prone to becoming unsuitable for grazing in wet weather, particularly on the lower portion of the farm. That said, heifers may graze drier pastures during the day all through the winter.  Care is taken when moving cows along the stone tracks ‘We don’t rush the cows’ said Peter ‘and we don’t tend to have foot problems’. 

The dairy unit centred around one of the few remaining prefabricated herringbones still in daily use, a series of sand based cubicle houses and an open topped silage clamp used for self -feeding.   Staffing on the farm consisted of Peter, Barbara, one full time worker and a part-time worker who laos works at the other company-owned farm a short distance away. Peter also had a management role over this second holding. He emphasised the need to keep staff motivated being mindful of their personal lives and not expecting anyone to work too many hours, but also encouraged socialising, as well as working, as a team with events both on and off the farm.

Peter’s love for farming was clear.  ‘I love my job’, he said ‘I love being a dairy farmer.  I want to create an atmosphere where it’s good to go to work. People should come to work enjoying it, and having a life’. 

In complete contrast, the second day’s visit was to a totally housed unit on a green field site developed by a young local couple, Mark and Caroline Davies, at Little Newcastle.  Based on a pedigree Holstein herd entering into the second year of production, over 8200 litres was being produced from 219 cows in milk on the day of our visit. Cows were quiet and contented on a diet of grass silage mixed with three kilograms of blend with 18 per cent dairy nuts to yield.  Four robotic milkers were centrally placed, each serving a group of 60 cows.

Built over a slatted slurry store incorporating an aeration system a robot brush unit travelled between the cows to maintain clean slats whilst silage was pushed up to the barrier regularly by a further automatic robot.

Within the unit, space had been allowed for a calving yard and bull pen which meant, as dry cows remained within their herds, no animal had to leave the building after having calved for the first time.

No culling other than for normal reasons had been necessary as the animals had all taken to the system.  Mark and Caroline emphasised the importance of not interfering with the cows unduly, though they keep a close watch on the computer for any warnings of cell count increase which might indicate disease or illness. In such cases the animal was segregated and checked for problems. Each animal was automatically weighed within the robot milking unit which again provided information via the central computer to the owners.

Breeding criteria was along the same lines as previously except for more emphasis on rear teat placement with close setting a problem especially during late lactation. Milk output had increased significantly with several cows producing over 60 litres daily on an average of 4.6 milkings per day.

Huw Evans, Secretary - Camarthen Grassland Society.

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