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Successful start for ambitious new entrants

Sector News Sector News27-12-2019

One Cheshire-based dairying couple have overcome the early challenges of establishing a successful dairy unit and are now looking to grow their business and develop a high yielding dairy herd. 

Dairy farming has been a family tradition for both Chris and Amie Lovatt and the couple have always wanted to milk their own cows. They began their business by running Sprinks Farm, near Macclesfield, as a small beef farm, but they were keen to eventually convert it to a dairy enterprise – having both grown up on a dairy farm. 

The 28-hectare dairy unit was established in 2005 and since then the couple, together with Chris’ parents, Craig and Carolyn, have slowly continued to improve its infrastructure, starting with converting one of the farm buildings into a house so Chris and Amie could live on site. The family’s hard work and dedication has been recognised in this year’s ForFarmers Excellence in Farming Awards, with Chris and Amie crowned regional winners in the dairy efficiency category.

In 2014 the couple started the process of converting to dairying, by purchasing 55 heifer calves, all under six weeks old, from local producers. All were purchased within a six-week period so they would be ready to AI at a similar time and were a mixture of Friesian, Holstein and crossbreds. An Aberdeen Angus sire was used to the first service, followed by an Aberdeen Angus sweeper bull. 

Chris and Amie Lovatt, with sons Henry and George
Chris and Amie Lovatt, with sons Henry and George

Robotic milking

The first six weeks of milking was done through a bale until they had 40 freshly-calved heifers in milk, which was enough to begin milking via a robot. The first Lely robot was installed in September 2016, with a second following in July 2018.

The couple currently milk 70 cows and plan to expand to 100-herd by mid-2020. Chris has worked on a dairy farm since he left school, and still continues to do so, while Amie now works on the dairy unit and also looks after their two young sons, Henry and George.

“We wanted our children to grow up on a family farm and having the robots gives me the flexibility to fit work around the boys, keep our workload manageable within the family, and also enables Chris to continue milking on another dairy unit” explains Amie. “The robots also helped us to secure our Tesco contract, via Muller, as they wanted to support young new entrants looking to use modern milking methods.”

The Lovatts now rent a further 32 hectares, with all grass harvested as big bale silage. They do all their own field work and the baling is done by a local contractor. “We haven’t got a silage pit and find that baled silage works for us,” says Chris. “We know we have fields of different grass quality and these can be mowed and baled individually, with bales labelled accordingly when stacked. We can then test cuts from each field and ensure that when we are feeding out, we mix the source of silage used in order to provide a consistent ration in terms of overall nutrient content and quality. We also use Ecosyl Ecobale additive and find that this improves silage quality.”

Grass silage: big bales are labelled according to the field where they were made

Improving performance

There has been significant investment to improve grass and soil quality – in machinery and seed. “We reseeded 30% of the farm this year and the quality of silage produced has improved. Crude protein has increased from 14% to 17%, sugars from 1.9% to 3.0%, and D value from 500 MJ/kg DM to 600 MJ/kg DM. 

“We have also started to cut earlier and have adopted a multi-cut system. Quality beats quantity,” adds Chris. When they first started feeding the dairy cows, this was done by simply loading round bales straight into feeding troughs and shovelling grains on top, by hand, four times per day. “Investing in a mixer wagon has given the diet consistency and increased milk yields, as well as reducing our workload,” adds Amie. “Feeding troughs are lined with bathroom tiles to encourage dry matter intake and are double sided to remove the need for pushing up.”

This autumn has seen average milk yields increase by 1,415 litres per cow and adding caustic wheat to the silage has increased rolling milk protein production by 0.07%.

The herd, which is housed and calves all-year-round, is fed molassed glycol alongside Performance 16 up to 21 days post-calving, and then concentrate to yield through the robots. 

Amie carries out all the AI and cows are served using British Blue or sexed semen. “Beef-cross calves are sold, at around six weeks old, through the local market and we are aiming to produce all our own replacements in the future,” says Amie. “We are looking to breed a smaller cow compared to the traditional Holstein, which will better to suit our system.” 

Norwegian Red sires are currently being used to serve the larger Holsteins in the herd and Holstein bulls are used on the smaller crossbreds to get the ideal genetic mix. “In our experience, the crossbreds require less feed for maintenance and still produce high yields.” She adds that fertility has improved since she’s taken on the role of AI technician: “Because we can serve cows at the optimum time.”

Smooth surface: feed troughs are lined with bathroom tiles

Recent review

Dry-cow management has been recently reviewed, with help from ForFarmers’ Shane Mooney, because cows were underperforming after calving, “Dry cows are now fed later-cut, lower energy silage, plus TRANSLAC nuts in the three weeks prior to calving. The improvements were immediate and we now see better and stronger heats after calving” adds Amie.

Other investments include a robotic scraper, which scrapes the yards with minimum disruption to the cows. “Looking to the future, we want to increase feed space and complete an additional cubicle shed,” adds Chris. “And eventually we would like to build a specialist young stock shed to give us space to rear all of our own replacements. 

“The robotic milking and scraping systems should allow us manage the herd without the need for additional labour, and we’ll continue to push yields and aim to be a 11,000-litre herd by the end of 2020.