Fine tuning management and feeding is central to growth plans for dairy herd in Derbyshire

In just nine years since moving to Rushley Lodge Farm near Matlock in Derbyshire, the Neville family have made huge strides with their business. Arriving with just 50 Holstein heifers from their previous farm, Edward and Heather Neville along with sons Andrew and Adam and daughter Lisa had growth firmly in their sights.

Dairy Nutrition
Nevilles herd

Their previous farm near Ripley had limited scope for expansion and Matlock was very familiar for Edward having grown up in the area, so they were particularly pleased to find the new farm.

“For Dad it was like coming home when we moved here,” says Andrew. Rushley Lodge Farm has 240 acres of grassland of which 200 are mowable. The rest is moorland and only suitable for grazing. Once settled in the new farm the family began to build up their herd by purchasing first or second calvers, mostly through Leek market.

Following through with the plan

Their plan was to build the herd and to move to a fully-housed system for which they would need to extend the farm’s existing shed. However Edward passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in 2019 before this aim came to fruition. It was an enormous shock, says Andrew.

The family remained determined to continue with the plans. “Dad had ordered the shed before he died, and so we put it up,” says Andrew. By then he, Adam and Lisa were all full-time on the farm having completed agricultural courses at Reaseheath College. Until then Andrew and his brother had taken occasional work with a silaging contractor as well, but now they focussed their time and attention on the family business.

At this point milk yields were typically 25 litres/cow/year. With the shed completed they were able to house the cows year-round. “In some ways it was more work having them indoors, but it helped increase milk yields and we have more control over what the cows are eating now,” says Andrew.

The herd currently stands at 200 in-milk, around 30 dry cows and 20 in-calf heifers, plus youngstock. With AYR calving the herd is managed as one group milked twice a day through a DeLaval 16 aside herringbone parlour.

The herd is predominantly Holstein with a selection of other breeds too including Montbeliarde, Shorthorn and Holstein crosses. Now the Nevilles are happier with the size of the herd Andrew says he is being more selective with his purchases and focussing on bringing in improved bloodlines. “I prefer the Holstein and it suits our system better.”

Increasing home-grown forage

The three siblings each have their own areas of specialism in the business with Andrew responsible for purchasing, feeding and day-to-day management of the main herd, Adam in charge of youngstock and much of the tractor work and Lisa looking after AI and admin. They are all, including Heather, involved in milking.

A move to multi-cut silage has helped to increase the quality of their home-grown forage significantly. “We bought our own silaging equipment and hire in a self-propelled forager. Even with that it works out a lot cheaper than using a contractor like we did before,” explains Andrew.

The main advantage though is being able to cut when they choose rather than when the contractor is available. Under guidance from his ForFarmers account manager Joe Edge they have started taking fresh samples prior to cutting to check nitrite levels. “Since changing to multi-cut we have produced more silage overall, but the quality has been considerably better.”

SelcoPlus success

Another significant change has been the move to ForFarmers’ SelcoPlus within their TMR. Andrew had been feeding brewer’s grains with his grass silage and maize mix however a supply issue with brewer’s grains led him to consider an alternative.

“I was a bit sceptical about SelcoPlus at first because it was more expensive than brewer’s grains. However by including SelcoPlus Joe could reduce the amount of concentrates we were feeding.” This led to an overall saving of £700 per month.

Made of co-products from the food and distilling industries, SelcoPlus mixes well with silage and straw and thanks to its high energy (1171MELK net energy in DM), starch and sugars 305 g/DM, TDP 131g/Kg DM, crude protein (19%) and dry matter (46%) content, it can be fed at a lower rate than other traditional moist co-products, such as brewer's grains.

Andrew says he noticed an increase in overall dry matter intake when the SelcoPlus was initially introduced to the diet. “It keeps better than brewer’s grains, is more consistent and mixes really well in the feeder wagon.” Storing it is simple too, he says. “We just have it tipped onto the yard and I don’t sheet it, I just press it down with the loadall. I am pleased with it and will definitely continue feeding it.”

Milk yields now average 30 litres/cow/day at 4.2% butterfat and 3.2% protein. Andrew is very clear about the family’s goal to increase the herd to 250 in-milk and to continue with improvements to raise yields to 35 litres/cow/day. However as Arla members they maintain a focus on milk solids too.

“We are paid by the kg not litre so while we are chasing yields we need to get the butterfat and protein right too.”