The main objective - producing milk from homegrown forage

Dairy production is part of a mixed farm run by the David Harriott Partnership which also produces arable crops, beef and sheep in Sussex.

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Producing milk from homegrown feed is one of the main objectives for the David Harriott Partnership’s dairy unit at Tolmare Farm, Findon near Worthing.

Tolmare is home to David and Caroline Harriott’s Holstein herd and part of the total 951 acre mixed farm they manage. As well as 430 acres of grass they grow wheat, barley, maize, turnips and fodder beet which forms the bulk of the diet for the 200 cows in the milking herd and youngstock as well as 500 head of sheep and 150 dairy beef cross calves.

Dairying was a new venture for David and Caroline when they took on the tenancy for Tolmare Farm in 2016. Caroline says: “The cows were already here and the milk price had gone up, partially because of Brexit so we were keen to continue. It’s a beautiful farm in a beautiful location.

“We operate a traditional mixed rotation intending to be as green as possible but farming in the black. We believe it’s possible to do both. The whole farm works hard for everything including biodiversity. We have very vibrant populations of farmland birds including Grey Partridge.”

Ian Hamblin joined the business as herd manager around four years ago. Since then he has focussed in on all areas of management, helping to lift yields considerably without extra feed inputs while also improving overall health of the herd too.

The herd is predominantly Autumn calving with a smaller spring calving group to help with the milk profile and to manage the demand for grass during the summer months, explains Ian. “We like to get everything out grazing, but this can be a challenge when it dries up so our high yielders tend to stay in at night during the summer. We’re on chalk downland here and don’t get as much rain as everyone else.”

The dairy herd takes the first cut silage made across the farm, which is 90% first year ryegrass leys, with the second cut then going to the beef cattle. “We are fortunate to always have enough silage,” says Ian. He has worked with Richard Greasley, Technical Manager at ForFarmers, for many years even prior to his move to Tolmare. “He does our rationing, sampling the silages and rationing accordingly.” This year they are adding locally produced field beans, sugar beet and molasses to the diet for the first time. “It’s an evolving ration as we try to push things forward,” says Ian.

Increase in milk yield from around 8,500 litres to an average 10,000 litres/ cow/year (at 4.51% butterfat and 3.51% protein) is down to attention to detail. “We keep a close eye on feeding and clamp management including minimising waste.” Feeding is carried out by assistant herdsperson Chloe Rampling who joined the business a year ago.

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Genetics have come a long way too with Ian’s breeding objectives focussing on the need for a productive cow that is suitable for grazing and with good feet. “We breed for a stockier more Friesian type to suit our cubicles which aren’t very big,” he adds. Around 35 Holstein heifers are produced each year using sexed semen. The remainder of the herd is put to Aberdeen Angus genetics, also using AI for another service or two and then an Aberdeen Angus bull sweeps up. As all of these dairy beef cross calves are reared by the business through to finished weight, the ability to produce an animal that finishes well is also part of our breeding considerations, he says.

Looking after the cow well during the dry period and transition is essential to getting her off to the best start in her next lactation, says Ian. “We foot trim before drying off to make sure they are in fine fettle before calving.” Ensuring that cows are an appropriate weight is vital too. “It’s important they go into the dry cow period with the right condition score. We are looking at nothing less than 2.5 and no more than 3 so 2.75 is the ideal and then maintaining that. We don’t want to be putting on condition in that period prior to calving as that can result in an oversized calf and calving issues.” Judicious use of fly spray is also another detail he doesn’t miss. “It means the cows can relax during this important time without the bother of flies.”

Cows are moved into a separate barn for around three days when they are dried off two months prior to calving date. “It means we keep a close eye on them and check for any signs of mastitis,” he says. “After that they move to our dry cow group.” The diet for this group is based on grazed grass (or silage), straw, dry cow minerals and salt. Then three weeks before a cow is due to calve she is moved to a transition group.

“The diet for this close up group is 10kg each of maize silage and grass silage, 5kg of chopped straw plus 2kg of ForFarmers TRANSLAC rolls and 0.5kg of rapemeal as well as ad lib straw.” Ian introduced TRANSLAC having seen good results on a previous farm too. “When I arrived here we were having a few milk fever cases which we were very keen to avoid. Not only does it impact on the cow’s health but it also has a serious knock-on effect financially.

“Since introducing TRANSLAC we have only had one minor case, so it has pretty much knocked milk fever on the head so we are very pleased.”

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