The aim for Richard Jones has always been to run an easy-to-manage dairy herd that’s as self-sufficient as possible. And with the development of a new robotic milking system that utilises high volumes of home-grown forage during the winter months, and zero grazed grass during the spring and summer, he’s done just that.
“I am a new entrant into dairying, having previously worked in agricultural machinery before taking on my first county council holding in 2017, where I ran beef and sheep,” explains Richard, who manages Maelog Jerseys in Llanfaelog, Anglesey. “I then progressed to a larger beef and sheep holding in 2021, but I also formed a business partnership with long-time family friend and local landowner, Huw Owen, to establish a dairy herd. We developed a greenfield site for 80 pedigree Jerseys milked using a DeLaval VMS V300 robot.
“The first cows went through the robot in November 2021 and the dairy business is now geared around producing milk as cost-effectively as possible. We’ve developed a system that utilises high volumes of good quality homegrown maize, grass, and red clover silages, as well as incorporating new feeding approaches, such as zero grazing. It’s been working well and making the switch to zero grazing alone has saved us around £3,500 in feed costs over the spring and summer period.”
Richard farms with the help of his wife, Elen, and the couple are also kept busy raising their three-year old daughter, Nansi and nine-month-old son, Tomos. The Maelog Jersey herd consists of 80 Jerseys that are calved all year round, with 65 cows currently being milked by the robots. Robot visits stand at an average of 2.5 per cow, per day, with yields hitting an average of 24kg at 5.8% butterfat and 3.85% protein.
“We aim to utilise as much fresh grass as possible between February and October, and at its peak, 90% of the cows’ diet will be grass,” explains Richard. “It’s all about producing milk as cost effectively as possible.
“Then by October we start feeding a TMR of homegrown grass silage, wholecrop and red clover. In December, we’ll switch out the wholecrop for homegrown maize. The aim is to provide a dense diet and lift constituents up to around 6.2% butterfat and 4.2% protein – fully utilising the constituent-focused bonus structure of our milk contract.”
Cows are fed a 16% protein compound from ForFarmers - Maxima Robot Milk - through the robots which is fed to yield, averaging 4kg of concentrate per cow, per day. Following a challenging year for forage production in 2022, Richard also started feeding Lintec to his cows over the winter months.
“That year we’d experienced difficult growing conditions and produced silages with low protein and energy content,” says Richard. “I was worried that it was going to negatively impact fertility, so our ForFarmers advisor, Dyfrig Hughes, recommended we try Lintec, which is high in ammino acids and omega 3 oils.
“The Lintec has worked well, and we’ve seen an uplift in milk yield of around 1 litre per cow, per day when feeding it. And despite the concerns we had regarding fertility, summer pregnancy detection rates stood at 92%, so all-in-all it’s been a good addition to the winter diet.”
Another change that’s been embraced on Richard’s dairy unit this year is zero grazing – and it’s something that’s already making a big difference to the business.
“We purchased a new zero grazer earlier in the year and we’ve been out cutting since February,” explains Richard. “I’m targeting leys that are as young and fresh as possible - usually up to covers of 2,800kg DM/hectare, with anything above this going for silage.
“The great thing about zero grazing is that you’re using every single blade of grass in the field and there’s no waste. Having previously fed a TMR over the summer period, which needed constant balancing with blend and other products, not only is this system easier to manage, but it’s also more cost effective.”
To help keep grass leys as fresh and productive as possible, reseeding has been an important focus for the fledgling dairy business.
“When examining cow performance, Dyfrig and I noticed a 4kg per cow, per day difference in yields when cows are fed older pasture compared to new reseeds,” says Richard. “We now keep a close eye on yields from certain leys and as soon as these drop we’ll reseed with a high-performance mix, TOPGRASS TROGEN, containing a ratio of 50:50 tetraploid:diploid grasses.
“We’ve also started incorporating white clover into all new grass leys to help boost protein content, and this complements the 11 acres of highprotein red clover that we also grow. The red clover is a TOPGRASS Protogen medium-term multi cut red clover mix from ForFarmers, that usually produces silage with 16% protein and 11.5 ME. It’s a great insurance policy if we struggle with our wholecrop and maize.”
Richard is pleased with how the dairy herd has progressed and is looking forward to further improving the businesses efficiency and cow performance.
“It’s been a steep learning curve and a lot of hard work, but I am enjoying being in dairying,” concludes Richard, “It’s exciting to think how the business will develop in the future, but I know that taking a self-sufficient, forage-focused approach will continue to be key to the herd’s success.”