Farming Connect Study Visit - NextGen Dairy Farmers

NextGen Dairy Farmers 

Chester, North Yorkshire and Scotland 

19 - 22 September 2019

1) Background 

NextGen Dairy Farmers is a group of dairy farmers from Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Chester - all looking for ways to improve their herds at home. The aim of the study visit was to see some of the most progressive dairy farmers in the UK, including Metcalfe Farms who won the National Milk Records (NMR) Gold Cup for 2018. With regard to current milk prices, the group was focused on cost of production based on pence per litre (PPL).    


2) Itinerary 

Day 1

The group visited John Allwood who farms 600 Holstein Friesian cows at Huntington Hall Farm, Chester.  John had installed a new youngstock shed because previously, he had been tacking heifers out on other farms and he wasn’t happy with the growth rates; his average age at first calving wasn’t where he wanted it to be. Since the new shed has been installed, he’s lowered his average age at first calving. John’s herd was averaging 11,900 litres a lactation, with heifers coming into the herd at 22 months of age. John gained 600 litres in the first lactation compared to calving at 24 months of age, gaining an extra £40,000 a year.  
The group were in agreement that lowering the age at first calving was a target they could try to improve in order to rear calves more efficiently. By weighing heifers more frequently and making sure the rations are correct, any heifers not making the same daily liveweight gain are culled early on. 


Day 2

On the second day of the tour, the group visited Metcalfe Farms, Washfold Farm, North Yorkshire as they had won the NMR Gold Cup in 2018. Metcalfe Farms was very impressive, with all three businesses running side by side: a heavy haulage contract for the Ministry of Defence; agriculture contracting, and the dairy herd of 1,200 cows.  Over 60 people are employed in the agricultural element of the business and staff undertake training to fulfil more senior roles on the farm. The farm was run smoothly with all employees being British, and half the dairy workers being female, which they were very proud of. They were keen to train each member of staff to a level where they were competent for every role within the dairy.  

The group members commented that sending staff on training days was something they could all improve on, and giving staff more responsibilities is important so that they feel they play an integral role in the business.


Day 3

On the third day, the group visited Callum Jamieson at Woodhead Farm, Annan, Scotland, who milks 800 cows (each averaging 42 litres a day). The group visited the farm to learn how to produce more milk from grass forage. No maize is fed to the cows, so silage-making is a top priority on this farm.  Callum was feeding concentrates heavily, with 19kg being fed per cow, per day. Callum said that he didn't mind the high feed bill as his cost of production was low because of how much milk the cows were giving. He was striving to make better silage and go to a multi-cut system of five cuts a season so he could lower the cost of bought-in feed and, therefore, improving his cost of production. 

The group members said that they were also striving for a multi-cut system, with some already doing so. Some members of the group also thought that he was feeding too many concentrates.

The second visit of the day was to Balmangan Farm, Duncan Wallace’s farm at Dundrennan, Scotland, Duncan, who farms 1,800 cows, installed a new heifer-rearing shed to cut the cost of tacking them out to other farms.  He’s also improved his daily liveweight gain since using the new shed. The reason for visiting this farm was to learn more about lowering rearing costs but also improving heifer growth to lower their age at first calving. Duncan shared with the group that he is always looking to improve every detail concerning the farm. He shared the same theory as Callum - heavy feeding concentrates, but he said litres will always pay more than having a lower yield. He said if he had a higher quality milk but lower yield, he would be losing money. The new shed for heifer rearing was very impressive; heifers were gaining 1kg a day on average and calving down at 22 months.

Each group member said that they needed to improve their heifer rearing facilities and to ensure that they were feeding their heifers efficiently while ensuring that they were gaining weight.


Day 4

Glenrath Chickens, Whim, Peebleshire – Campbell’s Chicken farmers produce over a million eggs a day. The reason for the visit was to explore future diversification into poultry farming as the milk price is variable throughout the year. Glenrath Farm was a 25,000-acre farm with 15,000 sheep, 1,000 sucklers and 2 million chickens - the fifth biggest egg producers in the UK. 250 members of staff are employed all year round. The farm improved its business by buying a processor to use up their ‘B’ eggs which are either cracked eggs or dirty eggs; all these get put into liquid form and sold. Previously, they were selling them to other businesses; now they've improved their business and profit.   

With the current state of the dairy sector, the group’s members agreed that diversification from dairy farming was needed. Some of the group’s members have already installed chicken sheds, renewable energy, and other members of the group are looking to do the same.


3) Next Steps

The next steps for the group are to pay more attention to heifer rearing and more attention at colostrum feeding. Also, weighing heifers every month and culling the animals that don't make the weight gain. They’ve gained an understanding on how to be more open with staff and to involve them in the direction they want the business to go. They intent to invest in staff training days to keep staff motivated and look at diversification in their own businesses; from holiday homes, glamping, renewable energy to other incomes. 

Everyone on the study tour really enjoyed it. They said it was good to be around like-mined people who were keen to learn and improve themselves and their business. Each member of the group was eager to know when the next trip might be scheduled. Everybody took something from the study tour and have all tried improving little things at home with the intention to do another trip in autumn 2020.