4 February 2021
Jonathan Scott runs a herd of 270 dairy cows at his 440 acre tenanted holding near Wrexham. Badly affected by Bovine TB, which in 2016, significantly reduced his herd size to 180 head of cross breed cows, Jonathan turned to the Farming Connect Advisory Service.
One year later, thanks to a five-year business plan provided by Neil Blackburn of Kite Consulting, one of Farming Connect’s approved advisers, Jonathan has transformed both the efficiency and profitability of the business.
Jonathan took over the tenancy of Hanmer Mill Farm, Wrexham from his father in 2008, although his still active dad keeps a keen interest and is fully behind the changes his son is implementing year on year. Having grown up at the farm, Jonathan, a graduate of Rease Heath College where he studied a national diploma in agriculture, was already conversant with every aspect of the day to day routine of a large dairy unit. After university, he took up a post as a breeding technician with an international animal genetics company. But after 10 years of living and working away, he was ready to return home to the family farm full time.
“My job had given me an insight into many different farm businesses, all with very different ways of management and operating.
“ I was keen to find out whether there could be more efficient, profitable and less labour-intensive ways of dairy farming.
“I’d already persuaded my father to shift away from his traditional 110 plus Holstein herd which he had previously run on an all-year calving block, because I was sure that a more robust breed would suit our farming system better, with less reliance on manpower.
“I was convinced that a herd of good cross breed cows would bring a number of benefits, offering improved fertility ratios, better foot health which would reduce lameness issues and importantly, we could achieve higher fat protein in the milk, which I knew would appeal to our buyer, Arla.”
With the new herd already giving very positive results, and with his dad onside, Jonathan felt he was making good progress and making sound business decisions.
“I knew I’d made a good start, but I still lacked a clear vision of what further changes we could make to maximise every resource available at the farm.”
In 2019, he contacted Farming Connect, applied for the Advisory Service and was soon working closely with Neil Blackburn, an experienced farm adviser with Kite Consulting, one of the programme’s approved business consultancy firms.
“Neil’s expertise and support has been critical to the changes we’re now planning for the next period of growth and development.
“We walked every inch of the farm together, quickly building up a strong working relationship, and with Neil’s expertise and guidance, I’ve now got the confidence to continue this journey, and put in place the additional changes he set out in our new five-year business plan.
“Neil advised us to continue with the cross breeds but to also implement a new autumn block calving system and a new rotational grazing strategy,” said Jonathan.
This means that the cows can be moved outside in early spring, rather than keeping them indoors, which quickly resulted in a significant reduction in both feed costs, labour and machinery costs.
“The new system meant we could increase the herd size up to 270 head, and in turn this allowed us to make better use of the farm’s existing infrastructure while also maximising the output of our grazing platform,” said Jonathan.
Armed with Neil’s financial modelling and by benchmarking with other successful dairy units, it was clear that the cross-breed milk yield compared favourably against high-performing Holstein herds. What was not working out so well was retaining all the beef cattle. Neil advised Jonathan to stop rearing beef which then freed up cash, buildings, land and time and instead focus on increasing cow numbers.
Each Holstein cow used to produce around 10,000 litres of milk per annum at around 4.0% butter fat and 3.3% protein but there was a high replacement rate and high feed costs to achieve the yield, whereas the cross breeds can produce up to 8,500 litres per annum, at around 4.2% butter fat and 3.5% protein.
The more robust cow clearly suits the Hanmer Mill Farm system and the improved milk content has gone down well with Arla. Having implemented the recommended changes, the numbers of cross breed herd of Holstein x Norwegian Red x Fleckvieh or Montbeliard, originally bought in from Holland but now home bred, currently stands at 270 head of cows.
Neil also advised Jonathan to change his forage system which had previously been based largely on grass silage, with around 20 acres of maize grown, and a further 70 acres of whole crop and fodder beet bought in. By increasing the maize acreage to 127 acres, and reducing the acreage of wholecrop for the late summer window only, this has resulted in a more cost effective feeding regime while also increasing milk yield/solids.
Neil also advised Jonathan to join a local buying group, which meant he could buy in concentrates at more competitive rates.
“By purchasing the cake at a lower cost and by sourcing straights and blends more competitively, I’ve been able to save 2 pence per litre on purchased feeds in a 12 month period, which equates to a saving of around £34,000 per annum,” said Jonathan.
The change of approach means that the farm now produces 3,800 litres of milk from forage, up from the 3,200 litres produced before the new grazing strategy and feeding regimes took effect. It is now on target to be hitting 10,000 litres of milk per cow per annum by this time next year.
Jonathan is the first to say that Neil’s advice has transformed both the efficiency and profitability of the farm.
“The business plan gave us clear goals to work towards, we know where we stand, and where we need to be in five years’ time.
“This is still work in progress but thanks to the business plan we were able to obtain through the Farming Connect Advisory Service and Neil’s ongoing support, we are in a much stronger position to face the future with optimism.