British Dairying Gold Cup Comment: Farm open day success

In the first of a series of regular monthly comment articles from Worthy Farm in Somerset, 2014 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup winner Michael Eavis recounts how the farm has attracted the interest of many milk producers—and how a recent farm open day drew large crowds.

I have to kick off by saying what a thrill it was to win the Gold Cup.  It was a huge team effort of years in the making—John and Pam (Taylor) the herd managers, and Steven (Kearle) who takes care of the fields, the crops and every day of the week feeding of all the cows.  We came back from Birmingham just over the moon and even, now—two months later—we’re still headlining the dairy farm news and people are coming to visit the farm in droves!

Last month we had 300 farmers from across the country looking at our breeding and feeding management.  Our festival catering staff are very good at dishing up some quick grub, and when 100 more turned up than was ordered for, they coped very well.

When Alta asked us if we would co-host an Alta Showcase day they said they hoped to attract 30 to 40 farmers.  It gradually increased over the next three weeks to 150 and then Agri Lloyd said they would like to be involved—so it doubled to 300!

Alta selected about 20 daughters of their top genomic bulls and we set about halter training them.  Most of them were quite good and seemed to accept it readily—but as usual a couple wouldn’t adapt and were dropped from the list.  We finished up with 15 animals which I hope gave a good impression of what we and Alta are trying to breed. 

We have genomically tested some of our better cows and they all have high production genes but are not very good on health traits.

I suppose we have always gone for high production, but we have changed now with the arrival of genomics.  We saw it as a great opportunity to breed healthier cows, that are easier to manage, especially as the size of the herd is  increasing all the time.  We are certainly impressed with our genomic daughters and now only use genomic semen on the cows.

Our main aims now are bulls that are high in productive life and have high DPRs (daughter pregnancy rates).

We hope people found the five stations interesting and would like to thank the speakers  Firstly, Alan Timbrell who talked at the performance pen.  I’ve known Alan for years and you’re always guaranteed a laugh or two.  Also Barteck Venbeek from Holland who gave a very interesting talk on geonomics—and the way forward.

Another station was for Alta converts, where four progressive dairy farmers spoke about their experiences with the company.

Steve, our farm manager, also gave a very interesting talk on all things green, like solar panels, digester plans and biosecurity.

The last station was Tony Pratt from Agri-Lloyd, with John our herd manager, who went through the calf rearing policy.

We would also like to challenge Craig Watson, MD of Alta, who was heard to say ”If you get 100 farmers, I will strip on Lancaster Town Hall steps and streak down the High Street.”   We await the evidence and expect some extra cheap semen!!

So it’s a couple of months now since the Glastonbury Festival.  The farm has been spring cleaned and its time for the cows to go out to grass again.  What a delight to see that moment every year.  My wish is that the cows graze at least 100 days per year.

Now the cows are out we have called in Wilson Agriculture to upgrade the cubicle mats with foam rubber and do a general repair of the cows standings, mats and kneelers.

We are getting close to 400 cows now, and numbers are increasing slowly.  At last we seem to have learnt how to manage our heifers better and sexed semen is much more successful.  We currently serve most of the heifers twice with sexed semen before letting the Angus bull sweep up.

Hopefully cow numbers will increase much quicker from now on as we have a younger herd of cows and a lot more heifers around.  We have cubicle spaces for 400 cows of which 50 are kept for dry cows.  We also have loose yard space for about 50 cows including the calving yard.

We are trying to rent another farm with some nice sheds for dry cows and young stock leaving Worthy Farm to keep 450 milking cows in a couple of years time.

We have 200 acres of maize grown for us and we were delighted when the rains came—we’ve probably had two or three inches and the maize has shot up to about 12 feet high.  What a delight to drive through the Somerset Levels to see such a huge abundance of fodder for our cows next winter.  Lets pray for a dry October to bring it home!

The milk price seems to be falling slightly due to world pressures and increased production here at home.  But due to falling grain prices there should be big savings on concentrates to counteract this.  I think the processors are doing their best to maintain prices in order to encourage producers to keep going, or even expand their herds.

Little is known how the elimination of quotas will affect the industry next year.  But I’ve always been of the opinion that with an ever expanding world population we are well placed to supply milk from a climate with such high rainfall and excellent production techniques.

  • Reprinted from the September 2014 edition of British Dairying. To see the original article please visit the British Dairying website