New dairy entrants should adopt a ‘big bang’ approach, according to Richard Snell, a dairy consultant from New Zealand.

Speaking at a farm walk on the farm of Ed Dale, who has established a 450-cow dairy farm on rented land in Cheshire.

He praised the Dales for their “big bang” approach when taking on this new farm.

“It’s crucial to hit maximum production as quickly as possible, so invest heavily upfront.”

He said that this approach is especially important on a rented farm, as the time span for return on investment may be more limited than a purchased farm.

“Investment in a new 24/48 swing over Waikato parlour, 6km of cow tracks using concrete railway sleepers, a 60X32m self-feed silage clamp and 60ha of reseeding was carried out during the first few months of the lease.”

Converting Grass to Cash

Ed Dale said key to his system was to keep it as simple as possible and focus on making best use of assets and the farm’s ability to grow cheap feed – grass.

Ed has been renting the farm for less than two years and he runs a split herd of 350 autumn calving cows and 100 spring calvers. They are milked off a grazing platform of 177ha. The cows are currently producing 10,000 litres/day to a Tesco liquid milk contract.

The Dales currently milk over 2,000 cows on six farms.

Grassland Management

Houlston Manor is a very wet farm based on heavy yellow clay soils. On-off grazing in the shoulders and early housing in mid-October ensures that paddocks are not overly damaged.

Cows are out full time since April 8, which coincides with the farm’s ‘magic day’. Many of the paddocks were subsoiled and sward lifted last autumn and the benefits can be seen this spring with improved grass growth and drier paddocks, Ed said.

Last year a different approach was used when reseeding some paddocks. Seed was direct drilled after a silage cut. No pre or post spray was used. The old grass sward was topped regularly as the new seedlings emerged and establishment has been successful.

The benefit of the heavy farm is that grass growth always remains strong even in dry weather. A few paddocks are being taken out for silage to try and speed up the rotation to 25 days.

Winter Feeding
Winter feeding raised many questions from the crowd as the 350 autumn calvers are ‘self-fed’ off the silage clamps. The clamp is filled with first cut silage, maize silage and brewers grains.

A strip wire is placed in front of the feedface and the cows simply ‘strip graze’ the silage clamp.

It takes about four minutes for one man to feed 350 cows and you only need to move the wire daily, explained farm manager Neil Simcock.

The cows are allowed ad lib access to the clamp from the nearby cubicle sheds. Although the cows take a few weeks to train onto the ‘self feed’, the benefits are clear to see with Houlston Manor performing the best in milk and breeding results across all the Dale farms.

Only 11% of cows were empty after 11 weeks breeding.

“We’ve never seen the cows happier,” claimed the farm team. The only machinery on farm is a small tractor, yard scraper and an 100hp John Deere tractor and straw shredder.

Michael Cox, from Rathowen, Co. Westmeath, is a student of animal science at UCD. He won an ASA scholarships, sponsored by AIB, to help him undertake the work experience element of his course overseas, including the UK.