Four NMR RABDF Gold Cup 2023 Finalists Announced - #1 Bisterne Farms
Four UK dairy businesses have been named as finalists in the 2023 NMR RABDF Gold Cup. Each business is profiled on the NMR website. We look forward to celebrating with the finalists at the national dairy event, Dairy-Tech, on February 7, 2024, when the winner will be announced.
Finalist #1 - Bisterne Farms, Sandford, Ringwood, Hampshire
A collaborative approach built on mutual respect and integrity has been the foundation for a new Contract Farming Agreement (CFA) on the Bisterne Estate in Hampshire. And good progress has helped this dairy farm business make it through to the final of the 2023 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup competition.
In 2019, when estate owner Hallam Mills was reviewing the direction of his dairy enterprise, it was decided that a CFA would best facilitate the business’s next chapter.
With George Brown brought on board as his contract farming partner, they have reshaped their dairy enterprise, investing in infrastructure to make the dairy resilient for the next 20 years.
Their desire to return a profit from dairy using a holistic approach that works the cows and the environment in harmony is just one of the reasons why they are shortlisted for the 2023 Gold Cup competition.
The contract partnership means the estate owner provides the land, buildings, houses, and fixed infrastructure for a first charge fee and George provides machinery, power and labour to the enterprise.
Ownership of the herd at Bisterne Farm is shared by both parties, with a 10% return on capital (ROC) paid on all capital the farm owner and contractor have employed in the business.
Now milking 600 predominately crossbred cows within the 1,500-ha estate near Ringwood, the focus is on producing milk from grazed grass. Their target is to reach 4,000 litres from forage, and they are currently achieving 3,730 litres.
Cows yield 550kg of milk solids per cow per lactation, with attention now turning to the genetic and management gains that will enable them to hit 600kg without compromising herd fertility.
They mostly use New Zealand Friesian sires, with some use of Irish and Kiwi cross bulls. Bulls are selected for:
- Moderate stature
- Well attached udders
- Good milk solids, targeting 5% fat and 4% protein
- Good fertility
- Excellent management traits.
Three-quarters of the dairy semen they purchase is sexed, with British Blue and Aberdeen Angus straws used on lower production and Johne’s infected cows, with beef calves sold off the farm at 10 days old.
Work is still ongoing to improve the genetic potential of the herd. George explains: “There is so much we can do, but we find that really exciting as we can see the clear link between reducing our carbon footprint, becoming more efficient and increasing profitability.”
Grassland management is key to helping cows express their genetic ability and make the most of forage. They are incorporating more clover and herbs into their swards to reduce nitrogen inputs, making use of the support available under HLS and the SFI.
Cows graze across a 190ha grazing platform from 4 February to 21 December, with an additional 319ha of silage and youngstock ground, which includes historic parkland and river meadows, of which 190ha is managed primarily for conservation.
The herd was originally predominately spring calving and out-wintered on fodder beet. However, with the farm being on free-draining soils, they have struggled for grass in the summer and have resorted to feeding silage, so they have now transitioned 500 spring-calving cows to a 350/250 autumn/spring split.
George adds: “The plus side of transitioning this way was that it maintained our closed herd status. However, extending the calving interval on this number of animals reduced our efficiency during the transition. We don’t have the infrastructure to house the entire herd, which is why we are still split calving.”
Autumn calving cows are wintered in a 365-cow cubicle shed, feeding on a self-feed system utilising home-grown grass and maize silage. They have recently moved to soya-free diets to enable them to reduce their carbon footprint further, which currently stands at 1.09kg CO2E per kg FPCM, excluding sequestration. They have also reduced crude protein percentages in winter diets.
Managing the cow's health status is a vital part of the herd's efficiency, with the farm focussing on prevention rather than cure.
During winter months, cows are milked out of cubicles and bedded three times a week using sawdust mixed with hydrated lime. Post-milking, the teats are sprayed with an iodine-based teat dip.
Cows showing signs of clinical mastitis are isolated into a smaller group where they are milked separately at the end of milking.
The team at Bisterne Farm is hot on mastitis, with any mild cases treated with antibiotic tubes and an anti-inflammatory/pain relief injection. An injectable antibiotic is used for more severe cases, and where appropriate, additional hydration is provided. Once clear of their withdrawal period, cows are tested using the California Milk Test (CMT) before returning to the main herd. Their current case level is 22.6 for every 100 cows a year, and antibiotic usage is at just 7.13 mg/pcu.
The fine attention to detail is only possible thanks to the strong, ambitious team supporting George, with five full-time staff members and three students working on the farm. Seven of the eight workers are from non-farming backgrounds, with the team committed to training the next generation of farmers while showcasing what can be achieved in careers in agriculture.
George adds: “Our young, ambitious team steers our dairy to profitability. We strive to be an example of a modern dairy business that can face the challenges we may see in the future. Our aim is to do the basics well.
“We want to continue to be an employer of choice and maintain the stream of talent coming through our business. We will continue to host consumer-facing events such as university visits, Young Farmers Clubs, and Ex-Offender Charities, and we will build on our successful Open Farm Sunday events, having averaged 3,000 visitors over the past two years,” he says.
- Strong grazing principles
- Focus on breeding robust cows
- Drive to reduce carbon footprint and improve efficiency and profitably
- Excellent staff management and encouraging new entrants into the industry
- Hot on maximising cow health and preventing health issues
Farm Facts Bisterne Farm
- Milking 600 mostly crossbred cows
- Average yield: 6,282L at 5.06 % butterfat and 3.84% protein
- Spring and autumn calving. Grazed outside from February-December
- Somatic cell count: 162 cells/ml
- Herd health: Mastitis rate 22.6%
- 1,500 ha, 509 ha allocated to dairy
- Supplies Arla