Martin Wheelton manages two Spring Block calving herds in Gawsworth, Cheshire. Mill End Farm is home to 550 cows averaging 7,000kgs per cow and Heaton Hall Farm home to 220 cows averaging 5,970kgs per cow. Both are recording about 4.6% fat and 3.6% protein.
Decades ago, the herds were All-Year-Round calving until Martin made the decision to switch operations in 2005. “The AYR system worked well, but we thought we could utilise the farm better if we changed systems. At the beginning of the journey, we began crossbreeding with Jersey’s with the aim of improving the fertility of the herd. However, in 2018-19 we realise the huge improvement in fertility had come at a slight cost to production, with that we looked at our options to slightly increase herd productivity without scarifying fertility. This alongside industry movements such as the Arla UK 360 Programme meant that we needed to reduce the number of Dairy bull calves born on our farms” reports Martin Wheelton.
“In 2019, we went from using only conventional to incorporating both Sexcel®and Beef InFocus™ sires into our programme. We initially used Sexcel® straws of two Sexcel Friesians and also straws of British Blue Beef InFocus™ sires. We are believers that beef sires should be incorporated from Day one in the breeding season with around 20-25% of our herd going straight these sires. We were pleased with the conception rates we had received so in 2020, we almost doubled out volumes of Sexcel® and Beef InFocus™ British Blue and reduced conventional sire usage again.
When selecting Friesian sires, Milk quality as well as volume to a lower extent, Fertility and Calving Ease are the most important traits that we look at. We have selected Meadhill Andy and Curra Lightening as our Sexcel® sires for the past two breeding seasons as these meet our criteria.
Sexcel®usage is planned well, the heifers are inseminated with Sexcel®as part of a synchronisation programme and when it comes to use in cows, we select our Sexcel® breedings based on their previous fertility performance within the herd, alongside their production records and whether or not we consider them a worthy dam of a replacement. As a result of this planning 85% of females in the 2020 breeding season were in calf by 8 weeks which we have been pleased with. Our goal is to generate enough females from Mill End Farm to populate both there and Heaton House Farm.
We have used two British Blue Beef InFocus sires; Rostrevor Gaberal & Moorsley Logic for the past two breeding seasons. We sell these calves between 3-4 weeks to a private buyer. We have received fantastic feedback from them that they grow and perform well during rearing and finishing, so we keep calf quality in our minds when selecting the bulls to use. We also get great advice from our Genus ABS breeding advisor and the team on which Beef InFocus™ sires are working well in similar systems to ours. It’s helpful that we are able to gain a cash crop for these calves, rather than them costing the business money.”