In the hills of the Cheshire/Derbyshire fringe of the peak district, Paul Dean operates Deans Farms LTD, a family managed farming business that is tailoring its breeding strategies to the farm land that makes it up. The business runs 550 cows across three farms; Midgley & Hammerton farms at Wincle and Sutton based Symondley Farm. Two of the farms – Symondley & Hammerton – are managed as All-Year-Round Calving herds, whilst Midgley is a Spring Block Calving Herd.
Home to around 200 cows milked on a Once a day system Midgley farm has been breeding a smaller framed animal Since 2000, an animal that efficiently converts grass to milk with high solids as you can see from their current average of 3,500kgs per cow at an amazing 9% of combined solids.
Friesian type genetics (British and Irish) have been used with the aim being to produce a cow not exceeding 550kgs in weight. ‘This sort of cow is well suited to the farm’, begins Paul, ‘as the cows must walk sometimes up to a mile on rough terrain to get to the parlour. They also seem to far better than our Jersey Cross animals especially in the colder weather like “The Beast from the East” of 2018.
Calving commences mid-March and cows will go out to grass usually within 24 hours of calving, onto a 60-day grass rotation, when this is reduced to about 24 days by May. The aim is to graze until November, milking them through to January when they are dried off.
“In 2019, we made the decision to integrate a Sexcel® & Beef InFocus™ strategy into our herd. This was mainly due to a need to reduce male dairy calves on the farm as an Arla producer. But also this gave us the ability to generate heifers from the most elite females within our herd and Beef InFocus bulls from Genus ABS gave us a high-value beef calf crop from the remainder.
At Midgley farm, we started in 2019 with 170 Sexcel® straws across four British Friesian sires, during the first cycle only. The following year, we grow in confidence using 310 straws of Sexcel over a 5-week period, into the second cycle. We also used 210 straws of Beef InFocus™ sires across two breeds; Angus & British Blue. Overall, we are very pleased with the quality of our replacement females and cannot wait to see them milking. 2019 was initially a nervous time the investment in Sexcel® genetics was different for us, but the 2019 results gave us a lot of confidence and the following 2020 breeding season we served more of our heifers to Sexcel® on the synchronised programme and achieved a 65-70% conception rate, which we were delighted with.
Additionally, due to good fertility, our calving period has tightened, and we now have more calves within the first 3 weeks. When it comes to Beef we incorporate Beef InFocus™ Angus sires into our breeding programme on day one of breeding. Calving ease is paramount for us and short gestation sires help to keep the block tight. Traditionally, we would have had many Friesian bull calves to find a home for, now we can easily find buyers for the few bull calves and all the Angus calves that are born” Paul adds.
“Looking at our new strategy, when you work through the figures and are getting the results that we are, It stacks up the same as before if not better in terms of profitability. But we are also being more efficient and responsible with our practices.
There are around 350 cows between Symondley and Hammerton Farms. The frame size of these cows is slightly bigger, averaging around 600kgs in weight. Replacements are fuelled by our Sexcel® and beef programme at Midgley farm usually with older cows moving from Midgley to these all-year-round calving systems. At Hammerton Farm, we have swapped out the British blue use for purely Beef InFocus Angus sires to supply into a dedicated supply chain, to add value to our business.”