By Debbie James

One of Wales’s early adopters of grass-based spring milk production has switched to an autumn block calving system to secure the future of the next generation.

Nigel and Sue Evans had been producing milk from a 300-cow herd of Friesian x Jerseys at Spittal Cross Farm, Spittal, but when their son Steve joined the business and they had an opportunity to rent more land they reviewed their operation.

“As part of our succession planning, we took a long hard look at what we were doing four years ago and decided we had to become more efficient and expand the operation to be able to support our son Steve and his family,” Nigel explains.

“Having modelled a variety of farming systems for the land available to us, it became clear that developing a larger, autumn block calving herd was the best option.”

They designed the new unit, secured planning permission, erected new housing and installed a new rotary parlour.

They are now milking 550 cows on an autumn calving system, progressively converting to a three-way cross milking cow with a mature bodyweight of 600-650kg capable of producing 8,000 litres a year at 8.5 per cent solids.

Milk is produced from a forage-based diet supplemented with two tonnes of concentrates.

“We started the breed conversion by crossing the spring calving cows with Holsteins, but also bought in 200 heifers from Holland to add Fleckveigh, Norwegian Red and Montbeliarde genetics,’’ says Nigel.

The business also uses sexed semen.

Last year the family calved 160 heifers over an eight to nine-week period in August and September.

“It’s gone really well. The calved heifers have integrated well into the milking herd and we’ve had a tremendous group of heifer calves, which are achieving fantastic growth rates,” says Nigel.

He oversees the calf rearing with Sue while Steve focuses on the milking herd.

The family has drawn on the advice of Wynnstay Calf and Youngstock specialist, Sandy Wilson, who produced a bespoke calf feeding plan specific to the farm’s needs.

Calves are reared on Wynngold Stellar whey-based calf formula, fed through four Heatwave Milk Warmers, which use heat exchange technology to heat the reconstituted milk on demand.

Each machine can feed between 30-50 calves.

The calves are group housed in pens where they are fed ad lib warm milk for the first six weeks, at a mix rate of 12.5 per cent DM, consuming approximately 10 litres and then gradually weaned by 8-9 weeks of age.

They are then reared indoors on dry, ad lib haylage (10.5ME) and consume approximately 3kg of AdVance Start n Wean.

Once calves are 12 weeks of age, they are then transitioned onto Wynnstay’s Rearer 18 nuts.

Heifer calves were weighed throughout the milk feeding phase to ensure they were on target.

“As a rule of thumb, we use a figure of 0.8kg daily liveweight gain (dlwg) for Holsteins, so we used this figure as a benchmark,’’ Sandy explains.

The heifers at Spittal Cross Farm achieved a dlwg average of 0.89kg.

“I’m delighted with the growth rates we are achieving,” says Nigel.