By Debbie James

Asking a breeder of Holsteins and Jerseys which he prefers is similar to suggesting he names his favourite child.

But Hefin Wilson, whose name is synonymous with one of Wales’ most famous black and white cows, is immediately forthcoming.

“It would be a Holstein, every time,’’ he admits.

But, to add balance, he continues: “I’d be happy to milk any cow, as long as she was a good one. If she is good we don’t mind what breed she is.

Hefin milks a herd of 88 Holsteins and Jerseys at 180-acre Tregibby Farm, Cardigan, where he also carries 100 youngstock, including 15 young bulls.

The herd is predominately Holstein because, as Hefin points out, the breed is well suited to the high input high output system at Tregibby.

But the Jersey, introduced 25 years ago, has an increasingly important role to play, not least because Hefin sells his milk to Glanbia on a cheese contract.

“With milk contracts focussing more on milk quality there has been a lot of interest in the Jersey in the last two or three years,’’ he says.

The Holstein herd was established by Hefin’s grandfather, Evan. His father, Jimmy, then had responsibility for the herd before Hefin and his wife, Ffion, took over the business in 2000. Their eldest son, 21-year-old Ifan, now works with them on the farm.

Despite the passing of the generations the desired traits have not changed – a functional cow with plenty of strength.

“The most important features are feet, legs and the mammary system,’’ says Hefin. “We are looking for average size, not a big cow, because these cows have to spend a good deal of time on concrete.’’

The first Jersey in the herd was sourced from the Freeland herd and breeding has since been aimed towards producing a Canadian-type animal.

“Again, we aim for a functional type, we don’t want short and dumpy Jerseys because of the system that we have. We have got to have a cow that suits our system,’’ says Hefin.

The Holsteins are producing a milk yield average per cow of 11,000 litres at 4.2 per cent butterfat and 3.25 per cent protein – the butterfat level lifted by fodder beet in the total mixed ration (TMR).

“We are on a cheese contract so components are important,’’ says Hefin.

The Jerseys produce an average of 8,000 litres at 5.5 per cent butterfat and 3.75 per cent protein.

Herd performance relies on high quality silage in the ration – Hefin likes silage with a high dry matter (DM) content. This year’s first cut analysed at 32 per cent DM, 11.1ME and 16 per cent protein.

“The cows make better use of silage when it is dry, wet silage is more acidic,’’ says Hefin.

He can achieve that level of DM because of the farm’s close proximity to the coast, he explains.

Cows are buffer fed in the summer due to the challenges of controlling feeding when cows are at grass. That ration includes silage and 4kg blend; in the winter wholecrop and fodder beet are added to the mix.

Cows are fed to yield in the parlour, up to a maximum of 8kg.

The herd, which has a calving index of 410, is milked in an 8/16 swingover parlour, which may be 50 years old but is still doing the job, says Hefin.

While milk production underpins the business, selling breeding stock is an important source of income.

For the Wilsons, their shop window is the show ring and over the years they have certainly made their mark, notably with Dalesend Storm Maud, a Holstein who won the dairy interbreed at the Royal Welsh Show four times.

“She was the cow who put us on the map,’’ says Hefin.

She is no longer in the herd but her image is immortalised in a large canvas print in the kitchen at Tregibby farmhouse, and in the silverware spilling from nearly every surface.

But there are new stars coming through. “Our next star is Tregibby Atwood Geraldine,’’ says Hefin.

The Wilson team – which also includes Hefin and Ffion’s three other children, Gwenllian, Heulwen and Celyn – always take a number of animals to exhibit at shows.

Hefin says he is often asked why, given the huge amount of work that involves.

“When you stand behind your animals at the show, knowing that they are all yours, you tell me which one I could have left behind.’’