The Brinsbury Herd of Dairy Shorthorns was founded in 2002 following the merger between Brinsbury the ‘West Sussex College of Agriculture’ with Chichester College. It was immediately obvious that there was very little student experience in suckler cows and the decision was made to purchase some dairy cows. The herd was formed with the purchase of 40 Dairy shorthorns from two herds. A further 20 Ayrshire cows were added in 2008 to take the numbers up to a more commercial number.
By 2011 when I took over the running of the farm, we had around 80 milking cows on a high input system with 50% maize and 1.5 tonnes of concentrates and lots of time spent indoors. Yields averaged under 5000litres and the viability of the farm was questioned. We decided to cross the cows with red Holstein to increase yields and used April Day Wisconsin on many of the heavier type 100% cows. He has left us with some tremendous heifers which have developed into beautiful mature cows, which have boosted yields. Alongside blending the cows we have taken out the maize silage, got the cows out onto a paddock rotation and reduced in parlour feeding. We now have a very simple system, calving in two blocks, autumn and spring. The cows are out from mid-March until November feeding on self-feed silage and parlour cake. We will continue to try and extend our grazing even further, but we need to continue to improve our track systems. All youngstock and dry cows are out wintered on strip grazing and baled silage.
We are currently milking 120 cows, (160 by end of March), and have just hit 5973 litres per cow, (we should go over 6000 next month), 3878 litres are from forage and we feed 1.1 tonnes of cake per cow. I am extremely happy with the progress the cows have made and they are driving forward the profitability of the farm allowing us to invest in improvements to the milking, silage and housing facilities.
Because of the progress the cows have made, we do not wish to breed away from the Dairy Shorthorn. On to our 50% younger animals we have extensively used Drisgol Watzon and Madonnas Prince, leading to a batch of great bulling heifers who we have synchronised to be served on the 1st of November. Those heifers will be going to Nejay Ernie on a double timed insemination. We will use sexed semen to cover any returns. The autumn cows will be put to Nejay Ernie, Rodway Rueben and Rodway Prince. Any of the older 100% cows and any cows not in calf by 3rd service will go to high fertility Danish Red, to harness lifetime traits and constituents. We may also use more Strickely Maximus who has thrown some beautiful calves this year.
As well as producing a sustainable business our cows are integral to the teaching of all the courses. Students do three weeks of duties over the college year where they do the morning milking, feed the calves and do stock checks, then attend lessons. Cows and calves are all used for teaching. They are monitored for health and weight, used for haltering, movements and everything else involved with cattle. Students move electric fences, learn how to plough, as well as all the work involved in grassland cultivations. We also have a handful of Sussex sucklers, some weaner pigs and 350 high EBV Llyen ewes.
We teach a very broad range of students. About 100 students study agriculture every week on levels 1 to 3 – level 3 is the same as the old ND in agriculture. We have two groups of school links students and a group of Key Stage 4 students who access the farm as part of specialist programmes, to help them remain in education when conventional education has failed them.
Alongside the regular students, any group from across our college can come down to the farm and use the animals to complement their teaching. Our Foundation Students access the farm a lot.
This year we have also begun to work with the new vet school at Surrey University. We are delivering the dairy cattle handling module, where the new vet students do two sessions on the farm: one on haltering and restraining cattle and a second where they do an afternoon milking. I am currently working to get our milk records and veterinary records available online so that they can be accessed by our students and the vet school.
We are exceptionally proud to have our herd of Dairy Shorthorns and we hope to continue to improve them over the coming years. We are especially focused on pursuing a simple efficient system of milk from grass. However we have also enjoyed beginning to classify and show our cows. One of the most impressive things we have experienced is the friendship and support from other breeders. Graham and Shirley Madeley have been exceptionally helpful in helping us select bulls. Wendy Young was wonderful at the recent All Breed All Britain Calf show, but generally every interaction we’ve had with Shorthorn breeders is excellent. The encouragement and help they have given me, and more importantly our students, is a credit to the breed because encouraging more young people into Agriculture is what we are all about.