The Llewellyn family farm an all grass based system near Llawhaden Castle, Narberth, West Wales where they milk a herd of around eighty cows, predominantly Dairy Shorthorns. Growing up on her parent’s Holstein Friesian farm Julie Llewellyn’s passion for dairy cattle was instilled at an early age and she began milking cows when she was 12 years old.
After having a spell milking Ayrshire cows the family started their own Ashgrove herd in 1990, but due to ill health Julie had to sell the milkers until a year later when she was able to buy milking cows again.
Shorthorns were not Julie’s first choice as she wanted to stick with the black and whites and she was admittedly a little hesitant when considering the breed. “I was nervous as I knew nothing about the breed but I was also desperate for milking cows and being organic at the time meant I was limited as to where I could restock from. But after browsing through the OMSCo milk registry I stumbled across Graham Madeley’s Rodway Dairy Shorthorns. So in May 2006 I packed my bag and went cow shopping for a week!” Julie proceeded with caution and bought seven Shorthorns to try at first along with numerous Friesians and Jersey crosses. Another eleven Shorthorns followed two months later from the same source. In fact the journey to Shropshire became Julie’s annual pilgrimage with her friend Judith and a further twenty-five cows followed over the next two years Obviously pleasantly surprised by the economical benefits of the Shorthorn, Julie was inspired into a breed conversion. “The Shorthorn is so easy to handle with a great temperament, this is the number one desirable trait for me, I like a cow that I can work with. Not to mention their fantastic legs and feet, which are essential on our farm tracks. And of all the breeds, Shorthorns have great health traits and an unbeatable power of recovery.”
Julie strives for a simple hassle free lifestyle when it comes to her farm management. Running a straightforward system to achieve the maximum output. This is successful on one hand because of her careful calf rearing “you get a calf right from the minute she is born and that animal can start contributing back to the bottom line faster.” Julie trims all the cows’ feet as she dries them off as well as worming and fluking. Then three weeks before calving the cows are housed in a purpose built shed that has dramatically eased a cow’s transition from her dry period back into the milking herd. “We calve on sand, which is scraped out and replaced after every cow and this has eliminated cases of cows calving down with mastitis and prevented calves having infected navels.” The calf is then removed after that all-important first suckle and a week later the cow will leave the transition group and enters the herd.
Calves are fed on whole milk from the three cows with the lowest Johnes readings; the herd is tested every three months. “The biggest problem with calf rearing is the inconsistency, feeding whole milk means the quantity and quality of the feed is always the same, the calves seldom suffer from scour and never lose the bloom from swapping over to powder.” Julie keeps the calves in small groups that enable her to identify a sick calf quickly but also reduces any spread of airborne diseases through large batches. “Observation, observation, observation is critical in calf rearing, noticing sickness early on is important and can save many problems in the long run. Spotting a calf with drooping ears means I need to act quickly. ” A recent investment has been the addition of the Cosy Calf jackets for the young calves when the temperature drops below twelve degrees. As the calves used to huddle around the lamps in the cold weather, these jackets have been a vast improvement to calf comfort as well as increasing the growth rate of the calves as they use less energy keeping warm.
Believing firmly that careful youngstock rearing is a key role in laying the foundations for a more successful herd output is paramount at Ashgrove. In fact a new shed is near completion for reared heifers, which optimizes airflow through a specially designed ventilated light ridge, this lets the stale air out without letting moisture in. “Hopefully vaccinations for pneumonia will be a thing of the past.” Heifers calve down into the herd at approximately twenty-four months of age, for this to happen the first six months are vital and I am sure this shed will help towards Julie’s target growth rates. When out at grass the maiden heifers are fed 2kg of concentrates a day to continue this growth but “the heifers must be fit not fat” to promote rumen growth and achieve a greater lifetime yield not to encourage low energy fat cattle.
All cattle are now being served to Shorthorns bulls, “I used to use beef but find they pull the cows down too much and with the low replacement rate of the Shorthorn breed I sincerely enjoy having the surplus heifers to sell.” Although natural service is mostly used Churchroyd General Jack, Hooton Fair Reflection, Drisgol Madonna’s Prince, Cotonhall Colby, Nejay Prince 4th Lisnamulligan Fairway and Rodway Prince to name but a few have been sampled. The current bull on the farm is Strickley Wiggo housed near the collecting yard “I only have to watch the bull to know which cows need serving!” And hot on Wiggo’s heels is Strickley Empire. Having a stock bull is perhaps one reason for Ashgrove’s good fertility performance. Another contributing factor is that four days post calving all cows are checked inside by Julie to make sure there is no withheld placenta, if this is unfortunately the case a bag of sugar is the remedy; a tip Julie learnt from a Lithuanian vet. By inserting a whole bag of preserving sugar into the womb the bacteria is starved of fluid and this has completely eradicated any signs of metritis in the herd and has vastly reduced the antibiotic use and vet bills. Vet bills are also cut as NMR now carries out all pregnancy tests through milk sampling.
The herd is run on a grazing system for as many months as possible, turn out this year was the first week in March, and hopefully the cows will stay out days until November. Paddock grazing is practised and pre mowing is currently being tested with the intentions of downsizing certain fields further into more manageable paddocks with extra water toughs and more tracks. Due to the distance the cows have to walk to graze they are kept in the sand filled cubicles at night when the day light hours are shorter. “It is a long way to the field and back just for the cows to lie down.” The cubicles are definitely kept in good order with sand being topped up weekly; fans to keep the air fresh and a recently installed cow brush which is very popular “a comfortable cow is a happy cow, and happy cows perform.” Grass silage is fed in round feeders that are under cover and concentrates are only fed through the parlour at the average of 1.75 tonnes per cow, plus Bi Carb, Rock Salt and Mineral licks are always on offer.
Considering Julie started taking an interest in the Shorthorn breed eight years ago she has certainly come on leaps and bounds. The herd has converted quite rapidly from the black and whites; a few excellent Friesians remain but the prominent Shorthorns have clearly been an advantageous choice. The herd now boasts Ashgrove Marie Julie’s first excellent homebred cow. Plus in the 2012 South Wales Shorthorn Herd Competition Julie found herself with a hatful of awards to take home including best pair of heifers, best youngstock and third overall herd. Not to mention Julie’s favourite cow, Ashgrove Red Rose 3rd was the 2012 best calf, nicknamed giraffe for her unusual markings she has produced 7,261 litres in her first lactation and she clearly stood out in the field. Although Julie is not far off an all Shorthorn herd she strives to achieve just, adding on another 500-800litres whilst maintaining her simple but effective system.