Saturday, October 20, 2018

Dairy family optimistic for brighter future

September 12, 2016 by  
Filed under Profiles


As the dairy downturn shows signs of ending, the award-winning Miller family in Worcestershire are looking to the future. 

An award-winning dairy farming family is looking forward to a brighter future as global milk markets continue to show signs of recovery.

The Miller family are celebrating 20 years of dairying in Worcestershire, having relocated to the county from Somerset in 1996. But it has been a challenging four years since their Shanael herd won the NMR/RABDF Gold Cup in autumn 2012.

“Dairying has been through a tough time in recent years – and we are not through it yet,” says Paul Miller, who

runs a 400ha (1000 acre) tenanted unit with brother Steven and parents Mike and Shan at Greville Hall Farm, Hinton on the Green, Evesham.

The family were milking just 46 cows when they arrived at the farm two decades ago. Today, they are milking 420 cows. Mike oversees farm management, with Shan responsible for the calves and accounts. Steve and Paul take on cropping and cows respectively.

In terms of land, the family grow 160ha of winter wheat, 140ha of maize and 104ha of grass. With wheat prices under pressure as well as milk prices, the goal is to increase efficiencies by maintaining output while reducing costs as much as possible.

That is easier said than done, says Paul. “It is all about survival at the moment,” he explains. “We are optimistic about the future – otherwise we wouldn’t still be in farming. But you can only drive efficiency so far before output starts to tail off.”

Even so, milk output stands at a respectable 12,300 litres sold per cow, with milking taking place three times a day. And while the farm will receive 19.5p per litre (ppl) for milk during September when cost of production is 26.5ppl, Paul believes the future is more promising.

Turned the corner

“All the signs are that dairying has turned the corner,” he says. “Globally, milk production is tightening and supplies are down. The spot price has improved and the world market is gradually starting to come back in our favour.”

Efforts continue to cut costs and reduce the breakeven point – without reducing milk output for no reason. Milking is currently carried out by three Polish herdsmen. And in less than four years, the calving interval has been reduced from 410 days to 390 days.

“We are continuing to improve herd fertility by paying close attention to heat detection and cow management,” says Paul. “Any animals that aren’t doing the business go down the road to be culled,” he adds.

“Having a carefully considered breeding programme has paid dividends and ensures that the business remains on a strong footing. We are looking to achieve a pregnancy rate of 23-24 – currently we are running at 10.”

Nutrition is also important. High yielders receive a daily dry matter intake of 26.3kg. It has been specially prepared by Kite Consulting and designed to provide maintenance plus 45 litres for high yielding cows.

The Total Mixed Ration with which this is achieved includes 16.5kg maize silage and 16.5kg of grass silage, with 6kg caustic wheat, 2.2kg rolled wheat, 0.7kg Economol, 0.25kg palm fat, 0.25kg milking mineral, 0.8kg hay, 3.8kg rapeseed oil, 0.12kg feed grade urea and 0.15kg Megalac.

Quality feeders

“We have paid a lot of attention to getting the feed right – using good quality feeders while looking  in detail at all the ingredients to reduce our costs,” says Paul. “That philosophy extends right across the business – not just dairying.”

Attention to detail and cow welfare has also helped to reduce vet bills. Mastitis rates are running at 10 cases per 100 cows and the herd has a high health status, helping by a policy of only purchasing BVD and IBR vaccinated stock from Johne’s free pedigree herds.

Strict protocols are followed in terms of herd health on the farm, with stock vaccinated for IBR, BVD and leptospirosis. Although not necessarily low cost, it is a policy which pays dividends in terms of healthy animals.

The farm’s breeding policy focuses first on type – as well as production, health and fertility. High demand for pedigree Shanael stock includes the sale of embryos and some 25 bulls from the herd’s top finishers every year.

“The most important thing for us is milk production and efficiency,” says Paul. “But pedigree sales are an important income too – and bring an extra dimension to what we do. It means everyone is interested in the cows too.”

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