Meet the Forage for Knowledge contributors
AHDB depends on contributor farms from across GB to measure and monitor weekly grass growth rates and grass quality results throughout the grazing season.
The farms are a mixture of spring-block, autumn-block and all-year-round-calving systems, ranging between 60 to 1,000 cows, organic and conventional, all with the goal of achieving a profit from grazing and high-quality forage.
The selected farmers are all excellent examples of good grassland management.
Learn more about Forage for Knowledge contributor farms below:
Glenapp is a 5,500 ha estate south of Ballantrae, South Ayrshire, Scotland, owned by the Inchcape family. They have been rotationally grazing for 11 years on a 550 ha grazing platform, but as cow numbers have fallen this is currently on 427 ha. Infrastructure allows cows to walk to every hectare. The herd is comprised of 900 cows with 25% Jersey genetics and 75% Friesian; 400 R1s plus 420 in-calf R2s. They block calve in spring starting 1 February and finishing 10 April. Milk yield is 5,700 litres from 710kg cake fed in the rotary parlour. Turnout 12 February.
The Gill Farm has been farmed by the Hendersons for 99 years. In 2013, the Hendersons started converting their high-input all-year-round herd to a spring calving block through using crossbreeding. In 2015, they calved as a spring herd for the first time and today they milk 120 Jersey-cross and 100 Holstein cows. The 89-ha grazing platform is grazed from February through to November/December and supports the herd with 1 tonne of concentrate and grass silage as winter fed. They currently have 150 home-reared youngstock. Being on a Yew Tree Dairy manufacturing contract provides the ability to sell milk on a forward contract at a fixed base price.
Gwarllwynis a spring block-calving farm with a herd of 300 crossbred cows, producing around 5,500 litres of milk a year from a target of 1 tonne of concentrates. Gwarllwyn is contract farmed by Anna Bowen. Calving starts on 23 February, and the 165 ha of owned and rented land is all down to grass, with R1s being outwintered. Milk is sold to Glanbia Cheese.
Phil Asbury took on the tenancy of Clive Hall Farm in 1999 and entered into a contract farming agreement with Grasslands Farming in 2007. This spring block calving herd consists of 212 New Zealand crossbred Friesians averaging 5,500 litres, with 3,900– 4,000 litres from forage. The grazing platform is 64ha with 4ha silage grass and cows are kept out till late November. Clive Hall farm doesn’t typically have heavy frosts or snowfalls, so grass overwinters well, but it is very slow growing in spring.
Paul milks 330 cows on an autumn block-calving system at Splattenridden Farm while also growing potatoes for Walkers, cauliflowers and asparagus. The 172-ha farm with 86 ha milking platform is situated on light soil, up to 450 feet above sea level with fantastic views of the north and south Cornish coast. The mild climate is good for grass, but with a high rainfall of 1,200 to 1,300mm, has its challenges at times. Cows are fed self-feed silage with some easy-feed silage in the feed passage. Cows are fully housed 60–100 days/year. Turnout is at the end of January by day, and cows are still grazing by day in mid-November. Calving starts mid-August with 200 calved by end of September. The target is 7,000 litres with 4,000 litres from forage. The current average is 6,000 litres and 3,600 litres from forage, feeding 1.2 t/cow concentrates.
Based in Llannefydd, Conwy, the farm consists of 185 ha grassland, of which 103 ha is grazed from early February through to late November. This Autumn calving herd consists of 375 Friesian Crossbred ‘Easy Care Cows’ average 6,788 litres per cow per year at 4.53% butterfat and 3.60% protein. The herd, which calves onto grass, has an impressive 5 year average of 93% cows calving within the first 8 weeks off the block. All cows graze from early February until late November,with an average stocking density of 3.65 LU/ha across the year. All replacements are home reared.
Based near Tiverton, Mid-Devon, Ditchetts Farm consists of 182 rented hectares of which the grazing platform is 61 hectares. The farm grows grass for grazing and ensiling and kale for outwintering. The herd is currently made up of 240 Friesian x Jersey spring-block calving cows, yielding 4,900 litres of milk per cow per year with 4.61% butterfat and 3.62% protein, milking twice per day and supplying Arla. They graze from February through to October and have 200 head of youngstock, selling surplus breeding stock. Heifers have an average age at first calving of 24 months.
Hampreston Manor Farm was farmed by the Trehane family from 1903 and was once one of the oldest pedigree Holstein herds in the county. Five years ago, the farm saw a massive change, with the whole herd being sold and replaced by 300 Irish Friesian crossbred cows, a new 20/40 swing-over parlour and over 1 km of track laid. Josh now runs a 10-week autumn block-calving herd on self-feed grass and maize silage. The herd grazes from early February and maximising the use of grazed grass is a key aim until early October. The herd is averaging 6,500 litres/cow at 550 kg milk solids.
Joe runs a 650 crossbred spring-calving herd on a 180-ha grazing platform. The herd produces 5,500 litres/cow and 525 kg solids from 550 kg of concentrates. The grazing season generally runs from 1 February until 15 December. This farm in one of five farming enterprises under the Farming Partners brand.
Keith is herd manager at Lydney Park Farm, managing 900 Jersey-cross cows on once-a-day milking on a low-cost, grass-based system. The cows graze a milking platform of 299 ha, with a stocking rate of 3 cows per ha. 530 heifers are outwintered on deferred grazing plus big bale silage until Christmas. In-calf heifers are then housed and 150 far-off dry cows are turned out to release yard space.
The Bisterne Estate near Ringwood on the Hampshire/Dorset border includes dairy, arable and conservation and wildlife land. George Brown started a joint venture with the estate in December 2019 and now owns a third of the cows. The farm consists of 180ha milking platform, 72ha silage leys including red clover, 74ha permanent pasture in paddocks, 193ha low-input river meadows (ideal dry cow tucker), 20ha fodder beet for outwintering and 65ha maize. The herd of 550 Kiwi-cross cows are currently spring calving but moving to an autumn bias to produce winter milk. Cows weigh around 500kg, but George would like to increase this to push output from under 5,000 litres/cow to nearer 6,500 litres, to cover silage inputs.
Castleton Farm on the Arniston Estate near Gorebridge about 12 miles south of Edinburgh is farmed in partnership by Jill Bathgate and her father Andrew, with two full-time staff. The herd encompasses 160 Holstein Friesians plus 20 crossbreds calving AYR, plus 40 heifers; 200 breeding ewes; 90 beef cattle finished/year; plus cereals and beans in rotation with five-year grass leys on 260ha across two units. There is 80ha grass in rotation with arable – the grazing platform is the 36ha around the dairy with 20ha permanent pasture. Altitude is 200m with annual rainfall of 1,004mm. The farm has sandy clay loam soils and relatively undulating topography, historically open cast leading to the occasional sink hole.
Ben milks a 180-cow Jersey x Friesian autumn-calving herd, on 86 ha of grassland in Norfolk in a family partnership. The herd is calved in a 12-week block from 1 September, averaging 7,600 litres sold/cow from 1,792 kg concentrates/cow, with milk from forage at 56%. The herd is rotationally paddock-grazed from mid-February. The target is to maximise milk from forage, and especially from grazed grass. The herd is all loose-housed through the winter and fed on TMR, with around 30 ha of maize grown each year. Wheat grown by the arable unit is caustic-treated and fed along with other bought-in concentrates for the winter TMR. Rolls are fed in the field in summer.
Apie manages Dean Hall Farm, which is owned by Michael Arlington. The herd is split into 200 spring-calving cows and 280 autumn-calving cows, selling milk on a solids-based contract. The 155-ha milking platform, on average, grows 12 tonnes DM/ha/year. Springs calvers graze for 10 months and milk yield per year is 6,500 litres or 510 kg milk solids. The autumn calvers graze for 7 months and produce 7,500 litres/year or 530 kg. When housed, the cows are fed a TMR diet.
David, previous president of the British Grassland Society, milks 400 spring-calving cows on the Welsh Borders, on a low-cost grazing system, with his son James. Operating with a high stocking rate of 4 cows/ha on the milking platform, the emphasis is on grass utilisation, with 14–15 t/ha grass grown. An 89-ha milking platform is supported by an additional 70 ha of grassland and 12 ha of whole crop.
John is managing partner on his family dairy farm near Castle Cary, Somerset. John also spends 120 days off the farm as a dairy consultant for his company, Dairy Decisions. The Bennetts have 250 Holstein Friesians producing 8000 litres, 620 kg M/S, achieving 4000 litres from forage. The herd is autumn/winter calving on a 58 ha grazing platform. Milk is sold to Saputo Dairy UK. All cows are bred to Belgian Blue with most replacements bought as R1’s and reared to calve in the autumn. The total farmed area is 160 hectares; 44 hectares of permanent pasture with the remainder long term leys. Wheat is used as a break crop for reseeding. Sixty beef cattle are reared and sold as 15-18 month old stores.
James Muir and his wife Lucy share New Buildings Farm with Lucy's parents, Steve and Lesley Brandon. The business covers 486ha, four farms and two dairy herds. 400 spring block calvers calving from 8 February for 11 weeks; heifers start 24 January. Production 6,600 litres or 594 kg MS from 850 kg of cake. New Zealand crossbreds weighing 530 kg. 134 calves plus 92 in-calf heifers bred to sexed semen.
Waterside Farm is owned by Robin and Barbara Young with Graeme McMillan milking a 160 autumn-calving herd. The herd is predominantly crossbred, with a target of producing 6,500 litres per annum on 1.5 tonnes of concentrates. The 102-ha farm is all grass, aiming to support grazing for six months with minimal concentrate at grass. Turnout is not possible until late March and cows are housed at calving in October. Thirty-five replacement heifers are reared annually, with the remainder bred to beef. Graeme hopes to expand the herd and grow their asset base during the duration of the five-year contract.
Dan contract-farms a 300-cow herd in Sussex, with an average yield of approximately 6,700 litres from 1.5 tonnes of bought-in concentrates. Calving in a tight six-week block from late August through to early October, Dan aims to produce as much milk from forage as possible. Of the total 240 ha, the organic herd grazes a 62-ha grazing platform on a mixture of grass/clover and herbal leys from mid-February through to late October. Cows are housed over winter on a grass and wholecrop self-feed silage system. All calves are reared outside from birth to weaning, before being housed on self-feed silage over winter. Replacement heifers are reared away from the farm to allow herd size to increase towards the target of 300 cows.
Matt Roberts is a herd manager for Pilkington Farms at Church Farm in Warwickshire. Matt manages a 290 crossbred spring-calving herd, aiming to produce 5,600 litres/cow and 500 kg milk solids from 900 kg of concentrate. The herd grazes the 96-ha grazing platform, of which over 50% is converted back from arable land, well into the end of November/early December.
Duncan and Sarah milk 300 cows with Sarah’s parents, David and Helen. They are located south of Shrewsbury in Shropshire. They are currently transitioning from all-year-round calving to an autumn-block grass-based system, with the aim to maximise forage from the grass. The milking platform of 100 ha supports the herd through the grazing season, with land being shut up for silage as grass growth allows. Heifers are reared on a locally rented farm.
Tom milks 550 cows in a split block-calving system, 320 spring calvers and 230 autumn calvers, near Marlborough, Wiltshire. In 2008, when Tom returned to the farm, 36 ha was under permanent pasture and the rest was arable cropping supporting a high-yielding dairy herd. Since then, the farm has been transitioning to a grass-based system, moving much of the arable area into grass leys, with the herd now managed on a 140 ha milking platform and 80 ha silage leys, supported by 46 ha of maize and 8 ha of fodder beet. The spring herd produces 5,500 litres from 1 t/cow of cake; two-thirds of dry cows are housed with the rest outwintered on fodder beet until 3–4 weeks before calving when they come inside. Autumn calvers average 8,000 litres from 2 t/cow and are fully housed from about 10 October. Turnout is usually mid-February, with both herds spending 270–280 days at grass.