David and Andrea Sewell have plans to progress their pedigree Holstein herd since taking on the family farming partnership together and now they have invested in state-of-the art dairy facilities.

After David’s parents, Edward and Stella, recently retired and his brother, Richard, began farming on a neighbouring unit, the couple have made plans to optimise cow numbers and production from their Greencastle Holstein herd at Mayfield Farm, Greysouthen, Cockermouth.

They have doubled the size of an existing building by extending it three ways to house a collecting yard, new parlour and shedding and handling race. Central to the new operation is a Fullwood Packo 32/32 QR rapid exit parlour which is the first in Europe to be fitted with Fullwood Packo’s Afifarm 5.4 herd management software and per stall ID which gives 100% accurate cow identification, as well as various other smart milking technology features to aid cow management.

In the new parlour, David gets ready for another milking and either himself or Andrea are there at all milkings

In the new parlour, David gets ready for another milking and either himself or Andrea are there at all milkings

The 25-year-old eight-a-side Fullwood parlour had been maintained by MTS Dairy Services, a division of Aspatria Farmers, so the company and make of parlour were David and Andrea’s natural choice to upgrade the entire facilities at Mayfield Farm.

“The old parlour was taking too long to milk the cows. We looked at different parlour options but because we knew the back up from Aspatria Farmers/MTS would be good because they had looked after the old parlour well, we went with them,” said David.

The Sewells calve the herd all year round and in early summer were milking 165 cows, yielding 9500 litres at 4.1 % BF and 3.3 % P. In June, the 165 milkers were averaging 33 litres a day. The number of milkers will increase to 200 later in the year – the plan is to increase cow numbers by around 20 to an optimum for the 410 acres they farm.

David is the fourth generation of the family to farm at Mayfield. His great grandfather moved from nearby Greysouthen to take on the tenancy of the farm in 1927. In 1964, David’s grandfather and father bought Mayfield and the purchase of the neighbouring farm in the early 1990s took the land owned to 260 acres, with a further 150 acres now rented on FBTs. David and Andrea have two daughters, Amy (15) and Kate (13).

The herd was registered pedigree in the 1990s and numbers have increased and performance has improved since then, with David and Andrea placing great emphasis on paying attention to detail across the herd. “We looked at robots, but we preferred to have the contact with the cows. Good stockmanship is important to us,” said David.

Cows are still grazed outside for most of the summer, tho9ugh a late spring delayed turnout this year

Cows are still grazed outside for most of the summer, tho9ugh a late spring delayed turnout this year

Either David, or Andrea is at one of the day’s milkings with staffer, Gordon Graham, who has been with the Sewells for 20 years, Ewan Roberts and Emma Foster. Edward also still helps on the farm each day since retiring from the partnership.

One of the selling points for the Sewells for the rapid exit parlour was the 90-degree angle of the stalls. “I liked the angle of presentation for the cows in the rapid exit parlour which makes it very easy to prepare them for milking and to put the cluster units on,” said David. “We had the room, so we decided to do it.”

David also wanted to feed to yield in the parlour and Fullwood 'Augmaster' feeders were fitted, with feed stored and transported in a Collinson feed bin and auger system. The cows are fed a semi-TMR with spring barley wholecrop and ground maize supplementing the protein for the winter ration. The base ration is for 22 litres and the in-parlour feeders enable topping up to a maximum of 42 litres.

The parlour has clear polycarbonate dung shields which enable the parlour operatives to see the cows easily, but are strong and resist scratching. “We have been used to checking the cows by their brands and we wanted to continue with that alongside the new management tool – the per stall ID,” said Andrea.

The fast exit system and feeders in the new parlour

The fast exit system and feeders in the new parlour

“We individually cloth wipe the cows when they come into the parlour and have found the new cluster flush system to be beneficial at reducing mastitis cases and Bactoscan which is running at 14. We feel it’s all about attention to detail and knowing your cows. We pay the same attention to detail across the herd from calves and youngstock through to milkers,” she added.

Fullwood’s Afifarm 5.4 software is designed to manage herd status, health management, insemination and fertility. The installation uses Fullwood’s S-gate drafting and segregation stalls.

The Greencastle Holsteins are fitted with ear tags which, coupled with the individual stall ID, give the Sewells accurate cow identification. They plan to add neck collars or leg sensors in the future which will give other herd management data, including heat detection and calving alerts.

The parlour also has MPC milk meters, Hyperclean wash controller, Airwash cluster flush, variable speed milk pump, Fullwood ambassador vacuum pumps with variable speed controller and uses QX clusters with Full-wood’s square QA23 liners. DAB twin wash-down pumps are used after each batch of cows leaves the parlour. Milk is stored in a 12,000-litre bulk milk tank, with MTS installing an additional 5000-litre anytime collection buffer tank.

For the building work, they used two local Aspatria-based firms – Farm and Industrial Structures erected the steelwork and roof, while Will Cornthwaite carried out the ground works and concrete.

The Sewells continued to use the old parlour during the four-month project of building work until the parlour fitting was complete. Milking was previously taking six hours a day and that will be reduced to about four hours once the herd is back up to its milking numbers.

“The project and the transition worked perfectly. Aspatria Farmers/MTS staff helped us with the cows in the first couple of milkings,” said David. “The cows have taken to the new parlour very quickly. We were warned that cell counts could spike when we moved to the new parlour but it didn’t and it has remained in double figures.”

Andrea added: “The cows seem more comfortable than in the smaller stalls in the old parlour and they don’t kick the units off. They are very keen to come in for milking and no backing gate is necessary.”

The 90-degree fast axit parlour has helped increase cow productivity and reduced milking times

The 90-degree fast axit parlour has helped increase cow productivity and reduced milking times

Over the last two years, the Sewells have increased yields by around 2000 litres a cow. To progress the herd’s genetics further, the Sewells are using Genus RMS mating service and sexed semen has been used for the last 12 months to increase herd replacement numbers.

In-calf and freshly calved heifers that were purchased from the Crosbymoor dispersal sale in September, 2019, are also performing well and have fit in nicely with the existing herd. They are leaving promising replacement heifer calves sired by ABS Eldridge and De-su Jensen.

Sires are selected for individual cows and sexed semen is used for two services. Those which do not hold are AI'd to the British Blue bull, along with the bottom 20% of the herd. Blue cross calves are sold off the farm through Borderway, Carlisle, by the time they are two months old.

“We don’t want to breed cows that are too extreme in size or stature,” said David. “We want good constituent values to meet the requirements of our Arla milk contract, and we want good feet and legs being a grazed herd."

The policy of using the beef bull on the lower end of the herd and to sweep up will continue, he said, in order to mitigate the higher cost of using sexed semen on the better cows.

Herd health and welfare is a main criteria and two of the farm team have just completed a foot trimming course to catch any problem cows in between the monthly routine foot trimmer’s visit.

The Sewells plan to continue grazing the herd for the foreseeable future, though with this year’s late spring, the herd was not turned out for 24 hours a day until early June and winter housing is usually by September. “We have already put in concrete tracks to the grazing ground but we are considering putting in more but using Astroturf, which will probably be cheaper. The farthest away grazing is about a mile from the buildings.

“Fully housing the cattle may be an option for the future. We have quite a high rainfall and heavy soils which reduces our grazing period, so we are weighing up the pros and cons. At the moment, our next investment is to increase our slurry storage,” concluded David.