In an era of innovation, ever advancing technology and fluctuating prices no one can afford to stand still, everyone has to improve and for the Carruthers family, that meant venturing back into the dairy industry after almost 20 years away from it.
Just two years ago, Robert took on more of a front-line role in the business and made the executive decision to return to dairy cows, farming in partnership with his mother and father, Kathryn and Ian,
based at Canobie in Dumfries and Galloway.
“There is more security in the dairy industry with monthly milk cheques, as well as the cost margins of production being higher compared to the beef enterprise.
“The wet land resulted in us cutting back on the beef cows because we didn’t have the land to carry the number we were. But it is a vicious circle as we were then fighting a lower profit in take, and at
the end of the day we didn’t have the finance to push forward and expand,” explained Robert, who is now running his 125 Holstein cross Fleckvieh herd across 500 acres rented at Glenzierfoot and 90
acres owned at Chapelknowe.
Glenzierfoot is an estate farm, however the Carruthers family have been here since 1867 with the seventh generation now running the farm between them being as self-sufficient as they can to require little employment, only using outside contractors.
“We wanted to cross the Holstein, as they are too soft of breed and we desired a more durable cow, which is why we put them to the Fleckvieh as a good base to start on.
“The Fleckvieh produce us more milk with higher solids and are known for their longevity being much more vigorous. As a cast cow they are a lot heavier as well, so it was really a no brainer for us to experiment on something a little different,” said Robert, who bought in 64 Fleckvieh in-calf heifers from Germany just last year to establish the herd. The Holsteins were bought from Holmbrook at
South Cumbria as an entire herd, so it was a good foundation for the dairy enterprise at Glenzierfoot.
The new venture required a new set up which the team opted into a Dairy Master rapid exit parlour 20/40. “We were looking for something that would keep the cows at 90 degrees for better presentation,
and it really suited our system the best. We knew we had to have a restructure in the steading to up our game in restarting with the dairy cows,” said Ian, with the cows going through the parlour twice
a day, producing 28l when housed and 25l when roaming outside.
The cattle are fed a basic ration in the parlour which is made up by James Bendle of Davidsons Dairy Tech, to suit the quality silage at Glenzierfoot. “Davidsons Dairy Tech was all over social media at the time of us starting up, so we wanted to give them a shot and see what they could do for us,” said Robert, who was advised on what the cows could potentially do, and secured a plan, ever since the cows have performed well after a shaking start with various other feed companies.
“We were really pleased with the results we were achieving so soon after changing feed, the cows were extremely settled and the product we couldn’t fault. Likewise, the service is excellent, the
Davidsons team are really helpful people to work with. From our sales nutritionist right through to the wagon drivers, nothing is ever a problem to anyone, and if there is an issue everyone is just a
phone call away,” added Robert.
Come the winter the cows will be housed inside which are bedded on sawdust and the cubicles are treated with lime weekly for hygiene purposes, whilst during the summer everything is outside to
enjoy the fresh grass, to give Robert and Ian a break with scrapping out duties.
“The solid market is where everyone seems to be heading, so we wanted to get a jump start on that. Our main goal is producing high BF and P yields as opposed to quantity,” said Ian, who has a contract with YewTree, achieving 4.2BP and 3P during the summer and come the winter will be hitting 4.5BP and 3.6P.
Everything is milk recorded only as a personal judgment to keep an eye on the herd when the family are just new into the industry with a whole new herd and system. “Management recording is the only way we can improve as herd to see where our mistakes are being made. Closely monitoring the cows when PD’ing them is also a huge management task as if they are not getting in calve, we are losing money, it is a vital part of the supply chain,” added Robert, where heifers will calve between 24-30months of age, focusing on the female being big enough and looks right in itself.
Calving takes place all year round, with everything now receiving AI, the team are trying to utilise same sexed semen to get as many heifers as possible on the ground for replacements. All calves are housed in individual pens for a few days before moving into the penning system that the Carruthers use in their air flow open calf shed. “Calves will be left on their mothers for 24-36 hours as we find them seem to suckle better thereafter and more vigour to get up and go,” said Robert. Thereafter they will be split into pens according to age on automatic milk feeders, which starts at 1.2litres twice a day and works up to 2litres as well as on the flip side working the calves down to be weaned. The automated system reads the collars on the calves when they come to feed, at 70 days the calves should be receiving no milk.
“Our system seems to work well, it is an expensive procedure especially for the milk powder however the calves are our future, so we have got to look after them,” said Robert.
Bull calves are sold through Harrison and Hetherington at Carlisle, at four-six months of age, with Fleckvieh cross calves averaging £400-£500 per head. The Black and Whites tend to cash in around £300. Being finished on a ration comprising of barley, straw and a protein mineral. “In the future we would like to fatten the calves, as there is more profit at that job and we grow enough grain and barely to fulfil it, however at the moment we have enough to try and focus on and get up and running. Time will tell,” said Ian.
Robert added: “We have to realise it is a world trade and we have everyone else to compete with, which means for us to succeed we need to be as self-sufficient as we can be. We do our own silage
with the forage wagon which we do as a team of three with the help of a family friend.
On the sheep front, the team also aim to be as self-sufficient as they can be, by breeding their own Texel tups from their 50 pure Texel ewes, to be used on their 200 cross ewe flock.
Ian began breeding Texels in 1994, along with a commercial flock of 200 breeding ewes, although had to restart again in 2001 after everything was taken out by Foot and Mouth.“We just breed a few tups for our own use and the remaining will just be culled, we did try and sell them for a few years but there is more work involved in that and we want to focus on our dairy
enterprise,” said Ian.
The rise of cost of production is not an easy alternation let along after purchasing a whole new set up and a new dairy herd.
“Milk price has got to get better. When we were milking prior to food and mouth it was more or less the same price, and the cost of living and cost of production has increased dramatically over the
years,” said Ian.
Robert added: “The industry is going to have to go more automated as staffing is a real issue, nobody wants to work so we are trying to make sure we can do all the jobs between the two of us.
Established herds can justify robots to help with labour shortages but we can’t just yet, however we are working our way up in automating our herd with automatic milk feeders.
“We are continually trying to streamline and improve our business to continue into the future,” concluded Ian and Robert.