Beginning an adventure into building a milking Jersey herd and installing and improving the whole farm infrastructure is exactly the challenge that has been undertaken at Scroggiehill Farm, Castle Douglas, by the Maxwell family.

Currently run by Fraser, alongside his brother, Grant, and their parents, Graham and Anne, the very much family affair currently run 150 milkers, alongside 50 suckler beef cows, across 350 owned acres and 120 rented.

The family have been at Scroggiehill for 35 years, where Graham farmed alongside his brother, Iain, but decided to split the business two years ago, with his brother still dairying on the next door farm.

“Building up a dairy has certainly had its challenges, add to that the pandemic making it even more difficult. Securing a contract was the most difficult part due to the milk industry taking a dip, we finally managed to get offered a Grahams contact for Jersey milk, which took a lot of consideration as we were used to the Holsteins, but we did it and have got to where we are now.

The Jersey breed has proven to be very efficient for the herd already, averaging 1.83kg Energy Corrected Milk/kg Dry Matter fed, with a feed rate of 0.33kg concentrate per kg of milk sold.

“We looked into the Jersey breed, the figures on paper do more than match the Holstein when you take the milk price, longer lasting cows, less feed intake and less slurry production into account,” said Fraser having imported the first 100 heifers in-calf from Denmark in 2021, and thereafter topping them up from sales at Skipton and local herd dispersals in Ayrshire. After initially installing two robots in 2021, a third has been installed in the spring of this year in order to allow the herd to expand to 185 cows milking all year round.

The DeLaval robots were purchased through Mathers Dairy Utensils in Dumfries, who the Maxwells retain a good relationship with. This allows each cow to be milked according to her individual needs and capacity, encouraging them to reach their full potential every milking, with cows averaging 3.4 milkings per day, aiming to reduce this to 3.1 daily as cow numbers increase.

The robots and heat detection system have provided the family with the ultimate reproduction management tool, with more control over the cows using accurate and valuable information to analyse to help make better decisions on farm.

“It was a huge learning curve for us, we had a lot of information at the start that we didn’t know what to do with, we were always double checking the cows with our own eyes, but have now got full faith in the robots as they have found to be more accurate,” said Fraser, with all cows attached with collars to help record the data.

Dairy tech consultant from Davidson Animal Feeds, James Bendle, also helped with the transition over to a robot diet.

“You need to get the balance right of feeding in the passage and in the robots to encourage them to go to the robots, and James really dealt with all of this for us. All we knew about was parlour milking with traditional type of cows, so James had a better understanding of all of this as well as the software, quite often he would be on the phone at 6am generating different reports or alerts which is really remarkable. He made it a lot smoother transition than it could have been,” said Fraser, with the family having been with Davidsons Animal Feeds for 15 plus years due to this exceptional customer care.

The Davidsons team formulate a bespoke meal to be fed alongside the home-grown silage and wholecrop to the milking herd, with a cake fed in the robots, averaging 4.5kg.

Around 40-50 acres of wholecrop will be taken annually, and 190 acres of silage, aiming for four cuts each year to keep silage in front of the cows 365 days of the year, being housed on cubicles mattresses and a dusting of sawdust.

The original 120-cubicle shed has been extended this year to add a further 62 cubicles to house more Jerseys, with the feed passage up the centre of the shed to avoid having to push the silage in. Automatic scrapers are in place which pushes the slurry into the 300,000 gallon store below.

Far off dry cows will be grazed from April to October, and brought back into their purpose built cubicle and straw box housing closer to calving, aiming for a dry period of 50 days. All close up and fresh cows are closely monitored by Davidsons and their TMS (Transition Management System) scoring system, aiming to improve transition and identify any potential issues early. Cows are currently averaging 5.9% Butterfat and 4.1% Protein. Yields are currently around 24.8 litres a day or 7350 litres annually on average.

All milk is sold through a Grahams contract, with all year round calving preferred, so heifers calve down at 22-24 months of age, with everything being AI’d to sexed or beef semen, all of which is done by Fraser.

“Since having the heat detection collars it has been pretty straight forward, the Jerseys have a good temperament so I can serve them in their cubicles,” said Fraser, with all heifers retained as numbers start to build in the herd.

Once the Maxwells have built up their herd, the aim is to achieve 25-30% replacement rate, with any heifers remaining being sold as in-calf heifers or bulling heifers likely through Carlisle mart or privately.

Currently the youngstock are reared in individual pens for two weeks, before going into batches of five and then will be weaned at 10 weeks of age being put onto an ad lib concentrate and straw, gradually introducing silage once they get to five months of age, or during the summer the youngstock will go to grass.

“Jersey calves are definitely more difficult to rear it has been a real learning experience for us. They have a lot less body fat percentage than a traditional black and white calf, so their first few days are critical. They don’t have as much resilience so are put under heat lamps and then given jackets for up to 30 days during the winter to give them that extra boost,” said Graham.

Fraser added: “It is more frustrating as we are doing a better job of the calves and spending more time with them than we ever did with black and whites but initially achieving poorer results.”

When the imported cows came over the herd experienced difficulties with Crypto and scour which they weren’t set up for, everything was clean and new, so it was challenging to find the route cause.

However, after seeking advice from Davidsons Animal Feeds and their vets, Threave Farm Vets in Castle Douglas, the family do seem to be making things work and getting on top of things now.

The Maxwells run 50 Aberdeen-Angus cross suckler cows, currently buying in replacements, with the intention to breed from the Jersey cow in the future.

“We have ground suited for them, but realistically as we are moving forward with our dairy, we need to ask the question if they have a place here or if we need to prioritise the dairy side of our business,” said Fraser, with all heifers going to an Angus bull, and cows going to the Charolais bull, calves are then fattened to be sold through Stoddarts, along with beef cross calves from the dairy herd and purchased store cattle.

Again, avoiding keeping all their eggs in the one basket, the family also fatten 900 store hoggs annually, buying in 350 North Country Cheviots from Dingwall and 500 Beltex/ Texel crosses locally, aiming to sell these from November to March.

After the spring barley has been taken for wholecrop the field will be spread with muck and sown with turnips, kale or rape to allow the hoggs to be outwintered, feeding a Davidsons Animal Feeds’ nut at the turn of the year to get them finished and pushed on that wee bit more.

“It really helps clean up the grass and is an extra bonus for us although couldn’t pay a full time wage,” said Fraser, with everything sold through Wallets Marts, Castle Douglas, where Anne is a director.