16 Apr 2021

Farmer Focus - Holmescales Grade Up

Brothers Luke and Joe are the fifth generation of Robinsons at Holmescales in Cumbria, working with their Mum and Dad, alongside one full time employee, Sam, and additional weekend relief staff. They currently run 200 cows with 150 followers with plans to increase herd numbers to around 300.

Having enquired about grading up the herd during the first COVID-19 lockdown in spring 2020, Holstein UK Field Officer Marion Holliday was able to start the process in May. The process was done remotely with no social contact to meet COVID-19 guidelines and Luke provided Marion with a BCMS herd list and the herd’s milk records so that she could analyse the data and start the process of grading up the herd.

Luke says: "The reason we initially decided to grade the herd up was because I have a real interest in cow families and their pedigrees and I really think it helps us to make better breeding decisions on the farm by breeding from the best cows which will help to make the herd more profitable. It gives me confidence in buying heifers as it means I know their history which helps to ensure that I am buying long-lasting and profitable cows.”

The herd is averaging 9,500 at 4.16 fat and 3.21 protein with milk being sold to Dale Farm. The aim is to increase yields efficiently and increase herd numbers to the 300 mark.

“We calve all year round and have been a moderate yielding herd, grazing the cow’s day and night through the summer with little buffer feeding. However, since grading up, we have taken the herd in a different direction and last year we started being more intensive and we kept a group of fresh cows and high yielders inside all summer to give them the best start which we feel has worked well and the cows have done well off it.”

The cows are split into two groups low/high yielders and we have recently put deep beds into one shed which houses 85 of the high yielding cows whilst through the summer, the lower yielders are put out to graze and buffer fed at night. Cows are fed TMR and topped up in the parlour.

“We have made a few recent investments including putting deep bed chopped straw, lime and water cubicles in for the high yielders which we feel has the comfort of sand with less wear on our machinery; the cows really like it and lying times and yields have increased since putting them in. We have also purchased several pedigree heifers to establish new cow families to support the existing ones at Holmescales; these include Marie, Reba, Flo and Dusk.”

“We haven’t classified the herd yet but I am really excited to see how our cows do as I think we do have some stylish cows that would classify well. Classifying will also help us make more informed breeding decisions using the right bull on the right cow and it will add value to our stock by strengthening both our bought-in and homebred cow families.”

“The only showing success we have had is when I was young I won a young handler’s competition at Cartmel Show and since then we haven’t done any showing however it is something I’m very keen on doing in the future. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can about it at the minute to try and give me the best chance of success.”

Find out more about grading up your herd