APEMBROKESHIRE dairy and sheep farm is keeping costs under control by running a simple system.

The Lewis family farms 350 acres near Newport, running a herd of 70 dairy cows and a flock of 900 breeding ewes.

Andrew Lewis’ grandparents moved to the farm at Cilgwyn 65 years ago and he now runs it with his parents, John and June.

They advocate a simple system and have developed a pedigree herd to suit their needs.

“We need a simple cow and she needs to be hardy too because of the location of the farm,” Andrew explained.

The pedigree British Friesian herd yields an annual average of 6,500 litres per cow. Cowlongevity is testament to the success of the system, with one cow in her 16th lactation.

“We try not to feed too much high protein cake, it is mostly grass and silage with an annual average of 1.2 tonnes of cake per cow fed in the parlour,”

said Andrew, who is Pembrokeshire’s NFU Cymru county chairman.

Two thirds of Cilgwyn Mawr Farm falls within a Less Favoured Area; at its highest point it rises to 900 feet. The Lewises also rent coastal land at Newport where the climate is an average of 5ºC warmer, ideal for grazing sheep before they return to the farm for lambing in February.

The dairy herd calves all the year round and at 4.5% fat and 3.5% protein, the milk is an ideal match for the farm’s First Milk cheese contract.

“It pays us to have higher constituents than yields,” said Andrew.

A rotational grazing system, with the milking platform accessed by a network of tracks, means that the farm can maximise the grazing season, but the cows were housed early this year to protect the pastures for next season’s lambs.

The existing leys have served the Lewises well, with no fields ploughed for 12 yea r s.

A seeding programme is used i n s t e a d with a grass harrow stitching seed in to existing leys.

“We try to seed 15 to 20 acres a year.

We have leys that are 30 years old and they are performing just as well now,”

said Andrew.

He believes the combination of sheep grazing and good slurry application keeps the land fertile.

All the silage is harvested as round bales, which allows control over grazing while additional costs are balanced by improved quality.

In fact the quality was so exceptional in 2010 the Lewises won the all Wales big bale silage competition, run by the Federation of Welsh Grassland Societies.

Aslowrelease fertiliser is used and although this is more expensive than conventional fertiliser, less is used.

“It helps us to get more dry matter into the bales,” Andrew explained.

The cows are housed in cubicles on sawdust bedding.

Friesian sires are used on the best cows, with Aberdeen Angus and British Blue bulls used on the remainder. Heifers are kept as replacements and beef crossbreds are sold as stores at Cardigan market.

Bull calves are sold before three weeks and around five breeding bulls from the best cows are sold each year at between 15-24 months.

The herd is milked in a six-unit abreast parlour where the milking takes around an hour and a half.

Andrew is helped by a full-time employee and a relief milker.

Although the trend has been for dairy producers to upscale, Andrew has no plans to expand the herd.

“If we expanded cow numbers we would have to feed in the summer so what we would gain in litres would cost us in feed,” he said.

But he admits he may have to consider expanding to 100 cows when the time comes to reinvest in the milking facilities.

The sheep flock has grown to 900 breeding ewes and 200 replacements in the last three years as more grazing has become available. The flock consists of 350 Tregaron-type Welsh ewes and 550 mules. Of these, 450 lamb in February to Texel and New Zealand/Suffolk-cross rams, with 200 lambing inside and the remainder outside. The remainder of the mules lamb to Texel, and the Welsh ewes to Blueface and Welsh tups in March and April.

Lambs are sold from the end of May and averaged 19.7kg deadweight 19.7kg and 43kg liveweight this year.

“Any lambs that are left on the farm at the end of August are sold as stores at Crymych, it is important to have a cut-off point before we put in the rams for the next crop of lambs. We aim to have all the lambs off the farm by September,”

said Andrew. The average price this year was £75.

As with the cows, the sheep are grazed rotationally and the only supplementary feed is mineral blocks.

“We only feed silage to the sheep outside when it snows, but they have silage when they are housed,” said Andrew.

The farm has been in environmental schemes and Andrew is considering Glastir, but has no immediate plans to sign up.

“I agree that environmental schemes should be accessible to anyone, but from a personal point of view it is quite nice to be farming without chasing a scheme,” he admitted.

The farm is within the North Pembrokeshire Intensive Action Area and badgers have already been vaccinated for the first year of the five-year vaccination programme. The Lewises previously lost five cattle to TB although the herd has been clear of the disease in recent years.

Away from the farm, Andrew, who is married to Gaynor and has three children, Efa, aged five, Gwyneth, aged two, and 11-month-old, Cecil, is a member of the Cardigan and District Grassland Society and is a former county chairman of Pembrokeshire YFC.

He once ran a mobile disco and still has his kit and music stored in his parents’ house. He has fond memories of his days as a disc jockey, but has no plans to revamp this hobby.

“The disco was very much like milking, there isn’t a better job when everything is going well, but when it’s not, when people aren’t on the dance floor, it is the worst place ever.”

But as far as farming is concerned he is very much committed, although he does occasionally contemplate changing the system.

“There are some days, usually on a Sunday morning, when I consider having all sheep. I think anyone who doesn’t question their system from time to time is foolish.”