By Debbie James

In just three years, Mat Venables and Jonjo Roberts have created a thriving dairy business that is on course to be milking 1700 cows.

The pair met when Jonjo was working as a chartered surveyor in Chester, where Mat and his family were producing milk on two dairy units.

Although Jonjo had qualified as a chartered surveyor after graduating from Harper Adams University, it was always his intention to one day return to Mynachddu, the family farm at Llanfairynghornwy, Anglesey.

That goal became clearer when he met Mat and the pair formed a joint venture to convert the beef and sheep farm into a spring-calving dairy unit with a 46/92 herringbone parlour at its centrepiece.

The farm is stocked with New Zealand Friesian x Jerseys, run on an extended grazing system on a 240-hectare grazing platform; the herd is now coming to the end of its third lactation.

Simplicity is at the heart of the system and this philosophy was replicated in 2016 when Jonjo and Mat took on the tenancy of Bryn Celli Ddu, a 250-hectare farm on the Plas Newydd Estate, 25 miles from Mynachddu.

They reseeded the farm with Aber grass varieties, laid cow tracks, fencing and water troughs were installed, 640 New Zealand Friesian x Jersey heifers purchased and a dairy developed on a greenfield site.

At the heart of this is a 70-point rotary parlour; at £460,000 inclusive of all associated costs, this was a significant investment but the pair made a £40,000 saving – by opting for a design with no roof.

At 36 inches, the farm’s rainfall average is not high but Jonjo insists shelter is not an issue.

“It is a nice environment to work in and there are no walls to clean. Why spend more money on infrastructure than you need to?’’

The biggest challenge the new development presented was keeping the work on schedule. “We created a point of urgency because we needed it to be operational by when the herd calved. After going through the process once at Mynachddu we knew who was going to perform and who not to call,’’ says Mat, who has managers running his two dairy units in Cheshire.

Some of the heifers were sourced from Ireland and had to meet three criteria – February-calving, grass-based and a high economic breeding index (EBI).

The milk solids average is 400kg but the aim is to increase that to 500kg, says Mat. “We aim to produce the cow’s bodyweight in milk solids.’’ Milk from both units is sold to Arla on a solids contract.

The business employs three full time staff at Mynachddu and three at Bryn Celli Ddu, increasing to four next year.

There is a big focus on team development and training – all staff have been trained in foot trimming and several members of the team in artificial insemination.

Central to the success of the joint venture is Mat and Jonjo’s share vision, and also open communication and trust.

Working in another sector before farming allowed Jonjo to approach the business from a different perspective.

“It gave me exposure to other farm businesses; I could see the ones that were doing well and the ones that weren’t and the reasons for this.’’

The pair are agreed that a dairy business needs clear vision to survive and thrive in the current climate of volatile milk prices.

“If you know what you want to achieve you can make it work. It is no good changing systems to respond to the seasonality profiles of milk prices, as soon as you start changing it will cost you,’’ says Mat.

Financial discipline is important, as is understanding the system. “We aim to produce milk as cheaply and efficiently as possible, by choosing the cows to fit the system,’’ Jonjo explains.

“You must be innovative and efficient to survive or otherwise look at doing something else.’’