An intensive reseeding programme is allowing a beef and sheep to dairy conversion to stock its grazing platform at four cows/hectare (ha) and capture more than two thirds of milk production from forage.

Grazed grass is at the heart of the spring calving dairy system Richard Rogers has established at Tre Ifan on Anglesey in partnership with his former employee Gethin Roberts.

The 90ha former beef finishing unit was acquired in 2010 and, after a period of running it as a livestock enterprise with 1800 ewes and 300-400 cattle, they set about converting it to a grass-based spring block calving unit.

Improving under-performing grass leys was a priority – 70 per cent of the farm has now been reseeded with high sugar Aber varieties.

The farm grows 14.3 tonnes(t)/ha of grass dry matter (DM) on loam soil but the Richard and Gethin, who are the 2018 British Grassland Society Grassland Farmers of the Year, are confident it has the potential to grow more.

“We are aiming for 16t/ha when we have finished reseeding. Our best paddock is already producing 17-18t, that is the potential of the land we are on,’’ says Gethin, who measures the grass weekly.

Tre Ifan neighbours Bodrida, the farm where three generations of Richard’s family have farmed. He continues to run a separate business with his wife, Nia, and his parents, Peter and Margaret.

The decision to convert Tre Ifan to a dairy farm provided an opportunity to involve Gethin, who had started working for the family in 2006 after leaving college. He became a partner in the new enterprise.

The conversion involved installing a 24/48 Waikato herringbone parlour and creating a network of cow tracks, a new water system and constructing a slurry lagoon.

The farm was stocked with 360 New Zealand crossbred heifers, with many sourced from Ireland. The first milk was sold in February 2015.

The changeover was guided by Rhys Williams, an experienced spring calving dairy farmer, who not only provided expertise and knowledge but some of the cows too.

In addition to Gethin, the business employs three full time staff – Eifion Roberts, Caitlin Jones and Carrog Roberts.

The 90ha grazing platform is stocked at four cows/ha. Even during the cold spring and very dry summer of 2018, cow condition and milk production was maintained, with the help of supplementary feeding.

A feeder wagon that Richard had used in his beef enterprise was used to mix silage and blend to feed in the fields from mid-June.

“2018 was the year to throw out the rulebook,’’ Richard suggests. “We concentrated on maintaining cow body condition – if we hadn’t we would have been dealing with problems two years down the line rather than taking a financial hit from putting in extra feed.’’

Preserving milk production was also a priority, he adds. “We were not willing to sacrifice milk output or cow condition. In difficult years, you must be willing to spend.’’

Richard calculates that the additional feed added around 1p per litre (ppl) to the cost of production.

It has been a challenging year but the farm fared better than others, Gethin believes.

“We have been luckier than a lot of areas as we came out of the dry spell quicker than most.’’

Following the successful conversion of Tre Ifan, Bodrida was converted to dairy also – milk was first produced there in February this year.

This farm has 250 cows and is also stocked at four cows/ha.

To maximise milk production from the grazing platforms, heifer calves are reared at Tre Ifan until they at 100kg at four months before being contract reared at Cefn Dderwen. They return to the farm when they are in calf, three months before calving.

The original farm partnership is responsible for the heifer rearing, machinery work and renewable energy provision, with two full time workers employed – Ian McDonald and Tom Hughes; these services are provided for Tre Ifan Ltd and Sarn Las Ltd, which are both run independently.

Richard has been farming for three decades but admits that 2018 has been a defining year for him.

“At 43, it is the first year I have felt like a dairy farmer!’’ he laughs.