A young farmer is using new technologies to improve the future of his family’s dairy herd. Jennifer MacKenzie reports

YOUNG dairy cattle breeder Matthew Williamson believes new technologies that are now available within the industry will play a huge role in the genetic progress of the UK herd.

The 21-year-old helps run the Ingleden Holstein herd at Inglewood House, Calthwaite, Penrith, in Cumbria, alongside his parents – Andrew and Jill – and is increasingly involved in breeding decisions that affect the future of the family’s herd.

Matthew is also one of four young farmers selected for Cogent’s Futures programme.

The four will undergo a challenge set by Cogent to design a breeding match for a new stud bull, with the ultimate prize of an elite Holstein embryo package to one successful candidate and the first and second placed candidates invited to take part in a study tour to Holland.

Matthew has represented the Border and Lakeland Holstein Young Breeders’ Club since he was nine, with success in showmanship and linear assessment competitions locally and nationally.

After finishing school, he decided to study mechanical engineering at Edinburgh University. “I returned to the farm almost two years ago when I realised I wanted to learn more about the scientific and management aspects of dairy farming and, in particular, take more responsibility over breeding decisions for the Ingleden herd,” said Matthew.

“In my opinion, over the next five years the Holstein breed will progress in leaps and bounds due to the introduction of genomic indices.

A Futures member needs to have a scientific mind and the ability to absorb all the information that genomic values present, particularly in relation to the selection of young bulls and bull mothers.”

The family milks 200 cows with 170 young stock on 200 acres at Inglewood House.

The herd is yielding 10,000 litres from twice-daily milking, run by Andrew, Matthew and a relief milker.

The herd is fed a TMR and topped up in the parlour.

Wholecrop is grown several miles away on rented ground and the opportunities for further herd expansion are currently limited.

Most replacements are home-bred but the Williamsons are prepared to invest in cow families that they believe will improve the genetics of the herd.

Now Matthew, who has recently completed an AI course, is increasingly involved in the decisionmaking for AI bull selection.

Bulls from Cogent’s Visions Programme are regularly used and are comparing well with the daughters of proven AI sires. One of the herd’s best milking cows, Ingleden Prestwick Celia EX 91 is a progeny test daughter of Prestwick. Another successful sire has been Cogent Loader, who has a number of good daughters milking well in the herd. More recently, Cogent Twist and Holmland Saturn Red have been used as AI sires.

“For me, it’s about creating a more functional cow that works well at a commercial level as well as a pedigree level – a cow that gives plenty of milk, gets back in calf easily and takes the minimum work to look after her, but also is a good type to breed from,” said Matthew.

One of the aims is to reduce the herd’s calving interval to below 400 days – it is currently running at 408 days.

Sexed semen has been used on the herd which has helped boost the number of young stock, allowing surplus to be sold as bulling heifers. Matthew hopes to speed up genetic progress with more embryo work.

When the cattle were restocked after foot-andmouth with the Groudd herd from Peter Lewis, in Wales, one cow had a twomonth- old Brown Swiss cross calf at foot.

The Williamsons have graded up from this calf, and there are now five of the registered progeny, giving a touch of colour to the herd.

Last November, Matthew invested some of his savings in three bulling heifers, which included two Brown Swiss, one of which is bred from seven generations of EX, and he has since flushed her. Three embryos have been implanted and she is in calf with sexed semen.

One of the herd’s most successful families goes back to Portlea Ned Pamela, who Andrew looked after as a calf when he worked in Canada in 1980.

Ingleden Carlton Pamela EX90 3* LP100, is still in the herd at 11 years old and has produced seven heifers out of eight calvings and created the foundations of this family within the herd.