Consistent mix means quality cheese

Producing milk for cheesemaking demands consistency of constituents – and that in turn means consistency of ration is equally important. It’s for this reason that Suffolk dairy farmers and cheese producers Jason and Katharine Salisbury decided to switch to total mixed ration feeding, and to entrust a Shelbourne Reynolds Powermix to produce the TMR for their 40-head Guernsey herd.

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The Salisburys had previously been renting elsewhere before moving in 2008 to their current 43ha (109ac) farm at Creeting St Mary, near Needham Market. The derelict former pig unit required significant investment, but following the construction of new housing and milking facilities, the farm was producing milk by the following year.

At the same time, having identified the potential to shorten the processing chain and deal directly with food suppliers and consumers, they also opened a cheese dairy and a farm shop. Milk is pasteurised on farm, then hand-made by Katharine into Suffolk Blue, Suffolk Gold and Suffolk Brie cheeses, while some is also sold to a local ice cream producer and a small amount of liquid milk is retailed from the farm gate.

Cow numbers were increased steadily as cheese demand grew, with the focus on feeding and breeding for protein. Eighty per cent of replacements come from within the herd, with others sourced from a breeder on the Isle of Wight.

But while they had been able to create from scratch the sort of milking and housing complex they wanted, Jason and Katharine, who employ no staff apart from a relief milker, were less sure about their feeding set-up.

“Having a relatively small herd with year-round calving, we chose to feed the milking and dry cows manually,” says Jason.

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“But distributing the ingredients from a loader grab/bucket was labour-intensive. More importantly, it wasn’t giving us the consistent mix needed to ensure the cows were getting the correctly-balanced intake of different feed ingredients for the high protein milk needed for cheesemaking. For instance, the more dominant cows were often picking out more than their share of beet pulp nuts.”

Having decided to switch to TMR feeding, a compact machine was a priority, in order that the relatively small yard could be easily negotiated, while a package to enable independent weighing, given that the farm operates only one tractor plus loader, was also required.

“A visit to the Livestock Event gave me the chance to have a look at the machines on the market, but one of the main reasons we decided on a Shelbourne was that a number of other local farmers recommended the Powermix machines. The fact they are made nearby was a bonus, but they also appeared to be straightforward and well-priced machines, and I was impressed by the knowledge of the people behind them.”

Following an extended demonstration period to prove the machine’s capabilities, in 2011 Jason purchased a Powermix Pro Popular 11. The 11 cu m feeder is powered by the farm’s loader-equipped 90hp New Holland TD5050, and with that being the farm’s only tractor, it is loaded without the auger running, with the weighscale having its own battery connection.

“This is a very dry part of the country, and isn’t ideal for growing grass,” points out Jason.

“What we do get is of fairly low nutritional quality. We keep the cows out as much as possible, but after a couple of spring grazes there is little good grass growth after mid-June.

“As a result, we make no grass silage, and the feeder is used all year round. We fill the cows up after morning milking, then let them out to ruminate, before they come back in for more feed following afternoon milking.”

Mixed for between five and ten minutes, the TMR comprises baled lucerne silage and clamped maize silage in equal measure, plus a protein blend comprising rapeseed meal, wheat/barley meal, sugar beet pulp pellets and distillers grains. From that, the herd is averaging 5,800 litres from twice-a-day milking, at 3.95% protein and just under 7% butterfat.

First into the feeder is a round bale of lucerne silage, followed by the maize silage ration, and then the dry ingredients. Dry cows get 3kg of a dry cow pellet and maize and lucerne silages.

“The feeder and the tractor have never had a problem mixing from a standstill, and the result is a very good mix” says Jason.

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“We’ve overcome the problem of selective feeding, we’ve got a more accurate idea of the weight of each element going into the ration, and the whole job is far less labour-intensive. And we’ve also got the more consistent mix we were looking for, to give our cheese the consistency our customers expect.”

That shows up not only in the increasing sales of Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses from the farm, but also in the condition of the cows and the regard in which they are held. The Salisburys regularly enter the Guernsey classes at the Livestock Event and the Suffolk and Royal Norfolk shows and, despite being relative newcomers to the breed, have had considerable success in the show ring. It’s a testament to the work they put into the management of the herd, and the decisions they have made in everything from breeding to feeding.  

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