The Gould family are firmly established at their 550-acre farm at Grange Farm, Bomere Heath near Shrewsbury, Shropshire. In 1995, Michael, Jean, their son Mick and daughter in law Katherine made a business decision to relocate to Shropshire from Lancashire. With a small Lancashire dairy farm, and with pressures of milk price volatility and production, the family knew they had to invest in and expand their business to survive. Reliant on what became available on the farming property market, the family bought a Shropshire farm and moved to progress what is now considered as one of the best Holstein herds in the country, the renowned Woodmarsh herd of pedigree Holsteins. A herd that is credited by its breeding achievements and supreme Holsteins – some of which have reaped world-wide demand. Whilst Mick’s parents are now retired, Mick and Katherine are very much at the forefront of the business and take a very hands on approach to the everyday dairy management and husbandry. They employ 3 full-time members of staff to support them.
Starting with 90 cows in 1995, Mick has grown this high-yielding, intensive herd to 350, milking three times a day, with a herd average of 13,095kg. Housed all year round, the cows are split into three milking groups (high, medium and low) with the ration based around the same ingredient but varying levels depending on yielding group. Cows are housed in newly established sand cubicles, having recently moved away from straw yards, and calve all year round with an interval of 413 days. Milk production averages at 40 litres per cow with their Muller Tesco contract based around 3.85 butter fat and 3% protein – and the herd rarely fails to achieve this.
The Woodmarsh prefix was registered in 1970 and among the first pedigree purchases was a Weeton heifer from the Dewdrop family and an Isobel from Hoohall. Throughout the years the Goulds have invested in good families and Mick has kept a close eye on global breeding developments. This has led them to introduce the predominate Meolody, Lymes and Zandras families which today form the backbone of the Woodmarsh prefix.
In terms of breeding, all artificial insemination is carried out by Mick and increasingly sexed semen is being used to assist with heifer conception rates. Generally, Mick will place 2 to 3 AI inseminations before the cow goes to a Holstein bull which has come from a homebred cow.
We asked Mick…
1.What is the first thing you look at when you select an AI sire?
For me the udder is the most important aspect of a cow, followed by legs and feet. A good udder is not only aesthetically pleasing but from a commercial perspective, enables a cow to produce for longer – giving greater return on investment.
2.What order of preference do you place on production/health/ type?
First and foremost, I place greatest emphasis on type, followed by health and then production. One of the greatest pleasures for me is breeding the next generation – you don’t always get it right but it’s the challenge that I thrive upon and keeps the job exciting!
3.You have invested in pedigree limousin; do you see this as a future for yourselves in terms of breeding?
I am currently 51 years of age and have no children to hand the farm to. Katherine and I have been milking because it’s a passion – we’re doing it for our own fulfilment. I have no interest in stopping farming but there will come a day when we do stop producing milk. The Limousin enterprise is a business that we can continue to pursue when we no longer milk cows and enables us to future proof our business, income and livelihoods. At the moment we have 20 pedigree Limousins, but I would like to see this increase overtime.
4.What is your type of cow in the show ring? Has your emphasis on breeding changed?
I am probably not following most modern trends and opinions as I still desire a cow with size. Within the industry we’re seeing emphasis shift towards smaller, European Holsteins but for me I am still looking for power. Size is important not only in terms of height, but by depth and width of capacity throughout the body so that the cow can consume large quantities of forage, and ultimately generate high yields. Whatever breed you mess with, size is one of the traits that is hard to achieve. You can easily make an animal smaller, but upscaling is where difficulty can lie and so for me size is paramount.
5.Which is the cow, excluding UK cows, that you have admired the most?
It was at a European Show in Switzerland that I witnessed Decrausaz Iron Okalibra. When this cow walked into the show ring we instantly knew there could be no other to surpass her. She had incredible dairy character, an exquisite rear udder and was outstanding in every way. She demonstrated so much power and strength - I have never witnessed an animal quite like her since!
6.In terms of pedigree sales and business highlights, what achievements stand out for you?
With the dairy industry rapidly evolving it is hard to not get consumed by the everyday and it is important for us to reflect on what we have achieved over time. Selling one of my milking heifers for £20,000 in 2007 stands out as a shining moment. This was the most expensive cow I have ever sold! Getting a homebred excellent 96 cow was also a great achievement and a hugely exciting time for us was when we first started selling bulls to the large AI companies. In roughly 2005/2006 I believe we were the first herd in the UK to start sending embryos back to Canada – again, this was a momentous achievement for our business.
7.Where do you see the business in the next 5 years – are there any plans to change breeding regimes?
We have built up the Woodmarsh herd to a level that we are extremely proud of. We have had to be critical on ourselves and we have learnt and improved along the way. Self-analysis is key and you should never become too complacent. I am very much a believer that there is always opportunity for positive people; you should grab these chances and run with them. When I do reach 60 it is likely that we will stop milking and look to alternative revenue streams, such as the Limousin breeding. Whilst it has been a passion of mine for years, it is fact that dairying is a hard and demanding way of life – we can’t be milking cows forever no matter how hard we try!
8.What are your thoughts on the British dairy industry? What threats have you had to overcome to survive?
The UK dairy industry is becoming polarised into two systems, intensive and extensive. We quickly realised back in 1995 that if we didn’t expand we would have to get out. Farming is becoming more intensive, and farms and herd sizes are increasing – its just the way the industry has had to evolve to survive and compete on global scales. With Brexit on the horizon there are still so many unanswered questions but as an industry we need to continue to innovate, invest and accept that change is inevitable.