The Cholderton Estate is
a mixed enterprise, with some 270 dairy cows in two units, plus 50 dairy
replacement heifers, and 180 beef cattle and followers. Sheep form an
important part of the livestock, with 250 purebred Hampshire Downs and
220 Finns; there are 120 ewe lambs. At present there are also six Tamworth
pigs, but this number might increase as meat sales improve.
Management of the
Organic Dairy Herds
The first priority with the
dairy herds is spring and summer milk production. The majority of the
cows will calve during February and March. At this time of the year there
is no grass or other fodder crop available, so the cows are fed on silage
and hay. The herds are loose housed and bedded down on copious quantities
of straw. Every effort is made to keep the cows as clean as possible.
Cows due to calve are watched,
and assistance is given in the event of a cow having a protracted birth.
If necessary, use is made of a calving jack; calves are born much more
easily and with less stress to the cow. Newly born calves have their navels
sprayed with iodine and are then encouraged to suckle, but are given colostrum
via a stomach tube if this should prove necessary. It is vital that calves
receive colostrum within four hours of birth, otherwise they are unable
to absorb directly the antibodies that are present in this first milk.
Calves are left on their mothers
for as long as possible and thereafter are reared entirely on organic
whole milk from the herd. The calves are reared at each dairy, so that
mothers are able to keep in touch with their offspring throughout the
The newly calved cows will
initially be fed on silage, but will be turned out onto the white clover
leys as soon as these become available. The early part of the grazing
season will be dependent on white clover; then, as summer progresses,
sainfoin and lucerne will prevail. Red clover leys are particularly useful
in the late summer and autumn.
The cows are generally set
stopped. Fortunately the cows appear to have become very accustomed to
eating leguminous-rich pastures, and bloat does not appear to be a problem.
Fatal attacks of bloat used to be quite common, and particularly prevalent
in rye grass leys receiving large quantities of artificial nitrate. There
have not been any cases at Cholderton since organic conversion.
Newly calved cows receive
a ration based on home-grown cereals and GM-free maize gluten, fed at
4lbs per gallon (0.4kg per litre). Minerals are added to compensate for
deficiencies. Cows are served, normally by AI, 56 days after calving.
An Aberdeen Angus bull is run with the herd after AI stops, to catch any
For some years the policy
on breeding has been to concentrate on the attributes of health, hardiness
and good milk production. For this reason, semen from genuine Friesian
and Shorthorn bulls is used. Many of the cows have had ten calves or more.
This is a remarkable statistic, given that the national average is merely
three lactations per cow. Factors such as health and welfare are more
important than just milk production. Many dairy farmers have failed to
take into account the true cost of replacement stock.
Milk quality is consistently
high. This is the result of careful milking techniques, including the
use of the Californian Milk Test, and the general cleanliness of the cows
and milking equipment.
Silage is cut in June and
July in a single cut from crops of either red clover or oats and vetches.
These crops are capable of producing outstanding yields in an average
season. No additives are used, the silage is merely rolled and sheeted
down. The clamps are normally opened in November, and the silage has proved
to be very palatable.
Milk production declines over
the autumn and winter, leading to a dry period six to eight weeks before
calving. The cows are normally fed on crops of kale or turnips over this
All manure from the barns
is removed periodically and stored over the winter. Spreading of the composted
material begins in March, over as many fields as practicable.
Target levels of nutrients
for each field have been calculated, allowing for the direct excretions
of the animals and the additional spreading of compost. The combined levels
of inputs will not exceed 9.6lbs per acre (200kg per hectare) of nitrate
per annum. This ensures that the level of nutrients does not exceed that
which can be used by the growing crop. This, coupled with careful spreading,
should prevent the leeching of pollutants into ground or surface water.
Management of the
The suckler cows are home
bred Aberdeen Angus x Friesians. These cows are good milkers, excellent
mothers, calve easily and are robust and healthy. As heifers they are
put to an Aberdeen Angus bull. Later calvings are to Limousin and Charollais
bulls. The sucklers are calved inside during February and March and are
turned out to grass with their calves as soon as practicable. Bull calves
are castrated painlessly at birth by the use of a rubber ring and are
disbudded as soon as possible.
The calves grow rapidly over
the summer and are grazed on organic pastures that were devoid of cattle
in the previous year. Every effort is made to secure worm-free grazing
for the stock. The cows and calves are housed before Christmas, when weaning
takes place. Many will be sold in the New Year, the steers going to fattening
units and most of the heifers going as breeding stock for other farms.
Manures are treated in the
same way as for the dairy cows.
of the Early Lambing Hampshire Down flock
The Hampshire Down sheep at
Cholderton receive particular care and attention. This is partly because
they are an important part of the history and culture of the Estate, but
also because the owners are exceptionally sensitive towards the needs
of their sheep.
The Estate ewes are fed whole
oats at 0.5lb (0.22kg) a head for six to seven weeks before they are due
to start lambing. Generally at this time of year – October –
there is plenty of grass, but the ewes also have access to tubs of organic
molasses-based blocks and mineralised salt licks. As lambing approaches,
the ration is gradually increased until at lambing the ewes are being
fed between 1.5 and 2lb (0.7–0.9kg) of oats with minerals. When
the ewes have lambed and are lactating heavily, the ration is further
increased to 2.5lb (1kg) per head, including GM-free maize gluten to boost
the protein intake.
Failure to feed in-lamb ewes
properly can result in Twin Lamb Disease. The symptoms are indifference
to food and partial blindness, followed by collapse and death. Ewes that
are inadequately fed after lambing can develop Ketosis, with similar symptoms.
Both these ailments can be treated if caught early enough by giving the
affected ewes Colate Multi-Lamb Rapid.
Problems can arise even if
the ewes are apparently adequately fed. This will be because a ewe may
be old, or suffering from bad feet or another ailment that prevents her
from competing successfully for food. Such sheep should be taken away
and fed on their own.
Ewes can develop mastitis.
This is treated by stripping out the affected quarter, and administering
an injection of penicillin into the muscle of the hind leg. This causes
less stress to the ewe, and she will need to be injected again only if
symptoms persist after two days.
field in which lambing is going to take place should be large and well
sheltered. A group of fields with surrounding woodland or good hedges
giving shelter from the prevailing weather could also be very suitable.
It is important that each ewe is allowed the privacy she requires at lambing
because this reduces the incidence of mis-mothering.
At Cholderton the sheep are
checked every two hours during the day, with checks continuing up to 2300hrs
at night. The first morning check is around 0600hrs. This dedicated and
intensive routine ensures that most lambings are attended.
It is very important that
the ewes are given access to adequate grass or good-quality hay after
lambing. In the early part of the year, grass will be short and therefore
the ewes will need 2.5lb (1kg) of food per head. The lambs will eat some
of this, but as the grass begins to grow the amount of concentrates can
be reduced. The feeding of the ewes should be adjusted to take into account
grass availability, and the general condition of the sheep.
The Hampshire Down is a traditional
breed, developed to produce early maturing lambs for the Easter market.
This is a job for which the breed is admirably suited, and today it is
this premium market that all breeders should aim to exploit.
Ewes and lambs should have access to plenty of grass in the spring and
should not be stocked too tightly; lambs can be easily set back if their
food supply is curtailed.
Cholderton lambs are not vaccinated
until all those going to market have been sorted out and sold. This reduces
handling and prevents any being spoilt by having an abscess after being
immunized. Generally lambs will have received adequate immunity from their
mothers up to this age. Those that are not sold will become flock replacements,
and as such will need careful attention.
Ewes and lambs will flourish
on leguminous crops such as sainfoin, vetches or a mixture of oats and
peas. This is a very effective way of improving field fertility. At Cholderton
the 'forward creep' grazing system has traditionally been used. This allows
the lambs to have first use of the sainfoin by controlling access with
a 'creep' – a gate that allows the lambs, but not the ewes, to pass.
The lambs go through the creep to graze on the sainfoin and on the barley
meal put out for them. The ewes follow behind, devouring the sainfoin
down to the ground and leaving a manured, stripped field behind them.
lambs sometimes become lame. This is due to ‘strip’ and is
easily treated by spraying iodine between the digits. Feet are of paramount
importance and should be kept well trimmed and free from rot. Foot rot
is best treated by clipping out, spraying and, as a preventative, using
a foot bath containing zinc sulphate.
See ours health suplement
The ewes are normally shorn
in May. At shearing all the ewes’ feet are trimmed, and at the same
time any ewes that require culling are removed. They are also sprayed
with Vetrazine to prevent fly strike. It is important to keep the back
ends of sheep clean. This does help to keep the fly away, but even perfectly
clean sheep are sometimes attacked.
stock Most people start their flocks by purchasing a few ewes
or ewe lambs. Some basic points should be checked. Examine the mouth to
ensure the animals are not under or over shot – in other words that
the front teeth meet on the plate on the top of the mouth and do not come
in front or behind the plate when the mouth is closed. The udder should
not have lumps in it; lumps could mean that the animal has had mastitis
and there is a problem with her milking ability. Ensure the legs are straight.
The nose should be straight, not bowed, and the wool on the body white
without black fibres. Further breed points can be ascertained in ‘The
Standard of Excellence’ in the Hampshire Down Flock Book.
Once the females have been
purchased, a ram may be obtained from a different flock, to achieve a
mix of blood lines. It may be worth getting a sperm test done by the vet
before purchase. Look for length and a good deep back end on a ram; do
not buy sheep carrying excessive fat on short legs. Rams should be fit,
not overly fat, and able to work.
Breeding stock should not
be purchased from flocks infected with any form of contagious abortion.
General flock welfare
It is extremely important that the flock is treated with an appropriate
vaccine. Ewes that have not previously received a vaccine require two
doses, a month apart, with the second dose 4–6 weeks before lambing.
Ewes that have been vaccinated before need only to be given a booster
vaccination. The timing is important. If it is left too late, the ewes
may be upset and suffer from metabolic problems. If the vaccine is administered
too early, the level of protection given to the lamb will be diminished.