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The Thornbers iFeed Story...

Just over two years ago the Thornber family set out on a programme of changes and improvements in their dairy farming business. These changes have improved efficiency, led to the end of their producer/retailer business and importantly, has also given the family more time both for their cows and themselves.

Progress is clear through average yields increasing by around 1,500 litres per cow and margin over purchased feed per cow is up by £450 per year. The additional output is covered by quota held by the farm. Apart from deciding to give up the retail side of the business, the majority of changes have been relatively small, effectively fine tuning, but cumulatively showing real benefits. Dugdale Nutrition dairy consultant, Adam Collantine, has worked with the family for over two years. The experience has also provided a key platform in the development of Dugdale’s new iFeed intelligent feeding and management programme.

Higher Greenhead Farm, Sawley, Clitheroe is run by husband and wife partnership John and Elizabeth Thornber. They farm with their sons Matthew and Edward, while daughter Jane now lives and works in Harrogate, but keeps a watchful eye on happenings at home! John says: “We are first generation farmers starting in 1981 with 44 acres. We now have 114 acres owned and 65 acres rented on an annual basis. We have a total of 115 cows and 45 followers. We were all Holstein Friesians but are now dabbling with cross-breeding with Montbeliardes. Up till August last year we were producer retailers but made a family decision to dispense with that so there was even more pressure on us to make more of the cows.”

The farm team help in all aspects of the business with John concentrating on the cows; Matthew on cattle breeding; Edward on feeding and Elizabeth is called in when needed; this on top of all the farm’s paperwork. Matthew also works part time as a HGV lorry driver, while Edward has his own joinery business based at the farm which includes making lamb adopters.

About 2 1/2 years ago the farm had about 95 cows calving all year round and feeding was based predominantly on in-parlour feeding and silage outside. It was at this time the Higher Greenhead dairy herd averaged 6,000 litres at 4.00 percent fat and 3.22 per cent protein, of which 2,500 litres came from forage. Margin over purchased feed per cow was about £1,350 per cow. Feed rate per litre was 0.3kg. Now, the herd average is 7,500 litres at 4.1 per cent fat and 3.3 percent protein with feed rate per litre remaining at 0.3kg. Rolling margin over purchased feed is currently about £1,800 per year. Adam says: “We felt key concerns were low feed intakes and too heavy reliance on feeding in the parlour. We tackled this by introducing a semi TMR system and increasing the quality of feed given in the parlour. We also moved on to a better grassland management system.The farm vet also suggested adjustments to the cubicles & other improvements in housing.”

The family now foresee gradually building up and developing the farm business both for themselves and the next generation – John and Elizabeth’s two young grandsons, Matthews’ sons, Thomas and Jack.

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