Notes from a Master Breeder 

master breeder

“Loin and rump” was the first comment from Ivan Shepherd, from Hill Top Farm, Great Budworth, Cheshire when asked by his Massey Feeds feed advisor Alan Webster what is important to him in selecting sires. “No matter how good everything else is, a good rump and a strong loin is critical.”

Ivan is one of only a handful of Master Breeders in the UK. This means that he has a long history of having cows classed as Excellent and Very Good over successive years, so he knows a bit about breeding successful dairy cows.

Ivan, wife Judy and son Richard run the 160 head, all year round calving Budworth Herd. The cows graze through the summer and are semi-TMR in winter. Massey FiMLAC dairy nuts are fed all year round in the parlour.

Ivan went on to explain: “If the cow has weak loins and a high tail head, the birth canal is squeezed, making calving difficult. It’s like pulling a calf uphill and it only gets worse as the cow gets older. This is the number one trait I look at.”

Sound legs and feet come next in his list of things to look at when checking bull proofs. “A good straight leg will help keep the heels out of the slurry. We want her walking on her toes but if the leg is too straight, the hocks can get puffy” he continues.

The third critical point is a good udder that is well tucked up in heifers. “I don’t want to see the teats pointing to every Parish!” he joked. He says strong ligaments will keep the udder nicely in position, even after the 6th calf.

“First and foremost, though, I am a commercial dairy farmer. All my cows must be functional and make money. Being a Master Breeder is just the icing on the cake.”

The Budworth Herd started after the 1967 foot and mouth outbreak, when Ivan’s father and a few other farmers brought in Canadian Holstein heifers. “They were nothing fancy but they were Pedigree. I was always keen on showing cows, hence the right type was needed and the breeding grew from there” he said.

After the last classification, 53 of the herd were classified Excellent and 53 as VG. “A lot of high scoring, older cows are needed” he explained “It is so important to have longevity and consistency in the herd, and that is what we try to achieve.”

The proof of the ability to breed cows that last is the low replacement rate of just 18%, meaning there are usually around 25-30 heifers sold every year.

The Budworth Herd currently averages 9,250 litres at 4.00 fat and 3.20 protein. “I don’t tend to look at yield on the proofs” Ivan says “Regardless of that figure, all my cows tend to milk well. I can’t recall the last time a cow left the farm because she wasn’t milking well.”

Recently, the Budworth Herd was the Premier Dairy Herd in the Cheshire County Farms Competition and they won Supreme Champion and Reserve Champion at the Poynton Show, with a 6th calver, Budworth Jordan Confucious and the heifer Budworth Toystory Queen.

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