As part of this week’s Dairy Focus, That’s Farming speaks to Amber Jeans (23), a first-generation dairy farmer. Amber farms in Hampshire, UK, on a dairy farm which is a part of an estate. She runs the dairy enterprise comprising 380 cows, along with three others.
While the UK native always had a passion to work closely with animals, she had to curve an alternative route from veterinary medicine due to unforeseen health issues.
“From a young age, I had a love for animals. Growing up in the Hampshire countryside only encouraged the passion,” she told That’s Farming.
Amber’s desire to further her career in agriculture fuelled her further education. Following secondary-level education, she achieved her dreams of attending Sparsholt College to study animal management to become a qualified vet.
“Unfortunately, due to my allergies and asthma, I could not pursue this career.”
The keen animal-lover did not stop here. She pursued her studies with animals down the path of agriculture. Her passion for cows on the college farm influenced this choice.
“It must have been fate because I soon realised I had no allergies to farm animals.”
Coming from a non-farming background and no relatives with an interest in farming, Amber’s passion for agriculture has only developed since then.
First-generation dairy farmer
The dairy farm is approximately 400-acres, which involves dairy buildings and grassland. The milk producers are self-sufficient in forage production.
The future for the Hampshire-based dairy enterprise entails expansion as they plan to increase their dairy herd numbers.
“We are currently milking 380 cows, but the plan is to expand to 450.”
The milk contract the farm has in place influenced this decision. The contract now demands even more milk quantity from the producers.
Decisions to enhance the farm also involve changes to the calving structure, with a transition to a spring and autumn block calving herd. This change is also to increase farm profitability.
“The spring and autumn-calvers have the aim to calf outside. Once they are calved, they are brought in and continue to graze dependent on weather, as well as grass growth.”
Grassland management is certainly an aspect that is well studied on this dairy enterprise, with measurement techniques incorporated into a management plan.
“The grass is walked weekly, so we have an idea of what paddock to use next. All the paddocks are strip grazed to allow for the best use of the grass. We usually have a day and a night paddock.”
During the winter period, they house the cows. The average diet of the dairy herd in the winter includes a good ration and home-grown forage until grass growth meets demand.
“We are a cross-bred herd, which are now going back to more Holstein to improve on our milk yield.”
Breeds on the farm also include Swedish Red, Norwegian Red, Holstein and Montbéliarde.
Breeding programme to produce quality
The main reproduction method this farm uses is AI. “The cows are bred through AI, which is something I have just been trained in myself. The spring herd get a chance with the bull acting as a sweeper for any missed.”
The spring group consist of cows that did not go in-calf in autumn, so they are repeats.
“This is something that I think is nice because it gives the cow a second chance.”
The autumn herd obtained 12 weeks of AI to tighten up the calving interval. Comparatively, the spring group receive CIDRs and are then AI’d together, followed by the bull mentioned above.
“We use Angus stock bulls, and we AI with sexed semen and beef straws, dependent on the breeding programme.”
Resultantly, Amber speaks of her ideal cow type. “My ideal cow would be a cross-bred. Probably, a Swedish Red-cross-Holstein, or a lovely Jerseyross.
“I am sucker for a red cow, and I think the push for milk yield is not always a good thing. I would rather have a cow live a long life with me than be pushed for yield and have a shorter life.”
They rear heifers, which return back into the milk production system, as replacements and sell beef-bred calves.
“On average, heifers calve down 2-years-old, as part of a cost reduction measure on the farm.
The farm is interested in retaining some of the smaller heifer calves from their autumn calving, with the intention of taking them around to spring to allow them to gain weight.
“The herd is currently performing very well. We are currently getting around 10,000L per day, which can peak at 12,000L during the year, with butterfat levels of 4.3% and protein of 3.34%.”
When comparing performance, this year’s performance has been remarked as “a little worse” than the previous year.
“This is due to the fact we are changing the calving patterns, which means less milk.”
Farm infrastructure and facilities
The farm is well-established, which the level of infrastructure in place reflects.
“The parlour is a Boumatic 30:60 swing-over with ADF. The parlour was fitted seven years ago, so it is fairly new.”
In terms of milking, they milk cows twice daily, and the time required is 3 to 4 hours per milking.
Housing facilities are also built to a high standard to host a range of cows, depending on their health status.
“The cows are housed in cubicles with some extra loose housed straw yards for the older cows, cows which do not lie in or lame cows. We have a small straw yard which is the ‘hospital’ yard, so any cows with mastitis or on any treatments go in here.”
In terms of rearing calves and youngstock, there is a unit in construction this year to house replacements. At present, these animals are currently housed around the estate in barns.
“We have put in a separator recently to allow us to irrigate the paddocks.”
A relatable challenge
While the dairy worker faces numerous challenges, there is one, in particular, that strikes Amber, as well as many other women in agriculture.
“For me, the biggest challenge was finding a farm where I would be accepted. Being a small, 5ft girl, it was hard for me to prove I was capable of the job. Now, I have found my place in the industry, and I could not be happier.”
Another huge parameter that strikes Amber as a challenge is another issue that any other suckler and dairy producers may relate to, animal health.
“I find having to have a cow or calf shot the most challenging. Also, when Tuberculosis (TB) strikes, I find that hard to deal with seeing a perfectly healthy animal to me, being put down.”
“I love every aspect of dairy farming. From waking up early in the morning before anyone else, seeing the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets, to even walking them onto a lorry knowing I have done the best for that animal, but now sadly it is her time to go.”
The plans Amber has constructed for the future are inspiring. Amber intends to one day run a farm of her own, either through a farm tenancy or owning one herself.
She believes the future of the dairy industry has “not much hope” without intervention.
“In my eyes, the future in dairy farming seems bleak. There needs to be more done to encourage young people into our industry and showcase what we do.
It is not something that the average person can just walk into and do; you have to have the passion. A passion that we need to help build in our children.”
To share your story like this first-generation dairy farmer, email – [email protected]