IN 1947 Pete Baul’s father and grandfather walked their herd of 19 cows from where they were farming at Grewelthorpe to Watergate Farm at Bishop Thornton. Two years later they bought the farm and the adjoining Raventofts Farm which then extended to some 250 acres.

Now, just over 70 years later, the Ravensgate pedigree herd runs to 180 cows in milk and some 450 acres, staffed by Peter and his brothers Dave and Martin as well as nephew Matthew and long serving full-time employee Tim Mariner, who joined the farm from school more than 44 years ago.

Ever since the 1940s and 1950s, when the herd was graded up, the herd had been pedigree, with the prefix an amalgamation of the two farm names – Ravensgate, ensuring full traceability and ancestry.

While milk from the herd which averages over 10,000 litres per lactation at 3.8 per cent fat and 3.3 per cent protein is sold to local processor Paynes Dairies, the sale of surplus stock from the farm is a fundamental element of the business, not merely accounting for a 13th milk cheque but bringing in some 40 per cent of the farm’s revenue.

Pete explains that this method of adding income to the farm is his preferred route over increasing cow numbers, which would need more buildings, more land, more slurry storage and, possibly most importantly, more staff.

To this end the milkers run at 180 with capacity for another ten to 20, although pushing numbers up he feels is counterproductive to performance, and youngstock numbers approach 400.

Bull calves are currently kept, raised as bullocks and sold as stores through local auctions – either Northallerton or Skipton. In fact the Bauls feel that auction marts still have a crucial role to play in the marketing of stock. Some 20 to 30 freshly calved pedigree heifers are usually sold annually through Craven Cattle Mart at Skipton, with Pete happy with the ease of selling stock regularly.

His prices for income per cow in his Kingsway costing benchmarking sit at more than double the group average, while he is happy that more than 70 per cent of the herd which he sells is through voluntary selection and only forced sales of about 30 per cent (whereas convention is nearer 66 per cent forced sales and a mere 33 per cent voluntary sales). In addition, maiden heifers have also been drafted out of the herd for sale.

With current trends towards fewer black-and-white bull calves, Pete is planning over the next 12 months to use more sexed semen, not only on heifers as previously but also on cows, while he will use Belgian Blue on the rest.

The oldest cow in the herd today is Ravensgate Outside Sparkle 119, who epitomises the type of cow Pete strives to breed. With a lifetime production in excess of 120 tonnes of milk, she has had 14 calves in 13 calvings of which eight have been heifers.

Sire selection is based on a high PLI (Profitable Lifetime Index) in the first instance, having never considered components before a positive on fat percentage is also sought, and then the type linear is studied. There is no desire to breed cattle any bigger, but a positive on chest width, together with good feet and legs is crucial.

As Pete milks twice a day having a good uddered cow in his parlour is important to him, and the number of bulls with straight legs is concerning, he says, particularly with herd sizes increasing and forcing cows to be housed for longer periods.

Sires such as Corinthian, Boxcar, Spock, Fantastic and Atrium have been used or are in the flask – and as more sexed semen is to be used the fertility of this semen will be checked with each batch delivered to ensure as everything is right from the start to maximise pregnancies.

Using technology to aid improvement and performance is also a part of modern dairying, says Pete. While Heat Time has been advantageous in the past on this farm, the system is now failing, so grant funding has helped with the purchase of a Sense Hub cow monitoring system, which although in the very early days of implementation is showing early promise.

SenseHub™ is a sophisticated, modular cow-monitoring solution that delivers actionable information on the reproductive, health, nutritional and wellbeing status of individual cows and groups. With SenseHub, dairy farmers can make data-driven decisions for maximised productivity. Pete highlighted its application with an example of being woken to a message on his phone of ‘cow in distress’ – and him rushing outside to see what had befallen the animal in question. Relieved as he was to find the cow chewing its cud laid in a cubicle, the sensor accuracy was vindicated as the cow did indeed have mastitis when she came into milk.

2020’s technology challenge is integrating the various on farm computers to one computer which integrates the SenseHub information, Uniform Agri programme, the in parlour feeding computer and the accounts computer system – with much of it supplying information via apps to his mobile.

Self-sufficiency is also an important component of the farm policy although it does make for hard work, particularly at harvest time– some 80 acres of corn is grown, much of which is barley that is mixed with maize silage (30 acres grown and for Pete a very important feed stuff which is a stable component of the TMR which slowly passes through the cows digestive systems), grass silage, Brewers Grains and protein source.

With the TMR diet supplemented with I’Ansons cake fed to yield through the parlour at milking time. Creating a diet that the closed herd can respond to and milk off, ensures they are long lasting and maximises the surplus stock to sell as well as the milk sold.