Final Open Day Report: Staying ahead of the curve!

The last year is one many in the industry would sooner forget, but for Phil Asbury, farm manager at Clive Hall Farm in Winsford, Cheshire, monitoring and measuring 2012 / 13 against the previous two years has produced many points to remember.

Phil AsburyThe 71ha extensive-grazing farm milks 210 Kiwi Friesian, Jersey and Swedish Red cross-bred cattle on a spring block calving system as one of six milking units contract managed by Cheshire-based dairy farm management company Fletcher and Co (Grasslands).

Since March 2010 Clive Hall has been a central point for farmer discussion as one of six monitor farms selected through the RDPE Northwest Livestock Programme that were tasked with improving farm competiveness and sharing ideas with the farming community in the North West.

And despite an unpredictable last 12 months, unit manager Phil has still managed to turn in a better performance than he did the year before the programme started, by taking a structured approach to fertility, youngstock, lameness, milk produced from grazed grass and people management.

“The experience has really opened my eyes to a lot of things as we’ve dug deeper into areas like calf management, lameness and mobility. Fertility has been the over-riding driver of how the farm and cows perform which has been undermined by lameness.” 

Phil Asbury

How the monitor farm process started… and introduction to lean management

Dr Kay CarsonA small steering group saw Phil, Grasslands managing director Andrew Fletcher, local farmers and industry representatives, set out to establish the farm’s objectives. The group helped to identify specialists to meet these goals and struck upon the principles of lean management and the work of agricultural economist Dr Kay Carson.

Phil has worked closely with Dr Carson to look at the milk production process on the farm as a whole – addressing animal health with farm vet Bridget Taylor and Ed Hayes from Wright and Morten Vet Group, nutrient management with Promar and travelling further afield for specialist knowledge on grassland with trips to Moorepark in Ireland and speakers organised through DairyCo.

This structured approach to direct decision-making takes the form of a daily diary that Phil completes on his laptop. By inputting data taken from a combination of sources, it has helped point out problems in herd health before they become too serious, identify potential holes in his grazing platform and stay ahead of the curve.

Grassland management

Phil walks the whole farm once a week with a plate meter and measures grass when the cows go in and come out of a paddock. The quality of grass has to be at its best at all times, with cows put in at 2,700 kg DM/ha and taken out at 1,300 on the first round,1,550 later in the year, returning for as long as necessary to ensure they graze down to the required residual as paddocks range in size from 1ha to 7.5ha. The farm is closed up at 2,150kg DM/ha in late November for the three months cows aren’t at grass.

The farm didn’t really have a focussed reseeding policy until three years ago and now annually reseeds 10% of the land each spring. Clive Hall is in an NVZ area and a trailing shoe is used to spread slurry as much as they can. 10,000 concrete sleepers link the fields and electric fencing is widely used to fully utilise grass and access grazing at the shoulders of the year.

He said: “You can’t miss grazing a paddock right down twice in a row as it will hit growth later on in the year. You can’t afford to leave grass behind in the field and let cows go lazy.

“The programme we use plots grass cover across the farm as a curve and as soon as you see a dip approaching you do something to try and flatten the hole out by opening the clamp or increasing corn.”

“If grass goes above 2,700 kg we’ll take it out of rotation and silo it, cutting at 3,500 to 4,000kg, but we have to make sure we don’t jump in with two feet too soon as the grass is far more cost effective grazed than shut up in the clamp.”

The farm reached its target of utilising 12t DM/ha at 12MJ ME in 2011 and saved 0.45ppl on feed and forage costs as a result. In fact April 2011 to April 2012 was a great year. Income rose by 1.88ppl and costs were reduced by 1.12ppl to make a bottom line improvement of 3.00ppl on a million litres milked.

DairyCo’s MilkBench figures for three years saw the farm’s net margin increase from 5.96ppl in 2009/10 to 8.99ppl in 2011/12. Admittedly strong milk prices saw margins rise for everyone but Clive Hall’s increased faster than the top 10% and almost caught up due to improvements made in milk from grazed grass.

Feed budgeting over the last 12 months

2012/13 has been a different story and planned feed budgets of 600kg per head based on the previous good year have been blown apart for a farm so heavily reliant on grass and is closer to 1,000kg, yet despite poor grass growth this spring and an unprecedented wet summer, results suggest they’ve still done better than 2009.

Speaking at the farm’s final monitor farm open day in May, Phil said: “It’s the first time I’ve been able to see 10 days grass in front of me. Milk is now dead level at 24 litres and hopefully we can maintain that now as we’re past peak milk output.

“April last year we were producing 27 litres of milk (per cow per day) off 15 kilos of grass and two kilos of corn. This April we were doing 18 litres off 6kg of silage, 7kg of corn and 3kg of grass!”

The cows are mobility scored once a month and condition scored three times a year. This, along with data on mastitis cases, calf weights and fertility makes for more informed decision making.


Bridget Taylor and Phil AsburyFertility was first addressed in 2009 when the farm had a health plan carried out by SAC Consulting and Wright and Morten Vets who moved the farm to a block calving pattern. The farm now aims to have 90% served in the first 20 days, averaging 10 cows a day.

Cows are PD’d in September and dried off early December, where they are condition scored, vaccinated for BVD, IBR and treated for fluke. All the cattle are given a trace element bolus before going on to a crop of beet where there may be deficiencies. This year silage bales supplemented a poor beet crop but didn’t fully fill the hole.

Cows calve on a straw yard with very few assisted births, very little milk fever and few retained cleansings are seen. Getting cows back in to calf has been helped by setting up a once-a-day milking group for lame, poorer condition and late calving cows.

Phil says condition scoring is an important job that he doesn’t do as he believes he would have too biased an opinion, so this is done by David Heath one of Grasslands’ directors. He also has 10 days of grazing planned at any one time so the herdsman knows which paddocks to use and when.

Data isn’t sexy but monitoring makes business sense

Planning ahead, monitoring results and looking for trends now plays a big part in Phil’s working week. Five years ago there was only one computer in the company but now all Grasslands’ farmers use them to fill in their daily diary.

They’ve needed support and encouragement to do it and time sat in the office hasn’t come naturally, but Phil now spends 20% of his working week on the business rather than solely in the business.

He said: “Data isn’t a sexy subject and it took me 12 months to get my head around it. It wasn’t until the second year when I had something to compare back to that it started to make sense. 

“Hans Johr, Nestle’s Corporate Head of Agriculture, visited us last year and seemed interested in what we were doing. He’d been to one of the other six milking units who’ve just started the diary and described them as being at the learning to walk stage, whereas he thought we were now at the learning to read and write stage.


“We’ve opened the door and stepped through in to the big room, now we’ll see where we can go from here. The experience has really opened my eyes to a lot of things as we’ve dug deeper into areas like calf management, lameness and mobility. Fertility has been the over-riding driver of how the farm and cows perform which has been undermined by lameness.” 

Phil Asbury


Mobility and youngstock

Generally 80 to 90% of the herd mobility score at 0-1 with just one or two niggling cows and poor access to a particular paddock causing problems. The cows are foot bathed regularly and a foot trimmer is employed to carry out preventative work.

Attention to youngstock has also been a success. Bridget said: “We’ve seen a big drop off in antibiotic sales at the practice due to better colostrum feeding. Phil has a snatch calf strategy and getting four litres of milk in the first six hours is of the utmost importance.”

The calves are put in pens of five and fed colostrum for the first three feeds. Raw milk not powder is used but not from heifers with unknown Johnes status. Pens are then gradually increased in size to 40 head and are out in the field from mid-March on a milk buggy with as much grass and corn as possible. Calves are then weighed for target weights at three, six and nine weeks and should be double their birth weight at 60 days. The farm aims to have all heifer replacements at 300kg at bulling.

The monitor farm programme has been delivered in Cheshire by Reaseheath College, with Myerscough College and Cumbria Farmer Network facilitating the same meetings on farms in Lancashire and Cumbria respectively.

DairyCo has provided technical support for all the dairy monitor farms in the North West. They now hope to work with Dr Carson to develop Lean Management further with farms across the country.

                                                                          2009/10             2010/11             2011/12

Average number of cows milked                      185                    187                    201

Number of full dairy grass grazing wks             41                      44                     37

Dairy Feed (kg fresh weight)                             202,300             290,500            167,000

Dairy Forage (kg fresh weight)                         750,000              1,274,000         984,000

Total milk produced (litres)                               944,236              937,833            1,066,­972

Total milk production cost (ppl)                        22.25                  23.67                22.55

Net Margin (ppl)                                                5.96                     6                      8.99

Net Margin (£/ha)                                              750                      810                  1,383

Income UP (ppl)                                                -                          29.67                31.48

Costs DOWN (ppl)                                           -                          23.67                22.55


% empty cows at 200 days post calving     

2009          2010             2011            2012  TARGET 10%                          

18%           11%              9%               13%

YEAR     Yield / cow      Concentrates / cow (kg)       Milk / cow from grass and forage

2009/10         5,104                              855                                     3,481 litres

2010/11         5,015                              1,351                                  2,448 litres

2011/12         5,308                              683                                     4,010 litres

2012/13*        4,800*                           1,000*                                  2,900* litres

*Provisional data

OPEN DAY REPORT: Monitor farm goes to war to get results

Even the best laid plans can go astray, it’s knowing when and what to change to get things back on track that brings real results.

This is what monitor farmer Phil Asbury had to say about the “lean management” approach the farm has taken to forage and milk production, the informed decisions he’s been able to make and the 23% net margin per litre increase he’s seen in the last year as a result.

Phils Asbury discusses pasture management with the group

Phils Asbury discusses pasture management with the group

Clive Hall dairy monitor farm near Winsford is part of the Grassland Solutions group (Fletcher & Co) that also has farms in other parts of Cheshire and Shropshire. Managing director Andrew Fletcher praised the project saying that “real results were starting to benefit the farm business”.

More grass, more silage = more milk and profit

In the last 12 months the farm has grown more grass, made more silage (41ha more), fed less corn (down from 900kg/cow to 800kg/cow) yet produced more milk (Up from 4,600 l/cow to 5,100 l/cow) and profit (7.1ppl to 10.5ppl) – and it’s all down to the “informed decisions” he’s been able to make.

Battle plan

It is 20 months (June 2010) since Dr Kay Carson introduced Clive Hall farm to the data collection needed to base these performance making decisions, a process the dairy specialist likens to battle planning in war.

Dr Kay Carson

Dr Kay Carson

“We started the year with a ‘lean’ budget which listed every input and every output, with its associated cost or income, month by month. At all times we could see the money spent against milk output and compare them against the budget plans. If targets were not met, we made the necessary changes to input use to try to get cost of production back on track the next month.

“You’ve heard the saying: ‘in war no battle plan survives contact with the enemy’”, Kay told the recent Open Day at the RDPE Northwest Livestock Programme Dairy Monitor farm in Cheshire. As, without a plan to guide decision making, you cannot react to events in a way that will deliver your objectives.

“It’s all about minimising unit costs. This year at Clive Hall this has meant keeping costs constant and getting more production out of them by minimising waste.”

And the biggest results this year have come from Phil’s attention to silage production – in quality, quantity and how efficiently it was produced:

“In 2010 we made light silage cuts as and when paddocks were available, which resulted in high contracting costs per tonne of DM produced. This year I utilised the contractor better by improving my grass growth predictions, using plate meter readings and the Kingswood grassland management programme. This meant we made heavier cuts of silage without compromising the grazing rotation.

“We budgeted to make 14ha of silage but actually made 55 ha of silage as clamp and bales for the year which made a big difference. We also left slightly higher residuals which made a difference in how fast the grass recovered and improved allocation of grass to cows.”

Phil went on to tell the visitors, “With the Kingswood system I can make ‘what if’ scenarios, which helps me make informed decisions, as we can see what the result will be if the weather changes or other inputs alter.”

In summary

• 41ha more silage made than budgeted for which has reduced the need to purchase as much forage as first thought
• The farm grew 13 tonnes DM/ha of grass (one tonne more than last year)
• Used contractors a lot more efficiently, reducing contracting costs per tonne of DM produced.
• Fed 100kg corn/cow less than last year (down from 900kg to 800kg) – average corn price £198t, saving £19.8/cow and £4,158 across the herd
• Produced 5,100 l/cow, up from 4,600 l/cow last year
Geoff Booth, Operations Manager with Grassland Solutions, commented “If we can grow and utilise a further ton of DM per ha, we can potentially drop corn by a further 290 kg per cow. Some of this will have to be made into silage because of grazing quality, but still results in 61 tonnes less of purchased feed be it corn or silage.”

Other things changed this year that have worked:

• Raising pre-grazing height from 2500 kg DM/ha to 2600-2700 kg DM/ha, and leaving slightly higher residuals (1550 kg DM/ha), subject to grass growth predictions
• Improved allocation of grass and better use of corn
• Improved use of Kingswood computer package to make better informed decisions and “what if scenarios” to stay ahead of the game.
• Improved herd health – mastitis, lameness and disease control
• A mature herd (14% of herd first calvers) contributed to milk output improvement

So what happened this year?

The farm got off to a good start in February at turn-out as Phil carried surplus grass through the winter remarkably well, given the hard frost and snow of 2010/11.

Cows were out at grass day and night from 14th of February, fed 7 kg DM/ cow of grass and 6 kg of corn and 2 kg of silage until mid-March (no silage was fed from March to October).

From early to mid-April cows were fully fed 14 kg of grass and 4 kg of corn, which went to 16 kg grass dry matter and 2 kg corn from late April to mid-October.

No prolonged drought period, with a recorded rainfall of 4.3 mm of rain per day between April and October; this contributed to good grass growth.

Improvements to be made in 2012/13

• Reduce number of late calvers / tighten spring calving to 11 weeks
• Continue to improve yield
• Reduce lameness – currently mobility scoring 92% as 0 and 1s, 3% score 2s and 5% score 3. Need to reduce score 3s to 0% by improving tracks and surfaces.
• Continue to improve fertility
• Try to reduce corn use
• Grow 14 tonnes DM/ha of grass
• Re-seed 10% of the farm each spring / Improve soil nutrients and compaction with sub-soiling as part of the reseeding programme

Ed Hayes

Ed Hayes

Farm vet Ed Hayes from Macclesfield-based Wright and Morten (part of the XL Vets group) was also at hand to give an honest, open and systematic approach to costing vet time and work on farm using the same lean management principles.

He broke down the jobs he does on farm into two categories, the ones he wants to charge for and sees as having the most benefit on farm – such as disease screening, vaccines, fertility work and preventative measures, and the ones he doesn’t want to be charging for – such as emergency out of hours cases and crisis situations, as those cases don’t see as much value for money for time spent. The message being prevention rather than cure.

Ed said: “Through being a monitor farm we now have more data and more figures to work with and time to assess issues with Phil. Two to three years ago we were guessing as to what the problems were but now we are working with stats and figures to make more informed decisions.

“Clive Hall is just above UK average on vet spend, but we do a lot of fertility work and I’m proud of the pence per litre profitability figures. We’ve been able to alter the breakdown of spend and make better use of vet time to improve production.

“Reducing disease takes time to see results come through but we’re seeing it go in the right direction.”

In the war on costs to improve profits, Clive Hall now has the Lean Management principles and approach in place to use the data that is collected to meet the financial aspirations of Phil and his team at Grassland Solutions.

(Report by Adrian Capstick)

OPEN DAY Report: Maximising the value of youngstock

PLAN ahead to maximise stock value and minimise losses. That’s the mantra of Phil Asbury, Farm Manager at Clive Hall Farm, the NW Livestock Dairy Monitor Farm for Cheshire.

Clive Hall is a 62ha farm near Winsford and belongs to the Fletcher & Co contract farming business that manages a number of farms in Cheshire, Shropshire and Herefordshire. The herd of 210 Kiwi Friesian/Jersey crosses at Clive Hall is block calved in the spring and run on a grass-based system.

Phil Asbury and Vet Ed Haynes

Phil explained his approach to youngstock management at a monitor farm open day attended by more than 50 farmers from across the region. Clive Hall is in the second year of the NW Livestock Programme and Phil is confident that they are benefiting from being involved.

Benefit from getting involved

“Being part of the Northwest Livestock Programme has really made us look at how we’ve been managing our youngstock rearing on farm,” he said. “It has helped us understand what we are doing right, what we can improve and what we need to stop doing!”

Improving calf health

The first area that the team wanted to improve was the level of scour in young calves.

calf“Clive Hall Farm’s youngstock performance is generally above average,” commented Ed Hayes of Wright & Morten Veterinary Practice and XL Vets, “but we identified that scour was still a problem and worked with Phil to develop a plan to address it. We also hoped these measures would improve calf growth rates in later life.”

Five areas were identified as key to reducing the incidence of scour and the severity of the disease if it did occur – colostrum and immunity; housing and ventilation; cleanliness and hygiene; disease and treatments; and vaccinations.

Phil told the group about some of the changes they had made in these key areas. “Calves are now given three litres of colostrum in the first six hours, and a further three litres within the next 18 hours. We feed this via a stomach tube, something we’d not done before, but it is working really well.”

He also reinforced the importance of good cleanliness standards. “We make sure all the basics are right, such as keeping the calving pens clean, dry and draft free.

“We are trying hard to clean out the calf pens when calves are moved out of them, and where possible do not put calves back in to pens that have already been used to rear calves this season. We also house the calves in pens of five initially, then move them up to groups of 20 and then 40 by the time they go outside, which keeps things manageable.”

No Scour!

These changes are already having a positive effect, and so far this year of the 100 calves born there hasn’t been a single case of scour.

Early grazing

Calves are moved out to grass early at Clive Hall – between three and five weeks old. They thrive on the good quality grass and only graze 10 to 15 acres at a time so that they don’t spoil the grass for the cows.

The calves are weaned between 8 and 10 weeks old, weighing between 90 and 100kg.

View Phil Asbury and Edward Hayes’ Presentation>>

Early grazing is key to heifer weight gain

Emer KennedyGuest speaker Emer Kennedy supported this approach, suggesting the biggest influence on the achievement of heifer weight gain targets was the use of early grazing, especially after the first winter. Emer, who is part of the research team at the Moorepark Dairy Research Centre at Teagasc, Ireland explained:

“We’ve conducted research looking at the effect of winter feeding on heifer weight gain profile, body condition score and fertility performance.

“This has shown that early turnout after the winter had a positive effect on maiden heifers’ weight gain profile and that the biggest influence on growth is the effective use of grazed grass. Grazed grass is also very cost effective, so it makes rearing more profitable.”

Emer Kennedy’s Clive Hall Open Day Presentation>>

Geoff Booth

Geoff Booth

“Our system for winter feeding out on grass works well,” agreed Geoff Booth, Operations Manager for Fletcher and Co. “Heifers grow well and to make sure that they are given the best start, we have adopted a 12-week dry period at the end of the first lactation to allow the heifers to reach full maturity.

“We looked closely at target weights and performance and found those that fall behind on first lactation always stay behind, so achieving target weights is critical for increasing long term milk production.”

Good record keeping

Of course, youngstock management is not just about growth rates, costs also come into play if the process is to be profitable. And that’s where record keeping and careful consideration of those records play a part according to independent consultant Dr Kay Carson and James Hague of DairyCo.

Kay Carson

Kay Carson

They identified where losses can occur in heifer rearing, such as through calf mortality and animals being culled before the second lactation. By looking at these aspects, Kay and James have been able to work with Phil and the rest of the Clive Hall team to put targets in place for youngstock performance.

Improving profit

“The key thing is to grow heifers quickly and cost effectively so that they calve down successfully and go on to have good longevity and lifetime yield,” James explained.

DairyCo's James Hague

DairyCo's James Hague

“Calving at 25 months rather than 28 months could save a 100 cow herd with a typical 20 per cent replacement rate around £8,000 per year, so a focus on youngstock can bring real benefits to farm profitability.”

DairyCo has a useful tool, the Heifer Rearing Calculator, that farmers can access to help work out the costs of heifer rearing, he added.

“There are significant short and long term gains to be made from effective heifer management,” Kay concluded. “And whilst the technical targets are broadly agreed on, the challenge is to ensure that the management practices used on farm help to achieve those targets.

By planning the activities that will deliver those targets, executing the plan, monitoring and reviewing results and then acting on the findings, farmers will see reduced losses and increased profitability.”

James Hague and Kay Carson’s presentation – Lean Managing Calves and Youngstock>>

For more information about the next Monitor Farm event, or about the RDPE Northwest Livestock Programme, contact Lesley Innes on 01270 625131 ext. 308, or email

For more information on Milkbench+, or the Heifer Rearing Calculator visit

Or call DairyCo Extension Officer James Hague on 07792 289386.

Open Day Launch – Process mapping is key to management improvement

THE Dairy Monitor Farm launch attracted a good mix of farmers who all enjoyed an informative day at Clive Hall Farm. The day’s events started with an introduction to Clive Hall as the Monitor Farm, the RDPE Livestock Northwest programme and team members by Lucy Shenton of Reaseheath College.

On the farm walk: Cows out at grass

On the farm walk: Cows out at grass

With the introductions over, Andrew Fletcher (Managing Director, Fletcher & Co LLP) said a few words and announced his overall objective for Clive Hall Farm over the 3-year monitor farm programme – this was to reduce running costs by 15%.

He said: “We plan to do this is by using an industrial style business planning method called ‘process mapping’ in order to highlight areas that, if changes are applied, will improve the farm management system. It’s all about making the best decision in every part of the farm business”.

Following Andrew’s short talk, the farmers were taken on an information-packed farm walk by Phil Asbury, Clive Hall Farm Manager, who knows the farm like the back of his hand.

Since it was a dry day and not too cold, the walk covered several fields at various stages of the grazing rotation at Clive Hall Farm. Although the farm walk focused on grassland management, through the monitor farm project other areas of focus will include; milking, animal health, fertility and youngstock management as well as the overall farm business structure.

DairyCo and benchmarking
DairyCo’s James Hague was also present for any questions throughout the day with regard to benchmarking performance on dairy farms. James said: “There are about 150-170 farmers in the DairyCo Milkbench+ scheme. We aim to get a true picture of the monitor farm business, including all costs, some of which may not be reflected in the farm accounts.

“There will be other farms that are profitable, but have other enterprises that make up for poor profits from milk. The scheme looks purely at milk production”.

After lunch, Agricultural Economist Dr Kay Carson spoke about the importance of benchmarking and how ‘process mapping’ within the dairy industry would be a breakthrough in how farms are managed to become more economical.

Kay said: “Looking at current figures from farms taking part in Milkbench+, there is the equivalent of up to 12p per litre difference in production costs between farms in the top 10% and bottom 10% on financial performance. This is nothing to do with milk prices, simply the difference in costs of production which are largely governed by management.This is where process mapping comes in”.

The day was rounded off by Andrew saying a few words, who concluded the meeting by saying, “We will be working closely with DairyCo and their Milkbench+ system over the next three years to look at and report on how we are progressing with our process mapping work. Our aim is to drop input costs by 15% over the three year monitor farm project and help our bottom line”.

Join Clive Hall’s farmer business group
If you would like further information on the activities on the Cheshire Dairy Monitor Farm or to get involved, please contact or call Lesley Innes, Northwest Livestock Programme Facilitator on 01270 625 131 ex 308 or email

You can follow Phil Asbury’s blog on these pages here at Click the “HOME” button at the top of this page for his latest update.

Official Launch Open Day

This farm’s launch open day will now take place on March 24th 2010. Please contact Lucy Shenton at Reaseheath College (01270 616457) to find out more about how you can benefit from being involved with this monitor farm.

The event will introduce the farm practices and look at the nutrient, resource and health plan objectives. Dr Kay Carson will also discuss benchmarking and on-farm efficiency.

Find out more about the farm by clicking on the farm factfile in the right hand column of this page