A former number one production herd in the UK has switched to VikingReds in a drive for a better lifestyle and higher profits.
Farming at Ballalough Farm, near Douglas on the Isle of Man, the Sanders family have always had a particular affinity with cows. Their Holstein herd not only became one of the highest yielding in the UK, averaging over 11,600 litres and 960kg of fat and protein in 2003/04.
Besides, it also boasts a record number of 100-tonne cows. Conformation has always been equally exceptional, with a high proportion of the herd classified Excellent and Very Good.
Andrew and Sue Sanders and their sons, Julian and Matthew were evidently a team who knew how to manage high-performance animals and loved the cows they milked. They seemed to have a herd and a business that had it all.
Switch of breeding
So, it may have come as something of a surprise when the family decided to make a major switch, not only to their production system but later, to their breed of cows.
Their journey away from the high production, intensively managed Holstein, began by reducing milking from three times to twice a day, and cutting production to closer to the national average.
“We came to the Isle of Man from our farm on the Shropshire-Herefordshire border in 1997 with around 140 cows, and in our early years on the island, Mum and Dad continued with the high production system,” explains Julian.
Only a schoolboy at the time of the move, he says his parents were attracted by the island’s lack of milk quota although he recognises, they probably located themselves on the most difficult part of the island.
Purchasing almost 400 acres and renting a further 200 acres, he says the land rises from 450 to 680 feet above sea level, and only 350 acres of the home farm are useable, the rest being woodland and scrub.