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How father and son are tackling the protein challenge

Using Optigen to reduce soya use

Father and son, Brian and James Greenfield, at Axford dairy farm in Cornwall.


Father and son, Brian and James Greenfield are an inspirational example of how an open dialogue, paired with an embracing attitude, is essential to farm survival and progression.

With limited time left on their Leicestershire farm tenancy, the Greenfield family, and most of their herd, made the move to Cornwall in 2013 to continue their farming journey.

Today, the father and son farming duo, along with the support of their team, manage an 11,000-litre-yielding pedigree herd of Holsteins and Jerseys at Axford Farm. To achieve these yields efficiently, they choose to house their herd year-round and milk them three times a day, with all feed delivered through an adaptive TMR formulation.

Their forward-thinking, strategic and yet practical outlook on dairy farming see’s the farm business survive the tougher times and continue to expand in a way that advances agri-food sustainability.

“This job is not plain sailing,” Brian explains. “We embrace change, plan ahead and make changes over time so as to avoid any shocks to the system. We also rely heavily on working with our team of experts to bring everything together and take the business forward.”

Adapting to the protein challenge

Like many ruminant farmers in the UK and across the globe, Brian and James have embraced the short- and long-term protein challenge. Aside from stock shortages and pricing volatility, they now have to prepare for incoming environmental pressures around efficient and responsible protein use.

“We don’t like changing the ration,” James says. “In fact, we have kept our ration pretty much the same over the last few years. The only change has been the addition of Optigen to facilitate the removal of 3–4 tonnes of soya each month.

“Before we introduced Optigen, we were pushing the cows too hard on concentrate and found that the lack of dry matter was causing levels of acidosis and ketosis we weren’t happy with. So, we have focused on making more silage and making more from our silage. We were also very conscious of our carbon footprint and impending stipulations that are likely to come as part of our milk contract.”

Emma Tristram, ruminant nutritionist at SC Nutrition, is a vital cog in the feeding wheel at Axford Farm.

“Getting the diet balance right while maintaining diet consistency is essential to maintaining margin from feed,” Emma explains. “Introducing Optigen around this time last year allowed the Greenfields to drop the soya and rape content of the diet and also facilitated an 11–13 kg increase in forage dry matter content and intake. The dung sieves showed a significant improvement in total feed digested, a primary indicator that what we are putting into the cows is coming out productively.”

The impact of an alternative protein source on fertility

Driven by economic viability and a desire to expand the herd, the operation is aims to cover the whole herd with 100% sexed semen and more selective breeding.

“We don’t yet have a policy on bull calves, but we can see things are going down that route, and similarly to the protein challenge, we want to be ahead of the trend,” Brian says. “Aside from moving to sexed semen, we’re aiming to bring the calving interval down and to breed high type cows.”

“We’ve definitely noticed that Optigen has improved fertility and also the transition period,” James furthers. “Dry cows are one of our best assets. If we get that time right, the rest of the lactation is right.”

Making carbon measures pay

“The government have got targets,” Brian explains. “It’s no good saying it’s not going to happen or to bury our heads in the sand. We, as a business, need to think ahead and be ready for it to happen. We don’t jump for the sake of jumping.

“Reducing our carbon footprint comes hand-in-hand with improving our production profitability. By producing more homegrown feed, we are importing less feed, which reduces our environmental impact while saving cost as well.”

Read the Dairy Farmer article here