Youngstock at the Colwells’ farm are fed milk from the family’s Jersey cow herd. 
PHOTO SUBMITTED
Youngstock at the Colwells’ farm are fed milk from the family’s Jersey cow herd. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    REDRUTH, Cornwall, England – Most dairy producers can agree that too much grass is never a bad thing. Abundant grass paired with good weather conditions and functional cows makes for one dairyman’s quintessential dairying situation along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.
    “[Dairy farming] is all so unpredictable and never boring,” Michael Colwell said.
    Michael and his wife, Claire, and their children, Ellen, 10, and Henry, 8, milk 240 Jersey cows near Redruth in Cornwall County, England.
    Michael’s parents, John and Jenny, moved to their first dairy farm in 1975 when Michael was 15 months old.
    “They were tenants on Cornwall County Councils estate,” Michael said. “Council farms were originally rented to returning First World War soldiers, but they are now a way for youngsters to get into farming in their own right in the United Kingdom. They purchased Jerseys, as they were half the price of Friesians, and we have never looked back.”
    Upon graduating from university and traveling to Australia, New Zealand and the western United States through the World Jersey Cattle Bureau, Michael and his family moved to a larger council farm 20 miles further west in Cornwall in 1998.
    The family was met with tragedy in 2000 when John died of cancer and milk prices were crashing.
    “So, we turned to spring block calving to try and take advantage of the cheap, copious quantities of grass we can grow in the United Kingdom,” Michael said.
    Michael and Claire married in 2004 and moved to their current council farm in 2005. The farm is comprised of 192 acres, and the couple has purchased 93 surrounding acres as well. They both work full time on the farm and employ two individuals who complete most of the milking.
    The herd is milked twice a day in a swing-over herringbone parlor complete with automatic identification and shedding gates. The cows are housed four to five months of the year in free stalls and spend the rest of the year grazing.
    Milking takes place at 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. Calving starts in March, with 200 cows calving in, and continues into July.
    “There is also a lot of winter feed made during this period,” Michael said. “Electric fences to be moved, artificial and organic fertilizer to be spread. Then, from October onwards there is two to three hours of yardwork a day when the cows start coming in as the weather gets too wet and cold to grow grass. Not much family time from March to July, but August to February, lots of family time.”
    The herd has a rolling herd average of 12,950 pounds of milk with 5.4 percent butterfat content and 3.9 percent protein content, and a somatic cell count of 150,000. Michael said 60 percent of the milk production is a result of forage with the rest coming from a concentrate feed fed in the milk parlor.
    “Apart from the 1.3 (metric) tons of concentrate feed, which is purchased in bulk from a local feed merchant and usually runs from 12 percent protein in early spring through to 21 percent protein when the cows are housed, it is all grazed or conserved perennial ryegrass,” Michael said.
    Michael said the area is teaming with grass for feed, and other farmers produce corn, wheat, barley, potatoes, cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli. He said there are also beef and lamb producers.
    Since the farm is located 1.5 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, the Colwells experience mild south westernly winds most of the year. The summertime temperatures reach around 78 degrees Fahrenheit while winters stay above 32 degrees.
    “Snow is rare, but we get a lot of damp, dark days in winter or summer,” Michael said. “We get 40 inches of rainfall spread throughout the year, so excellent grass growing conditions.”
    Michael said Cornwall has a robust dairy industry, with 500 or so dairy farms in the county alone.
    “We have an excellent infrastructure with lots of choice from all the main dealers,” he said. “Nearby, we have one conventional 100-cow herd milked twice a day who grazes April to October. One farm is a nearly 400-cow herd housed all the time with seven robot milkers. Another is milked once a day, so quite a range of systems.”
    The Colwells sell their milk to a European farmers cooperative called Arla. The milk is processed into a variety of products from clotted cream, a 54 percent fat cooked solid cream, to soft cheese, cheddar cheese and milk powder.
    “[The co-op] owns several factories in the area as well as working with other factories, hence the diverse destinations for our milk,” Michael said.
    The Colwells breed for high-type cows focusing on udder quality, chest width and body depth, and good feet and legs.
    “Our cows sometimes walk over three miles a day,” he said. “We don’t look at indexes much. Rather, more pedigree when selecting bulls.”
    The Colwell family shows select animals from their herd, which includes around 85 Excellent cows with one 95-point cow and five 94-point cows. This year, their 65 heifers averaged a score of 82.5.
    “We win shows and make money and go on holiday at least twice a year,” he said. “I think we are doing something right.”
    Despite the thriving dairy economy in the Cornwall area, Michael said he is worried about consumers’ growing distaste for dairy.
    “Vegans, environmentalists and scientists who have so little knowledge about dairy farming and its environmental impact, but still run us into the ground,” Michael said of what his worries entail. “And, dairy farmers, ourselves, for being so apathetic to this and not proactively tackling this false information.”
    To one day move from tenant to dairy farm owner is Michael’s dream as he hopes to continue increasing the quality of his cow herd and improving his grazing management.