Producer Profile – Becci Berry

October’s producer profile comes from Becci Berry a dairy farmer from the South West of England, she was nominated for the final three of the Farmer’s Weekly award Dairy Farmer of the year. She did not win but to get through to the final three is a massive achievement in itself! So here is her story…

Not coming from a farming background, for the last seven years Becci has taken the role of running the family farm challenging the current dairy practices. She has been nominated for the Famer’s Weekly Dairy Farmer of the Year award as well as qualifying and making it to the final six of the National Milk Records Gold Cup. Meadow Quality’s fieldswoman, Lucy Blackwell, has been working with Becci’s beef cross’s through our beef programme for several years. Meadow Quality picked up on this when Becci started working with Genus looking at adopting genomics.

Previously Becci  had her own PR and hospitality company within the equestrian and racehorse industry. Becci’s late husband would have been the third-generation farmer but in 2010 was diagnosed with terminal cancer; she took hold of the reins of the farm along with her in-laws and two young daughters, with minimal farming experience apart from ‘weekend stuff’. With the help of Lucy and herdswoman Gillian the farm has gone from strength to strength; Lucy was their relief milker and Gillian has been part of the team for the past three years. Becci admitted that it hasn’t been easy and has been a lot of hard work, but the knowledge exchange and help from local farmers and company representatives have been her saving grace.

Becci firmly believes coming into the industry from outside, she challenges everything, always asking ‘why?’ she said she will challenge vets, people in the industry and locals. It also helps give her a different perspective on the industry and means she is willing to try new things; because of this she believes she is ahead of most farms, ‘knowing and understanding more about what you are doing, why you are doing it’. She also believes she has busted a lot of myths and because she has focused on proving that attention to detail can save costs and improve the general health and welfare of the cows and calves, especially heifer replacements. Becci said her passion for welfare, attention to detail and hard work is now getting recognised; her pet hate is when people say ‘we have an inspection we have to tidy up’, she said a farm should never be in that state in the first place regardless. The antibiotic use in the herd over the last 18 months has reduced significantly  meaning that it is better than many Organic dairy farms. Being a mum to two young daughters, Becci is very conscious of antibiotic resistance.

The farm is National Trust owned and is a mix enterprise of arable and dairy. In 1953 there was a total of 20 cows in stand-up stalls fast forward to today there are 180 cows in the herd (150 in milk) going through an ‘antiquated’ 16:16 parlour as described by Becci as it was installed in the late 1960’s. The parlour is a Fullwood crystal system, with afi-milk metres, automatic feeders and pedometers. She found installing this system paid for itself in the first three months Via its feed to yield capabilities alone.

The breed of the cows is not your normal Friesian/Holstein, instead they are Brown Swiss with a three-way cross of Swedish Red, Norwegian Red or Montebilarde and have been for over ten years. Becci loves the Montebilardes but feels they are too big and is conscious of the heavier cows impact on the soil i.e. compaction and grazing so has gone back to more Brown Swiss genetics for a lighter animal. The herd is all year-round calving producing 9,500 litres of milk. Becci is trying to achieve the 4,000litres of milk from forage, she has achieved this but with the challenging weather over the last two years it hasn’t been possible as the forage has been rationed! The cows are on a Total Mix Ration (TMR) system of grass silage and whole crop, they use some grain from the arable enterprise and crimp it, there is also a product that is added to make it more alkaline (and to improve the protein). The cows during Spring and Summer are on a rotational paddock grazing system, Becci admitted this grazing system is another learning curve they are trying to get to grips with. Eight to ten years ago the calving index of the herd was 450days, she has now achieved 370days. The farm is fashioned typical traditional unit and needs some serious investment to make further improvements, she is aware the cow flow system is far from ideal. The herd is on a healthyhoovesprogramme and she is aware of areas that need to be improved such as:  investment of mattresses, improvements to the cow tracks, she made clear that the cows are never pushed out they go at their own pace. In 2012 pedometers where fitted to the cows but these are coming to the end of their life. Becci has found these a massive help and would have them again, as it has helped with feed to yield and fertility.

Becci believes that from when the calf is born everything should have high attention to detail. There are strict protocols with the calf management as this will prevent anything becoming an issue. Calves have improved over the past 3 to 4 years with looking at the simpler things such as attention to detail, the size of the calf pens; a maximum of five calves per pen but it is more two or three calves per pen as Becci believes this reduces stress and disease. The calves are fed twice a day on small feeders, progress up to the bigger Wydale feeders pushing the calves to eight to ten litres at six weeks old. The volume will start to reduce to three litres twice a day then to two litres twice a day and then two litres once a day, everything is then washed and disinfected. The heifers are fed nuts from For Farmers and all scoops are weighed out, there is a board in the calf rearing shed where it is updated to how many scoops the calves are to receive. The feed isn’t ad-lib as it cannot analyse how much fed is being eaten so are fed twice a day. Becci has established a new way of feeding the calves; she gives the calves clean water and fresh straw beds after every feed to try and prevent any navel sucking.

Becci has always gone by the saying ‘biggest failure in life is not to have tried’; she also says ‘it is essential to get young people coming into the industry to nurture and train on and give them an opportunity, it’s not going to be easy but having the right mind set to do it’. Her daughters are heavily involved in Young Farmers and are very good at dairy stock judging, one of the girls went to the Great Yorkshire Show for the intermediate class. They do get involved on the farm but not so keen on getting up for milking!

Her farming idols include a few people, including Minnette Batters, Phil Kinch; one of AHDB’s strategic dairy farmers but most of all the neighbouring farmers and co-members of the long standing White Horse Dairy Discussion group such as Rob Mallet, David Christian and Andrew Stevens. They have all helped her along her journey into the dairy world by educating, giving advice, having different perspective on farming as well as giving each other a challenge!