Farm of the Week: The Yorkshire farmer who treats his cows like Formula 1 cars

McLaren and Red Bull are not names he has given to any of his dairy cows but Andrew Leggott of White House Farm at Great Smeaton says he equates the same kind of concentration on creating the right engines and performance recording of racing cars to his Cocklewood pedigree Holstein herd of 440 cows.

“They’re like Formula 1 cars. You get out of them what you put into them. We want the best traits. Good feet, good udders, capacity to eat, we use genomics to look at all of that and we create our own custom index. We then look at the appropriate bulls that are available through AI to breed with those cows.

“It’s about production for me. It gives me a kick to see a really good cow giving a lot of milk. Over the years, we’ve put a lot of good genetics into our Holsteins and our production has increased significantly. Our cows are currently yielding an average of 13,000 kilos.”

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Andrew looks constantly at improvements to his herd and has made a number of major changes. Once again with similarities to a Formula 1 car he believes that having the right conditions for the cows and a strong team in all areas is important to the success of his enterprise.

Andrew Leggott from Cocklewood Pedigree Holsteins, Great Smeaton. Picture Jonathan GawthorpeAndrew Leggott from Cocklewood Pedigree Holsteins, Great Smeaton. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe
Andrew Leggott from Cocklewood Pedigree Holsteins, Great Smeaton. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

“Years ago our only route to growing the herd was to buy milk quota, now it’s about infrastructure, giving our cows the best they can have, the right breeding and correct diets. We are steadily increasing the quality of our cows, but it’s also about the people involved.

“We went into robots for milking in 2007 with three of them. We probably had between 150-170 cows at the time. Most of our growth in the herd has come since then. We started with Lely Astronaut robots, but in 2019 we upgraded to the new Fullwood robots. We now have eight and we generally milk 380 out of the 440 in herd, which is probably the maximum you can milk through them.

“Our cows are all inside. The trouble with them eating grass in the field is that its quality fluctuates so much. It’s fantastic stuff at this time of year but the quality soon deteriorates and if it’s a wet day the cows will all stand under the hedge, if it’s too hot they don’t have a lot of shade. This all affects their ability to produce milk.

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“Everything is much more controlled and better for their overall health in our sheds. One is ventilated and the other has a good pitch on it for natural ventilation. Inside the cows drink clean water. There’s always work to do and my passion is not just the cows’ performance but looking after them to achieve it.

Andrew Leggott from Cocklewood Pedigree Holsteins, Great Smeaton, checking his maize stock. Picture Jonathan GawthorpeAndrew Leggott from Cocklewood Pedigree Holsteins, Great Smeaton, checking his maize stock. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe
Andrew Leggott from Cocklewood Pedigree Holsteins, Great Smeaton, checking his maize stock. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

Andrew now brings in experts to keep up the quality of his cows in each generation of Cocklewood pedigree Holsteins.

“I’ve farmed out the decision making over choice of which cows and bulls work best to the professionals at the Genus stud. They send a technician to the farm every day and he walks them and talks to the cows and serves anything in season. Genus also send out a guy that makes sure of the correct breeding of the cows taking into account everything that we want of our animals. It saves me sifting through information.

“Any cow above a certain figure in our custom index gets put to sexed semen, with anything below getting put to beef. We need to produce 15 heifers per month, with a little bit of tolerance in there. That’s 180 heifer calves and with a 50 per cent conception rate we need to put 360-400 services into our herd to achieve that. If they don’t hold in calf to two lots of sexed semen then they will go to a beef semen.

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“We calve all year round. Ideally, we want a very level profile not just for Arla, who we are members of and supply on a Asda contract, but for the quantity of the milk being produced because of the robot capacity.

“There was a time when we found that we hadn’t caught up with the cow management with them being more prolific. We had the same facilities for when we had British Friesians and we had a whole new learning curve. We started growing maize, doing cows inside and mixing by-products and straights to get a more energy-rich diet.

Andrew sees everyone as part of the team, whether full-time or part-time on the farm; or those situated away from off it.

“It’s a team effort,” says Andrew. “You can’t do it on your own and there really needs to be four of us here weekly to achieve everything. I need somebody on site who gives me that peace of mind that I can leave it in safe hands when I have to. And that has to be someone who also has a bit of nous on technology with having the robots, someone who is no one trick pony. We have three full-time and three part-time on farm at the moment, and they are just great.

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“But it is a wider team as we also have people from Genus, Ruth Lawson of Carrs Billington and Jameson Feeds that contribute to our success, and Dick Brown, who used to work for ForFarmers who sees how the cows’ diets work by analysing their excrement and works with our nutritionist buying all our feed in.

The White House Farm beef operation is changing over to Aberdeen Angus.

“We’re more bothered about our milk, but we like to produce a beef calf that’s worth a bit and that the cow calves easily. We’ve been on with Wagyu which are quite small, but there’s a premium for their beef. We get a good price for our calf and our cow has easy calving. There’s a scheme that has come on for Aberdeen Angus. It is a similar sized calf but a bit more hardy.

“The guy that takes my calves at 2 weeks old is paying the same price as he was for the Wagyus so it works for us.

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Andrew says that selling his milk to Arla and being part of the cooperative has proved beneficial.

“We have stuck with Arla most of the years since the demise of the Milk Marketing Board. Around a decade ago we got the opportunity to be members rather than just suppliers. Now we get the dividend, can produce as much as we like and they pay the same amount for every litre.

“The milk price is a bit like a tsunami, first ridiculously going one way, then ridiculously another. We got up to 52ppl at one point but through all of last year it was an absolute nightmare with the milk price plummeting and feed costs stubbornly high. It has gone a little better these last few months.

Nonetheless, Andrew is largely happy with his lot as well he might be. He marries Sarah on July 20, on the farm. He has two children Oliver (12) and Camilla (10) and is still doing what he always wanted to do.

“My passion has always been dairy cows, and it always will be.”

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