Meat & Livestock News

Fine-Tuning Cows for a Grazing-Based System: A Shift Towards Sustainable Dairy Farming


David Homer, a lifelong tenant farmer, along with his sons Chris and Geoff, have embarked on a transformative journey in dairy farming.

They have shifted their focus from high-yield Holstein cows to a more sustainable, grazing-based system at their new tenancy at Warren Farm, near Marlborough and the Wiltshire Downs.

The New Farming Approach

The Homers found the soil conditions at Warren Farm, which spans 223 hectares, to be highly variable but generally poor. The land ranges from water-retentive heavy clay to thin soils over chalk bedrock. 

Recognising these conditions as ideal for grazing, they installed paddocks, tracks, and troughs to facilitate rotational grazing.

The Right Cattle for the Job

To adapt to this new system, the family needed a different breed of cow. They acquired a batch of cows and heifers from Teagasc’s Moorepark Farm in Ireland, known for their Predicted Transmitting Ability (PTA). These cows were mostly Friesian with a touch of Jersey, perfectly suited for grazing.

Genetic Selection and Breeding

The Homers have been meticulous in their genetic selection, using the UK’s Spring Calving Index (£SCI) as their primary ranking tool. This index focuses on milk quality, fertility, udder and leg health, and limiting cow weight to minimise soil and pasture damage.

Their average cow weight is 545 kg, and they aim to reduce this to 525 kg.

Production and Sustainability

The herd now produces an average of 5,214 litres per cow per year, with over 50% of this yield coming from grazing. They are also part of the Arla CARE scheme, meeting high standards for animal welfare, renewable energy, and ecosystem requirements.

The only concentrates used are fed in the parlour, contributing to a cost-effective and sustainable system.

Financial Aspects

Despite a slight drop in the margin over purchased feed compared to the previous year, the Homers have significantly reduced their costs per litre of milk produced.

This has led to increased profitability, especially when compared to other herds affected by seasonal conditions like drought.

Future Plans

David Homer is content with the direction they have taken and plans to continue with this ‘crossbreeding experiment’. He finds joy in grazing cows and feels like he is in the midst of his second farming career.


The Homer family’s shift to a grazing-based system represents a sustainable and profitable approach to dairy farming. By carefully selecting and breeding cows suited for grazing, they have not only reduced costs but also increased the overall health and well-being of their herd.