Mark, Susan and family

Whether it’s wartime or rock music, we have learned to expect the best from the British.  The dairy industry is no exception. As The Bullvine gets to know our international peers better, we travel to Ravenscroft Hall Farm in the heart of Cheshire, England.  Here Mark Nutsford and his wife Susan run the Riverdane Herd.  Targeting real goals has helped them achieve their dairy aspirations says Mark. “My granddad on my Mother’s side was a dairy farmer, so from an early age I spent as much time on the farm as I possibly could. Dairy cows have always been my passion and I always knew that one day I would have my own dairy farm.” Having said that, they don’t rest on their laurels but continue to charge ahead to broaden their dairy horizons.

Not Ready to Surrender to the Status Quo

Trained as an embryologist and ET technician, Mark’s main job is to run Celltech Embryo Transfer. Additionally, the Nutsfords have a semen company called KingStreet Sires. It is run by Susan and their general sales manager Sam Wake.  Mark explains how this arm of their business endeavours came to be. “KingStreet Sires was born out of the frustration of not being able to get a decent price for our bulls entering into AI or even purchase the kind of semen we wanted to use on our cows.”

Appleview Rudolph Mattia  EX 97

Appleview Rudolph Mattia EX 97
Mattia scored max. every lactation

Reconnaissance to Build Genetic Potential

Immediately after they sold their first herd in 2008 to the Willsbro herd in Cornwall, the Nutsfords began to scour the world to purchase embryos” We wanted to purchase from what we thought were the best breeding families. This resulted in purchasing embryos and calves from such renowned families such as Attlees, Ashlyns, Red/Black Roses, August, James Rose, Roxys, Jolies etc. but we also kept some embryos from our own established families which came originally from North America, such as the Tony Beauties, Sara’s, and Mattias. As well as from three 97 point cows that were at Riverdane. Pansys Dilys and Mattia the latter still alive at Riverdane may be the only 97 point cow ever to be scored max points in every lactation i.e. and the British system, 89 as 2 years, 90 second calf, 93 third calf, 95 fourth calf and 97 fifth calf. We have bred or owned 13 VG 89 2 yr olds and numerous max pointer cows of which there are four on the farm at the moment.”

Bressingham Raider Pansy 2 EX-97-4E Pictured after 12 calves

Bressingham Raider Pansy 2 EX-97-4E
Pictured after 12 calves

Strategic Planning “Develop a profitable cow”

Mark describes what they look for. “Our breeding philosophy is to develop a profitable cow.” He expands on the reasoning. “Because maize silage, grass silage and whole crop wheat is what we can grow on our farm fairly efficiently and is our cheapest source of feed, we want a cow that can produce on average 60/70n tons in five lactations, can consume large amounts of forage and then synthesize it into milk.  We are looking for a cow with great quality and plenty of dairy strength as well as the traits that everyone else wants such as great feet and legs and udders. It is very important to us when we choose a bull that we can see where the greatness comes from or he will not interest us. Most of the bulls we use now are genomic bulls from great cow families that have strength and depth.”

Lavenham Adeen 1st Senior Cow and Black & White Champion AgriScot 2012

Lavenham Adeen EX-90-UK
1st Senior Cow and Black & White Champion AgriScot 2012 & UK Dairy Expo

Generating Milk Pail and the Show Ring Awards

Mark emphatically points out his favourite cow. “The greatest cow I have ever owned is probably Appleview Rudolph Mattia  EX 97. Her accolades are too numerous to mention but she has scored max points in every lactation and also been nominated every time as well as being crowned All Britain in 2004. She has produced 150+ tonne of milk and at 16 years of age is still the boss! Her breeding accolades are also impressive and we are currently showing a granddaughter by Goldwyn that was undefeated as a 2 year old and as a 3 year old in her class. As far as a show cow we have a daughter of the great Skychief Adeen by Durham that has been Grand Champion at both her recent outings at Agriscot and the UK Dairy Expo under two of the greatest judges of all time John Gribbon and Barclay Phoenix.”

Lavenham Durham Adeen EX-90-UK Sister to the dam of  MD-Delight Durham Atlee EX-92-USA

Lavenham Durham Adeen EX-90-UK
Sister to the dam of MD-Delight Durham Atlee EX-92-USA

The Genetic Torch Marches on from Renowned Families

Persistently seeking the best is showing results for Riverdane. “Most of our better cows are from world renowned families such as Shottle Autumn VG88 2 year from Roy Autumn All American Milking Yearling and Junior Champion at Madison.  Goldwyn Atlee VG89 is a full sister to Ariel and Atwood. Durham Adeen, from Skychief Adeen, is from a family I have known well from the days I used to travel to Aitkenbrae. I even remember Starbuck Ada’s dam as a 2-year-old (Sheik). Talent Ashlyn granddaughter of the all world cow Tri day Ashlyn is one of our best growing cows and has recently being raised to max points as a second calver. A cow that I own with ADI and Ponderosa has just being made max points 93 as a third calver just back from winning the 5 year old class at the European show. She is on flush to Goldwyn or Gold Chip. One 2 year old heifer that has just calved is a Goldwyn from a Dundee from James Rose that is showing great promising qualities for the future.”

Riverdane Talented Ashlyn EX90 3YR All Britain Intermediate Heifer in Milk Champion 2012 1st Milking Heifer & Supreme Champion Holstein & Best Udder Cheshire County Show 2012  1st Junior 2yr & Reserve Champion Holstein Heifer Great Yorkshire Show 2012

Riverdane Talented Ashlyn EX90 3YR
All Britain Intermediate Heifer in Milk Champion 2012
1st Milking Heifer & Supreme Champion Holstein & Best Udder Cheshire County Show 2012
1st Junior 2yr & Reserve Champion Holstein Heifer Great Yorkshire Show 2012

Irresistible Sire Stack

Mark has specific requirements when purchasing cows too. “The most exciting one that I have ever purchased is Ridgefield Goldwyn Atleen (A Goldwyn from Durham Atlee). For me the stack up of sires in that pedigree was irresistible:  Goldwyn, Durham, Storm, Skychief, Starbuck and Shiek. For me these are six of the greatest sires of all time The family seems to produce an all fronts whether it’s genomics, milk, fat, protein, shows or just great to work with.”

The Outcross Search is On

Adding it all up, Mark has what he calls “30-ish” years in the dairy industry. “We are in an era where the two greatest bulls of all time are having a massive influence, Shottle and Goldwyn. Our herd is based on these two great bulls either through them or their sons, so at the moment we are looking for outcrosses. This is proving very difficult at the moment as we are not great fans of the Oman and Planet bloodlines. The sires that I am currently working with are Goldsun, Goldchip, Cashcoin, Cashmoney, Explode, Aftershock, Atwood sons Brady and Mars Yorik.”

Riverdane Shottle Amber VG-88-UK 2yr High Shottle daughter from the full sister to Atwood!

Riverdane Shottle Amber VG-88-UK 2yr
High Shottle daughter from the full sister to Atwood!

Following Distinguished Mentors

Finding exceptional mentors has been an easier task for Mark. “Peter Heffering was always my mentor although I didn’t know Peter that well, we used to speak occasionally and I followed his career. I was inspired by his attitude, work ethic and his ability to take things to another dimension. (Read more:  Hanover Hill Holsteins: Peter Heffering 1931-2012) Martin Roburge from Quebec was also a great friend and teacher. In the UK two great cowmen John Gribbon and the late Harold Nicholson have had a massive influence on my showing and judging career. John in my opinion is one of the greatest cattle judges the world has seen in recent years, it’s not just how he judges it’s the way he also handles people especially the crowd and how he involves them with the show, I think the Europeans are better at the then the North Americans.”

Learning the Art of Judging

I have been lucky enough to have twice been invited to the Canadian judging school which also includes tutorials as well as judging. One of the subjects we talked about and were tutored on was mentoring. Dan Doner gave a great tutorial and one I will always remember and try to practice, so anyone starting out in the business which is always a good idea to have a role model to ask advice and try to copy their strengths as I did with the likes of Peter Heffering, Harold Nickolsen and John Gribbon and with judging, people like Richard Keane from New York who today is still one of the best judges I have been able to learn from (style, manner, accuracy and professionalism) and admire.
mark nutsford judging

Success Before the Judge

My greatest accomplishment was in 2003 when we were champion (Reserve once) at every major show (8 Majors) in England + Scotland with different cows at every show except the royal Highland but we bred the champion there. We were also the second highest yielding herd in the UK according to National Milk Records. Peter Heffering did it with Charity in her prime which was always a major influence with me.”

…..And When He Is the Judge

The influence of mentors continues when Mark himself is the Judge. “I’ve judged in a lot of European countries and most of the big shows in the UK and Ireland but never in North America. Not a lot of Europeans get asked to judge in North America which is a shame because I think a lot of the best judges and cow men are in Europe. It is always a good idea to bring someone in that is not part of the ‘scene’ to give a fresh prospective. A lot of North Americans have judged in Europe over the years and have done a great job. It would be nice if these invitations were reciprocated back to North America.”

Dairy Breeding Never Stands Still

It is unrealistic to think that there will be a time when all the problems are solved and the battles won. Mark has had to deal with many events already. “The biggest change I have seen is happening at this present time. It is genomics and affects the way we breed our cows and choose our bulls. I am a big believer in the formulas e.g. in the TPI formula 20% of the formula is made up of productive life 9% (8% heritable) and daughter pregnancy rate 11% (4% heritable) is this wisdom. In the UK our PLI formula is 45.2% PIN 21.1% Lifespan (6% heritable) Fertility 18.5% (3% heritable) Scc 5.5%, Udder 5.6% and locomotion at 4.1% so nearly 40% of the formula is approximately 4.5% heritable . To me this is a hoax on a large scale.

Select Sires in the U.S have a TPI formula that makes sense to me, 40% production traits (Milk (PTAM), fat pounds (PTAF), protein pounds (PTAP), 40% type traits (Udder composite(UDC) Feet + Leg composite (FLC, Strength) 20% Fitness traits – productive life (PL), Somatic Cell Score (SCS), Daughter Pregnancy Rate (DPR), Calving ease (DBH). Bulls are excluded from receiving the designation if they do not meet predetermined levels for udder composite, feet and leg composite and Type. I think most discerning dairy farmers would agree to this common sense approach to breeding.”

Isaac Lancaster, Mark Nutsford and John Gribbon taking a toast to the last ever Royal show in England.

Isaac Lancaster, Mark Nutsford and John Gribbon taking a toast to the last ever Royal show in England.

Today’s Selection Criteria and Future Skirmishes

You can’t make decision without having a realistic perspective on dairying.  Mark considers one rising dilemma. “AI companies are paying a lot more money for the bulls that meet their criteria so a lot of breeders are spending a lot more money to achieve their goal to try and push the TPI, LPI, PLI boundaries. This is ok if you are happy with the formulas but if like me you are reticent about the formulas but have more confidence in the individual breakdowns, to a certain degree that nothing has changed it just another set of figures to work with. A more ‘balanced’ formula for type, production, and health traits is the way I see going forward especially when the genomic figures become more refined in the future.”
It’s All About Breeding and Balance

Mark anticipates where the industry is going. “I think the genetic companies will continue to buy in to the female lines to save money on sire procurement which will push the prices of the top female lines up. Bull prices will continue to make record highs as AI companies compete for the top genomics possible on on-line auctions or special bull sales. There will be a trend in Europe to cross breed, but most people who try it usually come back to Holsteins when they realize the cross breeds aren’t as efficient in milk production and that’s what pays the bills. I still think that the true type model cow (The British one) is still the best model and if you want a definition of what balanced is look at the British Holstein model cow!”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Mark and Susan Nutsford hope to keep broadening the horizons of KingStreet Sires, Celltech, and Riverdane. “We want to try to be a part of and influence the Holstein breed in whatever small part possible.”  It’s no wonder that The Bullvine feels this British invasion is, once again, music to our ears! “Charge on!”

Check out more about the British Invasion – Isaac Lancaster: The British Are Coming. The British Are Coming


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