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PhD student Highly Commended as Young Farmer of the Year in Cream Awards

Posted 13 April

“It’s been a fun challenge to combine what I have learnt in the academic world and what we can achieve on our farm and budget, and build it at home! It’s nice to be able to test different nutritional methods that I learn through my PhD - and try them on the farm to see what really works.”

A woman and man stand in a field of cattle with winter trees behind them.

A Harper Adams PhD student who uses her research to boost the efficiency of her herd has been Highly Commended as Young Farmer of the Year in the Dairy Industry trade awards.

Emma Redfern farms alongside her husband Joel at their current base at Yarlet, between Stone and Stafford.

Having worked tirelessly to build their rented farm over the past four years, the couple were nominated for the award by their vets before discovering that they had been highly commended for their work.

She said: “Now that we are nearing the end of the major building projects on the farm it was a surprise for my husband to get some recognition for his hard work too, particularly as neither of us were born with land or a farm to take on.”

Emma has been applying her PhD research on her farm – which looks into not only how cows are managed in the transition period around calving, but also why they are managed in this way.

She said: “My research is something I am very passionate about because I find transition cow management the most interesting subject, which is what drove me to leave my job as a commercial nutritionist and apply for the PhD in the first place, and what drove us to build a new transition shed for freshly calved cows at home.

“Instead of finding out about the metabolic problems transition cows are experiencing, I’m trying to find out the reasons behind it. So I’ve looked at the farmer and advisor perceptions of transition management, to see if there are any social issues that may be contributing to the reasons behind the high level of metabolic disorders that transition cows are still experiencing today.

“So far there has been some really interesting themes and reasons coming out of interviews that I have done, particularly relating to farmer-advisor relationships.”

Emma is now applying that research at her own farm on her 200-strong stock of Holsteins – using it to tailor the work she does with her herd to her current budget as a young farmer.

She said: “I use a lot of what I have learnt visiting other farms during my data collection period, and the technical information on nutrition and housing, to shape what we are building at home.

“Ultimately, we want to be chosen for a supermarket contract one day - we are direct supply now, and as young farmers on a rented farm we need to maintain a productive and efficient herd, feeding sustainable ingredients, that also acknowledges all the welfare principles, such as maximum space and comfort, that I learn and write about in my PhD.”

Having found her work highly commended by industry professionals, Emma now hopes to continue building work to refine her farm operations – and to complete her studies at Harper Adams and secure her PhD.

She added: “The plan next at home is to increase the size of our transition ‘fresh cow’ shed this summer, and convert it from loose straw yard to deep sand cubicle beds, and create another calving yard.  

“Our main milking group are on sand beds as this is the most comfortable and has the lowest mastitis risk. Despite causing some slurry handling issues, it is worth it as the cows love it. It also saves on straw costs.  We also want to build a narrow maize silage clamp to minimise spoilage during hot weather, as we buffer feed maize in summer to complement grazing.

“I do all the nutritional planning at home and formulate our bespoke rations, and feed to maintain fertility whilst maximising milk from forage.

“It’s been a fun challenge to combine what I have learnt in the academic world and what we can achieve on our farm and budget, and build it at home! It’s nice to be able to test different nutritional methods that I learn through my PhD - and try them on the farm to see what really works.”

Emma’s PhD research project is supervised by Dr Philip Robinson and Professor Liam Sinclair and generously funded by The Barham Benevolent Foundation.

Director of Studies Philip Robinson said: “We were delighted to hear the news of Emma’s success in this year’s Cream Awards.

“She has been conducting research to discover the key challenges in improving transition cow health in dairy herds, and her applied social science research and on-farm assessments will be of great interest to the industry.

“In addition to the doctoral thesis and research papers that Emma is currently writing, it’s an added bonus that she can test her developing theories and solutions on her own farm!”

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