Two hundred milk producers from all corners of the UK, Sweden and Australia gathered to view Mark Evans’ organic Ayrshire herd at Blannicombe Farm, Honiton, Devon, at the end of April for The Ayrshire Cattle Society Breed Open Day.

They were keen to learn how this breed could improve their gross margin following a hard winter and spring which resulted in soaring feed and bedding costs as well as strained waste management systems.

Mark Evans milks 250 Ayrshires across 303 organic hectares (750-acres). These cows produce 1.3m litres a year to average 6000 kg at 4.35% butterfat and 3.45% protein. Alongside the Duchy Home Farm at Highgrove these two herds supply Waitrose with all its organic Ayrshire milk.

As increasing numbers of producers look to increase yields from forage they were told Mr Evans’ cows achieved 2000 kg from grass.

“I know this isn’t a brilliant figure but these cows are doing this in an organic system on a farm which is quite steep and on poorly drained soil,” explained Mr Evans. “It would be fair to say I could only achieve these results with an Ayrshire because they suit this land better than a Holstein and have very large rumens so are excellent at converting milk to forage.”

Currently there are 15,000 registered lactating Ayrshires in the UK with up to 7000 new animals registered every year.

“Ayrshires tend to weigh 600kg to 650kg in body weight - about 100kg less than a Holstein,” said Duncan Hunter, breed manager of the Ayrshire Cattle Society. “However the Ayrshire produces 0.499kg butterfat and 0.404 kg protein per kg bodyweight; the Holstein 0.488 kg butterfat and 0.4 kg protein - based on an average Holstein yield of 8995 kg at 3.80% butterfat and 3.11% protein compared with an average Ayrshire yield at 7297kg and 4.10% butterfat and 3.32% protein.

“The south west is renowned for its ability to produce milk from grass, an easier and more economical way to produce milk,” said Mr Hunter. “Ayrshires suit such a system because they are a medium-sized and are good on their feet hence able to manage steep ground. They also have tremendous grazing ability and their udders stand the test of time.”

One of their most attractive traits is longevity. “My cows’ fertility and health traits enable them to last for years,” said Mr Evans. “If every cost is taken into consideration it costs me about £1400 to rear a heifer from birth to first lactation. She can go on to give me up to 14 trouble-free lactations. And as I don’t need so many replacements I have more youngstock to sell which is extra income for the business.”