PCHS member profile: Harri Parri

The Parri family moved to Bodnithoedd, a lowland farm on the Llyn Peninsula on a tenancy in 1948, having previously been farming in Pencaenewydd, an upland area in Eifionydd. Continuing the beef and sheep enterprises that his great grandfather started when he moved, Harri now runs the business alongside his wife, Elin and parents, Richard and Rhian. Crugeran, which is adjacent to Bodnithoedd, was bought by his grandfather in 1968 and became the base for the business. In 1984, upland farm Maesog was bought from a retiring great uncle, in the area where the family originated from. Although 45 minutes away, covering 340 acres made up of a combination of improved grassland, permanent pasture, steep hill and rough peaty bog, it complements the lowland farms Crugeran and Bodnithoedd that comprises of 385 acres between them. 

As well as the 200 cow suckler herd, other enterprises on the farm also include a flock of Lleyn and Lleyn x NZ Suffolk sheep, arable and 32,000 free range laying hens. The business has also developed to offer holiday cottages, managed by Rhian. Across all enterprises the farm employs three full-time workers and eight part-time members of staff.

The Crugeran herd is a multiplier for the Stabiliser Cattle Company, with Richard being one of the first farmers in the UK to sign up to the multiplier agreement. Having been to America in 1999 to find out more about the breed, Richard used AI from the first batch of embryos that was born in the UK and their first crop of Stabiliser sired calves was born in 2001. Harri explained that their reason for the change was that through the ‘80s and ‘90s the farm was sourcing
Angus x Friesian or Limousin x Friesian that were excellent, moderately sized, fertile suckler cows. But by the late ‘90s the Limousin x Holstein heifers were entering the herd and were genetically inferior to the ten-year-old cows exiting the herd. Infertile genetics and difficult calvings from 20 years ago also resulted in a split herd, with up to 30% of cows being empty after a nine-week bulling period, meaning that over time an autumn calving group emerged in addition to the main spring calving herd.

Both herds have been run completely separately since the introduction of the Stabiliser genetics, having now reached pure status. The autumn calving herd has been brought back to calving in summer, so that they are able to run with the bulls in the autumn before housing. The spring calving herd are housed at Crugeran where they calve (mid-March to late April) and are run at Maesog over the summer and into midwinter when the last of the cows come down to be
housed. The calves are weaned in early October and continue to graze on the better land, while the cows are put onto rougher/less productive land. The bull calves come down from Maesog to Crugeran where they continue to graze and are introduced to homegrown barley before housing early November. The heifer calves stay on the upland farm until housing at Crugeran in mid-November. The cows start to come down to be housed in this period too up to January,
starting with the first calvers and the mature cows coming later.

The summer calving herd stay on the lowland farm, grazing through spring and early summer, calving outside between the end of June and August. After running with the bulls, they are housed in early November with calves at foot, which are weaned in December and remain housed until spring. Running the herds in this way benefits the cash flow of the
business, as well as allowing more cattle to be kept in total; with half of them being dry, leaving more grass for the cows with calves at foot and land to be shut up for silage.

Having been members of PCHS since 2003, the Crugeran herd has achieved and continues to maintain accreditation for BVD and Risk Level 1 certification for Johne’s Disease. The herd is also vaccinated for IBR and Leptospirosis. Due to IBR being introduced to the area a few years ago and causing an issue for herds that were naïve to the disease, Harri plans to pursue IBR accreditation for their herd, but is waiting to phase out a group of cows that were vaccinated with a non-marker vaccine.

Harri explains that herd health is of vital importance for reaching the breeding KPIs that they aim for with their herd, particularly the 98% in-calf rate which Harri believes isn’t possible to reach without the right combination of management, nutrition and health that allows the genetics to thrive. Having had success in selling breeding bulls,  heifers and cows, Harri also notes that as the Stabiliser breed has developed there has been an increase in buyers actively asking for health status when purchasing.

Calving their heifers at two years old, Harri takes what he considers to be the opposite approach to what many others may do and does not ‘push them’ to get in calf for the first time. Instead, they hold them to between 0.3 and 0.5kg of live weight gain per day, then rely on quality grass two months pre-breeding to get them up to weight, condition and cycling. Although having the benefit of being cheaper, it does result in a higher empty rate among the heifers with those that are naturally less fertile or later maturing not having had the extra assistance. These heifers are then sold
as fat while they are still under 24 months of age, while those that were in calf are retained in the herd or sold for breeding. Harri explains that he believes this is another way that they are able to reach the 98% in-calf rate with their cows, by identifying early on the heifers that do not get in calf as easily.

Harri is also conscious of producing cattle that are an efficient size, aiming to push the mature cow weight as low as possible without affecting the saleability of the end product. This cuts the cost of maintaining each cow and allows them to run more cows at the same cost as having fewer, larger cows. Harri admits grazing management could be better, with only limited rotational grazing implemented over the years. He now plans to work on mob grazing, with larger groups of cattle grazing taller grass and a higher density of cows per hectare with longer rest period. This practice in theory should increase stocking rates. Harri comments that the suckler cow shouldn’t need the lush green grass that dairy cows require, and that although the nutritional quality could be lower, they will push the genetics of their herd to thrive on that. “It’s our aim to push the management as hard as we can,” adds Harri, “making breeding decisions to produce cattle that thrive on pasture and can almost survive on fresh air. You shouldn’t need a lot of grass for a cow to produce a decent calf and get back in calf the same time the next year.”

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Taken from PCHS News 2024

Posted by SRUC Veterinary Services on 17/05/2024

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Categories: PCHS