New Holstein UK president discusses the future for British dairy farmers

Genomics can drive profitability in dairy herds, but while Bryan Thomas uses this tool, he does so only sparingly.

Bryan, whose decisions over the decades have helped shape the genetic make-up of the 250-cow Gelliddu Holstein herd, instead puts his faith in proven sires to achieve a balanced breeding ethos.

He says: “We are not in the genomics race. We believe in making genetic progress, so we use a certain percentage of genomics, but we are not drunk on it. We use genomics very sparingly because we have faith in proven bulls.”



Neither does Bryan claim to be a pioneer of breeding a cow type that produces high volumes of milk, as he is not prepared to sacrifice longevity.

He says: “We are making a margin from our cows, but we are not pursing yields to the point where animals are burning out within three years.”

As the new president of Holstein UK, his words might not sit well with all Holstein breeders, or for that matter bull semen companies.

He asks: “Have we perhaps been brainwashed by businesses with things to sell guiding us down a certain route?

“We must not lose sight of that fact that we need to breed the type of animal the commercial man wants.”

Bryan is happy to speak his mind; in fact he is known for his no-nonsense straight-talking approach.

He has served on the Holstein UK board three times and, after stepping down from his final term, was told he was missed in more ways than one.

“My wagging finger is missed at meetings,” he says.


Bryan farms with his wife Eirlys and their son and daughter-in-law, Gareth and Heather, at Gelliddu, Cwmffrwd, near Carmarthen.

He uses the term ‘farms’ loosely, as he admits to have ‘technically’ retired eight years ago when he stepped down from hands-on farming after the family upgraded the milking parlour to a 28:28 herringbone.

Bryan now takes responsibility for all the paperwork, but retiring from active farming was a big wrench and one he still struggles with.

He says: “Some of my contemporaries at school became QCs [Queen’s Counsel] and professors. In so many of those professions, people count the years until they retire, but while I might not have had the remuneration or the time off they enjoyed, I never for one second looked forward to retiring.”

His parents, Jack and Het, bought Gelliddu in 1952, after the small tenanted holding they farmed in Carmarthen was sold by their landlord.

Jack, who in 1947 was one of the first farmers in Carmarthenshire to use artificial insemination (AI) after an AI centre opened in Carmarthen, started registering cattle in 1955.

Bryan says: “At that point it was British Friesian, as the word Holstein did not exist.

“We were milking about 35 cows back then and always used black and white bulls. We graded up certain families and bought one or two registered cattle when finances allowed. We progressed from there.”

His brother Ronald established the Churchvale herd on another holding near Carmarthen and Bryan took responsibility for progressing the Gelliddu herd.

From then on, the focus was on classifying, concentrating on good type, which included a combination of good udder, legs, feet and yield.

As the Holstein started to dominate, the Thomas family crossed some of their Friesians and saw the benefits.

Bryan says: “Cows were milkier, so we advanced down that route.”



The all-year-round calving herd is now producing an annual milk yield average of more than 10,000 litres at 3.95 per cent butterfat and 3.25 per cent protein, with milk sold to Freshways. The calving index is 391 days.

Cows with high cell counts are culled and this keeps the somatic cell count low. It is currently running at 95,000 cells/ml.

The family farms 162 hectares (400 acres) at two locations; one at Gelliddu and another owned holding 10 miles away at Llansteffan. That land has red sandstone soils and is very productive, while Gelliddu has a mixture of clay and sandstone.

The herd is fully housed, a policy introduced in part to manage an ongoing issue with bovine TB. It is five years since the initial breakdown which has since plagued the business. Managing the herd in line with movement restrictions is a major headache and impacts on all decision-making.

Bryan says: “We are losing cattle we do not want to lose. TB does not discriminate between the best and worst.

“When the lorry comes to collect the animals that are to be slaughtered, I cannot be there as it is too upsetting.”

He is clearly angry that farmers have been tasked with the responsibility for eradicating TB.

He says: “We are never going to cure it in cattle until radical steps are taken to deal with infected wildlife. It is time common sense prevailed.

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Original article Farmers Guardian at

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