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V O LU M E 11 N O 2 FE BR UARY 2013





Sward renovation, plant breeding and nutrition

We profile Scotland’s top dairy herd

Highlights from the British Cattle Conference

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4 Cow Talk 10 Overalls off: Herpetoculturist 19 Veterinary practice: Sudden-death syndrome 33 NMR Dairy Management News 39 Business update: Feed price update 43 A  voncroft Breeding Information/ Thompsons Nutritional News 46 Events and contacts R e p orts 12 Dumfries-based Harvey family scoops top dairy award 44 Maximum control in a turbulent climate at Larson Acres C olumn

14 Roger Evans B reedin g 34 De Biesheuvel Summit, a rising sire from a winning combination 40 British Cattle Conference report

Stuart Harvey “If we look after the cows then they will look after us” 12

Editor Rachael Porter Revitalised


pring is on it’s way and grass management is coming into sharper focus than in previous years, namely due to the damaged swards that many producers have to revive and renovate if they’re going to make the most of grazing and silage leys this year. Our grassland special starts on page 23, with some timely tips on rescuing weather-beaten swards by using a ‘bottom-up’ approach. We also have a look back at how grass varieties have developed during the past 10 years, what’s next from plant breeders and how it will continue to benefit herd nutrition, health and the business bottom line. We’ve an update on the fatty acid project and find out how, through the database of profiles, NMR is already seeing how this will help to boost cow health and fertility. And adjusting fatty acid profiles is also helping some producers to meet their milk buyer contract, which stipulates lower saturated fat levels. Find out more on page eight. Another update on winter feeding, this time from Northern Ireland, outlines how producers in the province have weathered the forage shortage – and variable quality – this winter. See page 16. The winners of the AgriScot Dairy Herd of the Year competition are featured on page 12. Take a look and find out what’s behind the Harvey family’s success. Our regulars are all here too. Roger Evans contemplates a trip to the hairdresser on page 14 and our ‘Overalls Off’ column, on page 10 features a herdsman with a ‘sss-special’ hobby.

Main article Fatty acid profiles

Feeding Forage shortage

Special Grassland




Fatty acid profiles might benefit cow management and milk fat content

If silage is low or of poor quality, what are the triedand-tested options?

Timely tips on rescuing swards and what’s next from plant breeders

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‘Follow the teat’ for better calf growth

A system for rearing calves on Milk Bar feeders called ‘Follow the teat’ has been introduced into the UK by Dairy Spares, which claims it reduces scours as well as improving calf health and growth. “The success of ‘Follow the teat’ is due to the design of the milk bar teat, which forces calves to suckle not guzzle, and the practice of providing each newborn calf with a brand new Milk Bar teat which it ‘follows’,” explains Dairy Spares’ milk bar specialist Jeff Radnor. He adds that the system has already been adopted, with great success, on

Dairy Spares has launched a heat detection marker paint. Available in a 500ml dispensing bottle, Ambic AiPaint has an integral brush for ease of application and comes in a range of five different colours – blue, green, red, yellow and orange. The paint works as a heat detection tool and is also suitable for use as a generalpurpose animal marker. Each 500ml bottle costs £9.17 plus VAT.

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will ensure the calf’s saliva glands have emptied, and after finishing it will go and lie down to rest,” adds Mr Radnor. “Calves fed on the milk bar system do not cross suckle navels and ears. They have satisfied their need to do this by working hard on the teat. They lie down and are settled after feeding.” In France, calves will remain individually penned on Milk Bar feeders with new teats for approximately two weeks. They are then transferred to a pen with others of a similar age and fed from a six or 10teat Milk Bar feeder. “It is when calves are transferred to a group pen that the benefit of ‘following the teat’ really comes into play,” explains Mr Radnor. “The original teats from the single feeders have by now lost their initial stiffness. The calves are then transferred to the multi-teat feeder in the group pen. “Because all teats are of a similar age and performance, whichever teat a calf suckles it will receive the same amount of ration as its pen mates.” For a demonstration of ‘Follow the teat’ a YouTube video is available at http://www.

Make pasture repair a priority

Tail paint with integral brush


many French units. “New teats are very stiff, and the newborn calf has to suckle hard for milk to be released. Suckling is very beneficial. It activates the oesophageal groove reflex, which diverts milk into the abomasum and then the small intestine. “If milk were to enter the young calf’s rumen it would lead to scours, which would be detrimental to subsequent animal performance. This often happens with bucket feeding or fast feeding teats,” he says. “A massive amount of salivation is also stimulated by the intense suckling action required on the new teat. Saliva is important for digestion and in the development of good calf health. It balances the pH in the abomasum, so that enzymes can break the milk down into curd and whey, which are then absorbed in the small intestine.” Saliva also contains lipase, an enzyme necessary for digestion of fats, a vital energy source for the young animal. It contains natural antibiotic properties, which are a young calf’s first defence against infection. “The effort required to suckle the milk


Producers need to plan remedial field work now to prevent forage shortfalls next winter, says Oliver Seeds’ Rod Bonshor. “While many producers are, quite rightly, focussed on the daily tasks of feeding and eking out current forage stocks, they also need to start to think about how to bolster grassland productivity this coming spring and summer,” he says. “Around 20% of the seed purchased by producers to sow last autumn never made it into the ground. Luckily, unlike cereals where there are specific winter and spring varieties, all cool temperate grasses used in UK mixtures will germinate successfully when sown from March to September in good growing weather. Drilling the seed this spring will be fine as long as it has been stored in a cool, dry place during the winter. “Many fields have suffered from prolonged flooding, damage from vehicles or poaching by livestock. “Grass dies if covered by water for too

long, and you don’t have to travel too far to see gateways and areas around water troughs in a mess. “Significantly damaged areas should be over-seeded as a priority before unproductive weed grasses, like annual meadow grass and bents, take hold. Perennial weeds like docks will also take advantage if soil is left bare too long,” Any new leys that were sown last autumn also need to be checked for damage and, if the winter water table was high, the young grass plants are likely to be shallow rooted. “When the cold snap came they could have been pushed out of the ground by the process of frost heave,” says Mr Bonshor. “If the land is fit to travel, the only option is to try to roll the plants back down into the soil before they die. If already dead, the affected patches will need overseeding. “Grass leys are like a bank, if you don’t invest in them you won’t get a return,” he adds.

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Seed-mixture range launched An updated catalogue of quality grass and clover seeds mixtures, launched for the 2013 season by British Seed Houses, includes access to some of the highest ranking British-bred perennial and hybrid ryegrass varieties as well as the newly available long-lasting red clover and an extended organic range. Featuring strongly throughout the mixtures are intermediate and late heading perennial ryegrasses from the IBERS Aberystwyth University Aber High Sugar Grass (Aber HSG) breeding programme, with AberGreen, AberMagic and AberBite amongst the highly ranked varieties included.

Specialist grazing and dual-purpose leys are available with or without white clover and Puna II perennial chicory is also an option with these mixtures. Cutting leys include the top-rated

Aber HSG hybrid ryegrasses AberEcho or AberEve. The first commercially available long-lasting red clover, AberClaret, provides the option of a fiveyear high-protein quality silage ley for the first time. British Seed Houses Quality Cutting and Grazing Mixtures catalogue can be obtained as a download from www.britishseedhouses. com or by contacting the company through its offices at Avonmouth (0117 982 3691) or Lincoln (01522 868714). Further information on independently recommended grass varieties is available through the Herbage Varieties Guide at

Revamped seeder offers extra benefits OPICO has launched a new and improved version of its mechanical drive Air 8 grassland air seeder. It now benefits from a larger hopper – with capacity for 180 litres – and a new control box that receives feedback from three new sensors on the hopper. These alert the

operator when seed level is low, if there is a fault with the metering drive, or if there’s an airflow problem. And these improvements come at no extra cost: the price of the mechanical drive Air 8 seeder remains at £4,776. The new features are already present on

the electric drive versions of the machine. However, the hopper on both these models has also been re-designed, giving them a greater capacity and a more modern look. The cost of the seeder also remains the same, at £7,072.

Make space for A2 By the middle of 2013, 20 UK dairy units will be supplying around 55,000 litres of A2 milk a day and supplying 900 national and large regional stores. A2 Milk UK, an independent company owned jointly by the Australian A2 Corporation and UK partner Muller Wiseman, says that this niche product will continue to grow market share as consumers – who previously didn’t find drinking milk or milk drinks an enjoyable experience – start to appreciate the more favourable effects of A2. Speaking at the British Cattle Conference, Muller Wiseman’s Peter Nicholson believes the UK could follow Australia’s lead where A2 milk, available since 2007, represents 4% of the liquid milk sales and 6% of its value. This is greater than the combined value of the organic, fresh soya, lactose free and goats milk markets in Australia and it’s the largest branded line of milk in the country’s national supermarkets Coles and Woolworths. It has 82% brand loyalty and consumers will typically switch retailer rather than

brand if the milk isn’t available in a particular store. A2 has a lot going for it. It’s a natural product. Nothing is added and its characteristics are totally down to the cow and her genetics. The defining feature is the dominance of the A2 beta casein protein gene in cattle that produce the milk as opposed to A1 beta casein protein gene that is more typical in European cattle. To secure a UK supply

pool of A2 milk, milk samples from potential herds of cows were DNA tested by approved laboratories in Ireland and the Netherlands. A2 producers in the UK receive 2.5ppl above the Muller Wiseman standard milk price – and an extra 1ppl for Channel Island A2 milk. And this price commitment is set until September 2014. And as part of the ‘deal’, suppliers converting to A2 milk – which in many cases meant selling and buying cows and also some extra equipment or facilities that may be required in the conversion period – received some compensation monies. “The value of the UK milk industry has fallen by 8.3% since 2009 with £250million lost from the supply chain,” said Mr Nicholson. “We need to get this value back into the sector and whilst A2 will not make up this gap single-handed, I am confident it will make a significant contribution.” See page 40 for our report from the British Cattle Conference

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Fatty acid profiles start to tell a positive story for c

Win-win for cow he al A UK-based project that monitors fatty acid profiles in milk is showing benefits for cow management and is providing lower saturated fat milk on the shelves. Useful data is emerging and developing a tool to predict energy balance is a key priority. text Karen Wright


ML director Ben Bartlett admits it’s early days in the project, co-funded by the Technology Strategy Board, but results so far make him optimistic that the outcome will be very beneficial for the industry as a whole. The project involves monitoring and improving the efficiency of the dairy supply chain and the healthiness of dairy products. Milk testing company NML uses mIR analysis to provide fatty acid profiles on both bulk milk and individual cow samples and is working with project participants Scottish Rural Colleges (formerly SAC) and Marks and Spencer. This data, supported by existing research, will be used to establish links with genetic and management factors. “Results so far suggest that this could be a win-win situation for the dairy industry,” Mr Bartlett told delegates at this year’s British Cattle Breeders Conference. “We are seeing a significant drop in the saturated fat content of milk where, through cow feeding, the fatty acid profile of the milk has been altered. “Our data supports overseas trial work too, which has shown that mIR test data can be used to predict negative energy balance in the cow more accurately than by traditional milk testing methods. Research has shown that the fatty acid C18.1 increases significantly in periods of negative energy balance, which indicates mobilisation of adipose tissue. “An analysis of fatty acids early in lactation could therefore provide useful indicators of energy balance status and highlight cases where action needs to be taken before cow health becomes a real concern.” So far, 210 herds are being ‘monthly’


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profiled using NMR recording samples with more than half a million profiles completed during the past four months. More than 400 fatty acids are produced in cows’ milk and the key fatty acids will be logged within the project’s database. A core group of herds are also recording condition score and live weight data to allow correlations between negative energy balance and fatty acid profiles to be analysed.

Energy-balance “Over time we will see a correlation between management factors and fatty acid profiles, but our short-term priority is using the raw data to derive new measures for determining energy balance,” adds Mr Bartlett. “This can have immediate advantages as the energy balance of the cow early in lactation can have a significant impact on her immune status and fertility performance and, if a cow is in a negative energy balance, it can provide an early warning indicator of likely body condition loss. Producers can monitor and manage trends in energy balance in individual cows without the need for regular body condition scoring which is both complex and costly.” Recent research has also shown correlations between certain fatty acids and fertility. For example, higher concentrations of trans fatty acids were shown to have an adverse affect on fertility performance, with a larger number of inseminations, lower calving rates and lower non return rates in cows with high trans fatty acid content. In addition to the M&S producer pool, the project involves 30 carefully selected industry partners – feed and breeding

There’s scope for more herds to join the milk fatty acid profiling trial

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tory for cow management and milk fat content

he alth and milk quality

Mark Robins: “Using profiles to predict condition score will help avoid problems”

Ben Bartlett: “Fatty acid profiling will bring new management tools”

companies, vets, milk purchasers and consultants – who have nominated some of their NMR recorded dairy clients for monthly fatty acid profiling. The results will be added to the database but these companies will also have access to the data so they can monitor the effects of, for example, the herd’s feed regime, on its fatty acid profile.

We already know that seasonality, feeding and stage of lactation have an impact on fatty acid profiles. Each herd profile varies so the key is to recognise deviations from the norm. There’s scope for more herds to join the project which, with more data, will improve accuracy,” says Mr Bartlett. “Longer term we hope that there will be new tools from fatty acid profiling that can benefit management and breeding decisions, given the heritability of certain traits. Ultimately, we are looking for the balance of fatty acids that best benefits cow and human health since this will both strengthen dairy herd sustainability and the role that dairy products have to play in improving human health.” l

More herds “Interpretation is key though, bearing in mind the number of fatty acids involved and their interactions – a drop in one can cause an increase in another and while some may be deemed as harmful to human health, others are beneficial. “At this stage we need to monitor trends.

Ration adjustments reduced sat fat but not yield Mark Robins, estate manager for Farley Farms Estate in Berkshire and chairman of the M&S national milk pool, recorded a reduction in the saturated fatty acid content of milk from the 200-cow Holstein herd when extruded linseed was added to the TMR ration in place of palm oil. “The response was rapid and there was no milk yield drop during the trial, but a slight reduction in total fat,” Mr Robins told the conference audience. “However, there are many factors that will cause variations in fatty acids and feeding is multifaceted, so it can be difficult to attribute changes in the fatty acid

profile to the addition or removal of one component in the ration.” As one of 40 producer suppliers to the M&S liquid milk pool, the Farley Farm herd’s ration is now geared to produce lower saturated fat milk. “We have reduced the saturated fat content of the M&S milk pool as part of the Healthier Milk Project introduced in the autumn of 2011,” he added. “We wanted to offer this as a point of difference and it meant that most of us producers had to implement some changes in feeding regimes. It was a steep learning curve for many but in most cases milk yields weren’t affected, the saturated

fat content fell and many reported that their cows were healthier.” The M&S producer pool, supported by the Royal Veterinary College, is involved in trials to derive body condition scores from mIR testing. “We try to make sure cows fall into the target condition score band, knowing that if they do they should be in the right condition to perform well,” added Mr Robins. “The whole process of body condition scoring is costly, time consuming and subjective. If fatty acid profiles can predict energy balance and condition scores then we can act quickly before the cow encounters any real problems.”

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O V E R A L L s

Name: Location: Herd size: Hobby:


Alan Wardle Macclesfield, Cheshire 500 Herpetoculturist (someone who keeps snakes)

Alan Wardle: “The way they move never ceases to amaze me”

Snake charmer text Rachael Porter


eing surrounded by 16 snakes is not everyone’s idea of relaxation, particularly when they’re prone to escaping. But tending to his collection of boa constrictors is exactly what you’ll find herdsman Alan Wardle doing on his days off. That’s if he’s not showing them at a country fair or exotics exhibition. “I’ve always been fascinated by snakes,” he says. “I used to keep tropical fish and saw snakes in the exotic pets magazines that I read. I also used to like looking at them at Chester Zoo – the reptile house was always where I headed first whenever I visited. “When I found out that you could actually keep snakes as pets I just had to have one. That was 25 years ago and my collection grew from there.” He favours constrictors – venomous snakes require a license and would, he agrees, be quite stressful pets. “Particularly if they got out, as snakes often do. It’s amazing how small a space they can squeeze themselves through. “One or two of my snakes could give you a nip if you startled or mishandled them. But they’re not large enough to do you any damage by squeezing you with their coils.” They’re relatively low maintenance too. Alan says he spends less than an hour a week looking after them. And caring for snakes is a world apart from cow husbandry: “They only need to be fed every five or six days. The biggest only needs feeding every 10 days and if they’re hibernating, as some of them do in the winter, they can go even longer without food.” His largest snake is 1.5 metres long. “But I did have one – a rainbow boa – that could have grown to 2.5 metres.” All are housed in one room in his house, near Macclesfield, in their own glass tanks. And they do, indeed, escape sometimes. “One day I got home from work to find the police and the RSPCA parked outside the row of terraced houses where I live. “A neighbour came over to me and asked if I knew anyone who’d lost a snake because someone in the row had come home to find one in their kitchen. He was fine about it – there was no harm done. But I guess it was a bit of a shock.” People have many misconceptions about snakes, according to Alan. He enjoys nothing more than taking his snakes along to shows and events where he can help to dispel some of the myths about the vertebrates. He also likes other people to see just how beautiful and graceful they are. “The way they move never ceases to amaze me and the colours are wonderful. Some of my snakes look like they’ve been painted.” The most ‘painted’ of all is the green tree python. He’s got his eye on one of those. “But they’re hard to come by and expensive. I’ll have to wait and just enjoy the ones that I have for now.”


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Dumfries-based family scoops top dairy award

The Harvey family Team work is key to success when running a large dairy herd – and winning awards. As is paying close attention to all the details. Herd size: Average yield: Average daily yield: Somatic cell count:

Joint effort breeds herd success It’s all hands on deck for this Scottish Holstein herd. The owners


doubled herd size and upgraded facilities while, at the same time, 300 cows 12,000 litres 36 litres 100,000 cells/ml


ust 10 years after moving to their current unit at Beeswing in Dumfries – and three years after son John returned home from Kent to help run the family business – the Harvey’s herd has found itself firmly on the dairy map after being crowned the AgriScot Scottish Dairy Farm of the Year. Owned and run by mother Margaret and sons Stuart and John, it’s the first accolade the herd has received and John hopes it won’t be the last. “We were surprised to win. We were

keeping a tight grip on meticulous herd management. We spoke to the Harvey family to find out more. text Rachael Porter

entered automatically, because we met the competition criteria. And we knew we’d made the final four, because we were visited by the award judges. But finding out at the show that we’d won will go down as a day to remember,” says brother Stuart.

Cow focus The judges were particularly impressed by the way the team at Drum Farm, which also comprises four staff, pulls together and in the same direction. It’s

all about the cows – and that’s as it should be, according to Stuart. “If we look after the cows then they will look after us – it really is as simple as that.” He says that the herd’s success is predominantly down to attention to detail, but that’s no mean feat when expanding a herd and investing in new buildings and facilities. Such distractions can mean that it’s easy to take your eye off the ball. But not in the Harvey family’s case.

Cow comfort: a sand-bedded cubicle shed houses the herd



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Two groups: the herd is split into high and mid-to-low yielders

Increasing cow numbers from around 180 three years ago to today’s 300, as well as upgrading to pedigree status in 2011, takes time and effort. As does erecting a new silage pit, a one-milliongallon slurry pit and a cubicle shed to house 140 cows. But John says providing space and facilities for herd growth was vital in order to ensure that all aspects of husbandry remained spot on. “We have invested quite a lot in buildings and housing. We put up a new calf shed about seven years ago, which has mechanical climate control. There’s just one piece of the jigsaw left and that’s cubicle housing for youngstock. We’d like to upgrade an existing shed this year.” He adds that it’s a priority since they now have around 300 followers on the unit. “More milkers inevitably means more calves and more heifers. And they’re tomorrow’s milkers – on our unit and any other that buy our surplus heifers – so they deserve some five-star treatment.”

Vaccination programme The NMR-recorded herd is currently averaging around 12,000kg. Average daily yield is currently around 36 litres and the herd calves all year round. The herd is split into two groups – high yielders and mid-to-low yielders. The former group is housed all year round and the latter go out to graze after first-

Tomorrow’s milkers: they deserve five-star treatment

cut silage has been taken in mid May. “We milk the high group three times a day,” explains Stuart, adding that the cows are fed a TMR that provides maintenance plus 36 litres, with individual cows topped up in the parlour with a 16% protein concentrate. Feeding is very much Stuart’s domain, with help from nutritionist Donald Lawson who visits at least once a month. John takes control of herd health under the guidance of vet Roddy Dunse from the Castle Douglas-based Dunmuir Vet Group. He visits routinely every 10 days and helps John to deliver a comprehensive vaccination programme that protects the herd from BVD, IBR, Leptospirosis and husk. “We’re a closed herd, but we still take a belt-and-braces approach to health. We vaccinate our calves against Coccidiosis and pneumonia. It’s vital that we get them off to the very best possible start and protect our investment.” Margaret plays a key role here, taking on much of the calf rearing as well as lending a hand at milking time. “We all muck in here as we have three people in the parlour at every milking,” says John. Daily milkings start at 4.00am and the ‘high’ group is milked first, following by the mid-to-lows. The second milking is for the high group only and starts at 11.30am. And the final, third milking begins at 6.00pm with the mid-to-low group milked first, followed by the high.

Each milking takes around 2.5 hours through the unit’s 10-yearold Dairymaster 18-stand swing-over parlour. “We have a cluster flushing system in the parlour, which saves time and labour and also helps to keep somatic cell counts and mastitis in check.” The herd’s SCC stands at around 100,000 cells/ml and John says that mastitis is currently running at 18 cases per 100 cows per year.

Rumen size Breeding has also played a role in the herd’s success and John says they like cows with plenty of breadth: “With good feet and udders too, of course. We don’t like tall, narrow cows and don’t like them too big either. “I think that width is key as this is linked to rumen size. A large rumen means plenty of milk.” So, do they also focus on yield when selecting sires? “No, not really. We’ll avoid bulls that are negative in milk, fat or protein. But we’re not looking for large positives. If we get type right and feed and manage the cows well then the milk should follow.” With the herd average yield continuing to creep upwards, this strategy is working. And if the family can also bag an award that recognises their efforts and performance then there’s no doubt that they must be doing plenty of things right. l

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Award-winning columnist and Shropshire-based dairy producer Roger Evans is in positive mood as he contemplates the year ahead – and the possibility of growing a ponytail.

Ring the changes I

’ve always thought of myself as a positive person. I’ve always looked ahead and I’ve always relished a challenge. Many people cannot imagine why anyone would want to be a dairy farmer, but I think an important element of our lives is the challenge we face on a daily basis and the buzz we get from trying to overcome problems. In 2011 we tried to farm differently by being ‘better’ at grazing our cows. It turned out to be a drought year and the dry weather put paid to that, simply because we ran out of grass. Our cows didn’t go out and work hard at eating grass. Instead they lay about belching until they heard the feeder wagon kick into action and then they made their way home, sometimes at 11 o’clock in the morning. In 2012 we tried again and we did a lot better, but it was a difficult year as we all know. I have convinced myself that this year is going to be different. This is going to be, weather wise, a ‘normal’ year. We are going to see what progress we have made and we’re going to see a difference. Yesterday I sold the mixer wagon – if I haven’t got it then I can’t use it and if I can’t use it then why would I want to buy a big load of blend every month? That’s different. Early afternoon and I stride confidently up the yard on my way to tend to my dry cows. There are 32 dry cows in this group. They, plus 10 others, are due to calve in February. Having 40 cows dry at this time of year takes a lot of pressure off our milking cow housing, which is fairly crap. Now that’s a change for the better. The dry cows I go to see to now are outside in the snow grazing kale and they are not a bit bothered by the weather. They come into an adjoining building at night for some silage. But they’re harvesting the kale, not a contractor. The dry cows need six big bales of straw for bedding a week, but if they were in all the time it would be two a day. Next to the kale field is a field of wrapped silage bales. It’s been too wet to take a trailer in there so I’ve been fetching two a day, one at a time, with the Matbro. I put two in the feeders for the cows. That leaves just 10 in the field and I’ve got an hour so I clear the field. I knew this year would be different. This is the first time ever that I have finished the silage harvest in late January, pulling bales out of 25cm of snow. It would be a more comfortable job if the Matbro didn’t have a door missing. I haven’t really finished the harvest. I forgot the 10 hectares of spring barley straw bales that are still out, but I’ve written that off in my mind. The dry cows come in with a sort of ‘take it or leave it’ attitude, so I sharpen them up a bit with the dog. I look at my phone, there’s still time to go for a haircut. But the hairdresser would make me leave my boots and waterproof trousers out on the street, where they might get nicked, and the zip has gone on my jeans. They don’t always like that in ladies’ hairdressers. For various reasons I’ve not had a haircut for about three months, I’m starting to look like a Herdwick sheep. Perhaps this is the year for a ponytail. Now that really would be different.


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If silage is low or poor quality, what are the tried and tested options?

Forage shortage solutions As many producers hope for early turnout this spring, as well as improved silage crops, the quality and quantity of forage stocks continues to be a headache. We spoke to two producers to see how they’re coping and what they hope 2013 will bring. text Allison Matthews



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ith the cost of producing milk exceeding 29ppl, summer 2012’s milk price of between 21ppl and 25ppl created difficult financial circumstances for many producers. This was compounded by poor weather conditions that hampered grazing opportunities and resulted in a poor forage harvest, and many producers are now in dire need of much better conditions in 2013. “Producers have been struggling with mediocre forage this winter, but it is not all bad news,” says Thompsons’ dairy specialist Stephen Agnew. “Producers taking their first cut in a two-week window at the end of May 2012 have maintained their performance. But these producers have seen a daily difference of up to five litres per cow when feeding poorer quality second cut.” The Graham family, from County Antrim, feel that 2012 is a grass year they would rather forget. “Cow condition and yield were difficult to maintain last summer when the grazing situation was less than ideal,” says Bryan Graham, who farms with his father, William-Robert, and his mother June in a small village close to Belfast.

Positive action “Traditionally we ran the herd on an easy-feed system, with twice a day inparlour feeding. In 2012 we added two out-of-parlour feeders, which have undoubtedly helped counteract the negative impact poor forage was having on both the cows’ body condition and fertility.” The Grahams took steps to improve the energy level of their herd’s ration by feeding four kilogrammes of concentrate as a base feed in the parlour and a maximum of 10 kg in the OOPFs. “From the start of summer 2012, the main theme has been a shortfall in energy and protein due to poor grazing. Cow body condition can suffer, creating a knock-on effect on fertility, with cows often struggling to show signs of oestrus and maintain pregnancy,” says Stephen. “Where cows have experienced prolonged periods of negative energy, milk protein is also becoming an issue.” If fertility and milk protein are a problem, forage analysis will identify whether feed rates need to be altered to ensure sufficient energy is being provided. If there is a problem then the addition of maize, wheat, barley or a rumen-protected fat can all serve to boost energy levels.

Bryan Graham: “Being clever with our available forage made a difference”

Dessie McCrea: “We were 700 tonnes short of forage, but took action”

Despite the challenges of 2012, Mr Graham’s pedigree Holstein herd is achieving impressive results with cows averaging more than 30 litres a day with a milk composition of 4.3% butterfat and 3.16% protein. “Our second-cut silage was harvested in late July and consequently is of much poorer quality than the first cut, which we made in late May. “Feeding the first and second cut in combination has meant that we have maintained a consistent diet throughout the winter. This has been backed up by a critical assessment of how we balance this with our ration,” says Bryan.

realise that the forage he had would not support his 350-cow herd, based in County Tyrone, through the winter. “With a large herd the stakes are higher and although quality silage is important, quantity can become a real issue. “When we did the sums with our Thompsons nutritionist, we knew we were going to be 700 tonnes short of fresh weight forage.

Informed decisions This year highlights the importance of making good quality forage. Whether it is first-, second- or third-cut silage, producers can no longer afford to allow a lack of quality forage to impact on cow performance. With a poor harvest and cows being housed for much of the summer, forage shortages are widespread. “For many herds evasive action has already been taken with a lack of forage available for purchase. More stringent culling policies have been put in place with many producers taking the view that there is no room for passengers,” says Stephen. “Abattoirs have confirmed that there is a 20% increase in the throughput of cows from the dairy herd in 2012 compared to 2011. “With a shortfall in alternative moist feeds, producers who need to make up a forage deficit have had to increase the level of hay or straw in the ration, with increased levels of concentrate.” When a third-cut of silage is not possible and the first cut is lighter than required, action needs to be taken. Dessie McCrea had the foresight in November 2012 to

Concentrate levels “At this point we decided to feed replacement heifers 2kg of straw per head to replace silage. We then increased concentrate levels accordingly to 4kg a day to maintain energy density and daily liveweight gain,” says Dessie. But the shortfall in silage not only affected the youngstock but also the diet of the milking herd, which was also reevaluated. “Our dairy blend was re-formulated to increase levels of soya hulls and sugar beet pulp and, therefore, the digestible fibre percentage of the ration. We also upped our concentrate feed rate from 7kg to 9kg through the TMR. “Silage consumption of the poorer second-cut silage was reduced by up to 8kg fresh weight. We knew it was working well after six days when silage intake was down and yields were up by 1.2 litres a cow,” says Dessie. Although the vision of an early turnout is motivating many, producers must be realistic about their options for feeding cows still housed. February signifies the latter stages of winter, but complacency at this stage would be foolish. “Producers must maintain a routine of assessing both quality and quantity of forages stocks to ensure that a herd with freshly calved cows can hold their performance,” adds Stephen Agnew. l

cc oo ww mm aa nn aa gg e m e m e n e n t t s eF p E B tR em U A bR e r Y

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Cattle vet Chris Price, from the Wiltshire-based XL Vet Group’s Drove Veterinary Hospital, takes a timely look at health and welfare issues effecting UK dairy herds. In this issue he explains why clostridial disease could be a significant problem this spring and summer.

Clostridial disease could be more prevalent this grazing season

Sudden-death syndrome C

lostridial disease, caused by the clostridial group of bacteria, is responsible for a range of different conditions in cattle, which include blackleg, malignant oedema, tetanus and botulism. The result is often sudden death and there may well be an increased incidence this coming grazing season as many grazing leys under go renovation, following the excessively wet conditions in 2012. Where outbreaks occur there is usually a history of soil disturbance within the area that is being grazed, such as soil being moved during building projects or ditches being cleared. But even excessively poached or sub-soiled land could pose a risk. The most recent outbreak that I saw was on a unit that was building a new shed and had piled up a mound of soil in a field where young stock were grazing. They lost seven heifers out of a group of 30. Both tragic and costly. Too many producers put the sudden death of young stock down to ‘just one of those things’ but a post-mortem could well reveal that it’s the result of clostridial disease. And that’s something that could be prevented with a cost-effective vaccination programme. Producers who do vaccinate tend do so with hindsight after losing cattle to the disease. If they know they’ve had losses due to clostridial disease, they’re in a good position to decide whether to vaccinate against it or not. At just £1 per head for the initial two-dose immunisation, it’s extremely cost effective.

The encyclopaedia Clostridial disease Cause


Ingested bacterial spores localise into the muscle tissues where they reside harmlessly until a change in the local tissue conditions, such as bruising or a minor wound, causes activation of the spores. Bacteria multiply rapidly and produce a range of toxins.

Very early treatment is vital if it’s to be effective. High doses of intravenous penicillin, anti-inflammatories and possibly surgical removal of dead or damaged tissue (if apparent) may be successful in some instances.

Symptoms An affected animal may be noted to be acutely depressed and often lame, if observed early after the onset of disease signs. However the most common presentation is as a sudden death.

Prevention Stock can be vaccinated prior to turnout in the spring. There are a range of inexpensive commercially available vaccines that are suitable for this. Single strain vaccines and multivalent products, to cover a more complete range of the commonly encountered Clostridial bacterial strains, are available. While clostridial vaccination is considered as a vital and routine part of sheep flock management, it is surprising that vaccination is not more widely practiced in cattle, particularly when infection usually results in death.


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Grass breeding: we look back at a decade of development and ask what’s next. Page 24 Nutritional facts: why grass and grass silage should be at the top of your herd’s menu. Page 26 Sward rescue: help and advice on how to get grass leys back to their productive best. Page 28 What’s new? Just a handful of the latest grassland product launches. Page 31

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A decade of advances in grass quality provides a taste of what’s to come

Plant breeding progress For producers focused on generating more milk from grass, the past 10 years have been significant in terms of the improvements made in the performance of ryegrasses in particular. But what does the next decade have in store? We spoke to a leading grass breeder to find out more. text Matt Mellor


ry matter yield potential in the best available varieties has continued to increase during the past decade. But more significantly there have also been great strides forward in nutritional quality, as well as other desirable traits such as persistency and extended seasonal performance. Advancements in quality traits such as D-value – seen most notably since around 2000 with the emergence of the first high sugar ryegrasses – are the culmination of a change in breeding emphasis first adopted more than 20 years earlier. The fact that it takes, on average, around 12 years for a variety to progress from initial selection to the Recommended Lists explains the time lapse. The good news is that the breeding programme responsible for a lot of the current progress is on-going and

promises even greater improvements to come during the next decade and beyond.

Adopted method Richard Hayes is the current ryegrass variety breeder at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS), Aberystwyth University, where the idea of breeding ryegrasses for greater nutritional quality was first considered in the 1970s by his predecessor Pete Wilkins. Working as part of an experienced team at what was then still the Welsh Plant Breeding Station, Dr Wilkins began his quest for quality in earnest in 1983, introducing a plant breeding methodology not previously used in ryegrass. “The method adopted by Dr Wilkins is called half sibling recurrent selection and we are still using it at IBERS today,” explains Dr Hayes.

Richard Hayes: “Modern breeding methods allow effective multi-trait selection”

“It is a far more focused method of breeding selection than the conventional paired crossing method typically used by ryegrass breeders everywhere else in the world. It allows us to work with relatively small numbers of plants and yet select for multiple traits concurrently. “It is more akin to what a producer would understand as a pedigree breeding programme, where the ‘mother’ plant equates to a bull of known genetics and is bred to many different cows or pollen donors in the case of the ryegrass.”

Ryegrass research: plant breeders use a focused method similar to a pedigree cattle breeding programme



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This unique targeted ryegrass breeding methodology has been a key reason for advances seen in the past decade but – as Dr Hayes points out – so has the work of animal scientists alongside the plant breeders. “The first real breakthrough came when the first Aber high sugar grass, AberDart, came onto the Recommended Lists in 1999,” he says. “This intermediate diploid perennial ryegrass variety had the superior dry matter yield and agronomic characteristics to excel among all contemporary varieties, but also showed a leap forward in D-value.”

Better performance The improved D-value in AberDart is related to the increased water soluble carbohydrate (WSC) content, a trait first selected for by Dr Wilkins as part of his quest for improved quality back in the 1980s. Aber high sugar grasses, as they are now known, were tested in ‘proof of principle’ studies involving dairy cows to first establish that the improvements resulted in better animal performance. Once positive milk yield responses were established, the breeding programme had real focus and more and more varieties with superior WSC have been developed through the programme and are now featuring strongly on the Recommended Lists. As a genuine breakthrough variety, AberDart was awarded the prestigious NIAB Variety Cup in 2003 for progress in quality traits – the first forage variety to attain this honour – and as such heralded much of the subsequent progress seen during the past decade. This is summarised in Figure 1, which shows the introduction of later heading diploids, starting with AberAvon, and a continuing improvement in the intermediate diploids. The IBERS programme has also produced high sugar hybrid ryegrasses, notably AberEcho, and most recently has used techniques to make these advanced quality characteristics available in high sugar Figure 1: Ryegrass breeding timeline


first listed on RL

Fennema Premium AberDart AberStar AberMagic AberGreen AberWolf Ba 14150**

1987 1998 1999 2005 2008 2011 2014 * 2019***

grazing D-value

grazing yield (t/ha)

conservation yield (t/ha)

aftermath D-value

72.5 73.3 76.0 76.3 76.5 76.6 76.9 77.7

9.82 10.31 11.00 11.31 11.46 11.57 11.93 12.68

14.58 15.01 16.01 16.46 16.68 16.84 17.37 18.46

73.7 73.2 75.7 76.0 76.1 76.3 76.6 77.2

* Variety being considered for RL listing in this year; ** Projections from early selection and breeding data only; *** Estimate of consideration for RL.

Table 1: Progress in DM yield in D-value in intermediate perennial ryegrass varieties (source: IBERS selection and breeding trials data).

tetraploid perennials, exemplified by the 2009 Recommended List entry AberBite and the most recent new arrival AberGain. Alongside the pursuit of higher water soluble carbohydrate content, the breeding methodology at IBERS has enable concurrent selection for other traits, including resistance to key diseases, such as crown rust, and also to improve key producer requirements such as persistency and extended seasonal growth. “Dry matter yield and persistency are typically antagonistic traits in ryegrass,” explains Dr Hayes, “which means often one increases as the other decreases and in conventional breeding programmes it is difficult to overcome this. “Using half sibling recurrent selection, we’ve been able to split these traits and – using data gathered on our long-term trials sites – it’s been possible to improve both yield and persistency. AberWolf, which will be considered for the Recommended List in 2014, is a great example of success in this area.”

Protein quality The ability to select for, and improve, multiple traits concurrently continues to create opportunities for Dr Hayes and his colleagues to continually improve the nutritional quality of ryegrasses. Working in tandem with animal scientists,

everything from protein quality to vitamin content is firmly on the agenda. “Alongside increasing the water soluble carbohydrate content we have been improving protein quality,” he adds. “A large proportion of the protein in plants is in the form of a protein called rubisco, most of this being unavailable to the animal, and hence the notoriously poor utilisation – and high levels of wastage – by ruminants. Progress in this area is exemplified in AberGreen, where nearly all of the rubisco is soluble and therefore more available to the animal. The proteinto-energy balance in this intermediate diploid, which entered the Recommended List in 2011, is another step forward.”

Novel traits Within the IBERS ryegrass breeding programme, as many as 50 traits will be involved at any one time, with nutritional aspects such as fibre digestibility already being improved alongside WSC and protein, for example. Going forward, Dr Hayes is looking at many other novel traits including lipid content – something already proven to boost animal performance whilst also reducing ruminant emissions – and also plans to enhance vitamin content. Also on the agenda is the use of high sugar grass for bio-energy production and bio-refining, something that may interest producers in years to come. Since November 2012, genomic selection – familiar to producers focused on cattle breeding – is being incorporated into the grass breeding programme at IBERS. Genomic selection will accelerate the progress being made, and bring many of the new developments being worked on into practical application even more quickly. For producers seeking more milk from grass, the future looks bright indeed. l


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Grass is an ideal ruminant feed but is too often undervalued

Have faith in grass Packed with nutrients and useful fibre, grass is a balanced feed that, when well managed, can support high milk production. We spoke to some leading nutritionists to find out more and to rekindle producers’ passion for grass. text Sara Gregson


ows can extract the energy, protein, minerals and vitamins found in grass due to the digestive activity of billions of microbes that live in their highly active rumens. It is these microbes that allow cows to break down useful carbohydrates, such as cellulose, which nonruminant species like humans can’t. The end-products of microbial digestion are absorbed into the



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blood stream or propelled into the small intestine. The nutrients are then used by the cow to maintain her life processes, to produce milk and maintain pregnancy. Grass fibre also plays a key role in maintaining rumen and cow health. The whole process of rumination is stimulated by the presence of course, fibrous material. Some of this is passed back up into the mouth for further

processing – before being re-swallowed for further attack by the microbes. The vast amount of saliva produced in the mouth while chewing keeps rumen pH at an optimal level. Healthy cows spend at least a third of their day cudding. The ease with which the microbes can access the grass fibre differs according to how digestible the cell wall is. The more digestible, the greater the release of useful energy for production. Breeding grasses with digestible cell walls has been one of the primary goals for grass breeders DLF Trifolium for more than 20 years. “Having fibre in the diet is incredibly important for all cattle,” says DLF’s agricultural sales director Tim Kerridge. “But what is more important is whether the rumen bugs can get in to work on it easily.

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Tim Kerridge: “Cows are designed to eat grass – not soya, barley or starchy maize”

Hefin Richards: “Most producers could produce more more milk from grass”

“Research has shown that a 1% increase in cell wall digestibility is associated with a 0.17kg increase in dry matter intake, and a consequent 0.25 litre increase in milk per cow per day – purely because the nutrients in the feed could be more easily accessed. “The release of cell wall sugars is slow and even, occurring throughout the passage of material through the rumen. Energy derived from water soluble carbohydrates found in the cell contents is very rapidly released and is good for kick-starting the digestion process. But it is structural sugars in the cell walls that sustain the microbial populations, allowing them to make full use of all the nutrients in the feed,” he says.

same. This is due to all the other factors, like the weather at mowing, that come into play.” While one-harvest crops, such as maize, can produce a more consistent conserved forage, the difficulties of growing the crop, particularly on marginal sites, is making some producers think about growing more grass instead.

Unique feed “Grass is unique in having both a high nutritional value and fibre content. Cows are designed to eat grass – not soya, barley or starchy maize. Acidosis is increasing in herds where the proportion of grass in the ration has fallen. Many producers are advised to include straw to remedy this, but adding some second-cut silage instead could provide fibre and nutrients, and will invariably be cheaper.” While grass has huge potential as a ruminant feed its quality can vary widely. Choosing grasses that have high value feed and digestible cell walls is a good starting point. But what happens out in the field, and when they are harvested and stored, has a major impact on how well they feed out. “Grass is the most flexible feed on the farm, but can also be the most variable,’ admits Profeed Nutrition Consultancy’s independent advisor Hefin Richards. “But variation can be managed. Some producers make the same quality of silage from every cut they take, although on most farms no two cuts are usually the

Forage stocks “Maize is great in the good years,” says Mr Richards. “But if the yield or quality isn’t there it can be expensive. It could be better to boost forage stocks for the next couple of years by reseeding with a highly productive short-term ley.” Increasing the grass area can also offer more opportunities for manure dispersal than maize, where the application window is limited. Injecting slurry into swards throughout the summer is efficient and environmentally friendly, as well as a money saver. “Most producers could produce more grass in their fields and more milk from their grass,” says Mr Richards. “I know producers with fully housed, high yielding herds where grass is the only conserved forage. But their attention to detail when it comes to silage making is phenomenal. “Grass has to be valued and regarded as a crop to take it to the next level. Everything has to be thought about and done well – from ensuring soil structure and nutrition is correct, through to harvesting at the right time and storing properly and with care,” he says. “Grass is its own worst enemy – it will grow and look green even if nothing is done to it. This lulls people into thinking it is performing even when it isn’t. If a crop of maize fails it is much more obvious.” Mr Richards adds that now is the ideal

Grass facts At a cellular level, grass, like all plants, is made up of cell contents and cell walls. Inside sit the oils and lipids (mainly healthy unsaturated fatty acids) and water soluble carbohydrates. The biggest component, particularly in young leafy grass, is protein. The cell walls are made up of structural sugars. As the plant grows and matures the amount of these sugars increases. Not only important for keeping the plant upright as it grows taller, they also make a significant contribution to the cows’ diet. In fact, nearly two thirds of the energy the microbes extract from grass comes from sugar found in the cell walls.

time to weigh up the forage crop options for this year and to write a forage plan. Work out target milk production and how much grass and other crops are needed to achieve this, he advises. “Work with agronomists to decide which grasses and mixtures will serve the farm best – don’t just pick anything left on the merchant’s shelf. “Plan the silage making operations meticulously and identify a preferred cutting date. “Decide what additive to use, MOT the mower and clean out the clamps as soon they are empty, so that everything is ready to go when the ideal cutting opportunity comes.” l


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Some much-needed TLC should put the spring back into swards

Rescue remedies A soggy summer followed by a wet winter means that swards have taken some severe punishment during the past 12 months. So, with spring turnout just a few months away, what ‘rescue package’ should you be putting together to get your grassland back in peak condition? text Rachael Porter


bottom-up approach is what many swards need to get them back to peak productivity this spring and summer. It’s very much a case of doing what you’d do in a more typical year, but with a little more vigour, according to Opico’s Neil Robinson and GrowHow’s grassland specialist Elaine Jewkes. “Compaction is a problem on dairy units across the UK,” says Mr Robinson. “ADAS reported that 60% of grassland was suffering with some form of compaction 12 months ago and I think it’s safe to assume, after the extremely wet conditions, that that figure is now considerably higher.” So many producers could be looking at soil and grass swards that are simply not going to perform this coming spring and summer without some urgent intervention. “I tell producers to view the soil – down to a depth of 30cm – as a sponge. It stores water, oxygen, nutrients, worms, in fact everything that makes the soil healthy and the sward productive,” says Mr Robinson. “If half of that ‘sponge’ is inaccessible to plant roots, as a result of compaction, the grass is just not going to perform to its full potential and if it’s stressed and starts to die off then that also creates gaps for weeds and weed grasses. “So healthy, compaction-free soil really is the foundation for grass growing success.” He explains that compaction can be readily identified at this time of year:



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“Standing water and very wet or boggy fields are obvious signs,” says Mr Robinson. “The first step is to determine how deep this compaction is.” Mr Robinson urges producers to dig soil pits, about 50cm by 50cm and about 30cm deep, to see where the ‘cap’ is and to take a closer look at the soil profile.

Starved soil “Once you’ve dug out a square clod of earth, drop this onto the ground and you should see vertical fissures appear. In compacted ground, only horizontal fissures will be seen. “Also look out for areas of rusty-coloured soil, which smell of iron and sulphur. This denotes iron oxidation where compaction has starved the soil of oxygen, which is another limit to grass growth. Mr Robinson says that if compaction is in the top 12.5cm of the profile, it is most likely caused by cattle. If it’s deeper then machinery is usually the culprit. “It’s important to know where the compaction is because that will determine whether you use a sward slitter or a sward lifter to break it up,” he adds. A slitter or aerator will relieve compaction to a depth of around 12.5cm. It will break up surface capping and oxygenate the sward, and ultimately improve spring grass growth. “To maximise the benefits of winter slitting, the rotors on some aerators, including OPICO’s Sward-Slitter, can be offset by 10 degrees to increase the surface cracking,” says Mr Robinson. Where compaction is deeper than 12cm

Neil Robinson: “Compaction-free soil is the foundation for grass success”

then grassland subsoiling – or swardlifting – is the only option to break up the mineral ‘pan’ and improve drainage. “Sward-lifting is best carried out when the subsoil is dry enough to crack and fissure. The subsoiler points should be set 50mm below the pan to ensure sufficient shatter – any deeper is just a waste of fuel and could potentially drive the pan lower,” says Mr Robinson, adding that OPICO’s Sward-lifter has individual presses, which follow each of the subsoiler legs and minimise damage to the sward. Once the soil profile has been checked and corrected, soil sampling to ascertain nutrient and mineral status is the next logical – and vital – step for success. “Soil sampling is always important, but is even more so this year,” says GrowHow’s Ms Jewkes. “It’s possible that the high rainfall and resulting nutrient leaching will have nudged down the pH in some fields, particularly if it was border line in the first place,” she says. “If soil pH is too low, that can reduce the availability of nutrients.” Residual nitrogen levels in many soils are also likely to be low, as a result of leaching. And there may also have been phosphorus losses, if soil wash or erosion has occurred. “A lot will depend on soil type, but it’s always good practice and cost effective to do a standard soil test for phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and pH.”

Cost savings With the cost of fertiliser, like many other inputs, still high, soil testing can also help some producers to avoid applying excess nutrients. “A £15 test could save you a lot of money,” says Ms Jewkes. A simple example is where phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) application may not be necessary on grazing. “If the soil

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Elaine Jewkes: “A £15 test could save you a lot of money”

test shows that P and K are not needed (P index 3, K index 2), then switching from a 25:5:5 fertiliser to a nitrogen:sulphur or nitrogen only product could save around £28 per hectare. Even in a two hectare field, that more than covers the cost of soil testing,” she says. “Like any other year, the trick is to know what’s there and apply only what’s needed.” She stresses that checking for and correcting any compaction is also vital. “Anaerobic conditions can also result in de-nitrification from the soil, losing valuable nitrogen. Compacted soil will also be much slower to dry out and warm up in the spring, which can delay turnout and reduce the sward’s production potential. And in cold soil, phosphorus is less mobile and less available. “So digging a soil profile is another starting point for producers looking to give their swards a little TLC,” adds Ms Jewkes.

Ground cover Looking at the soil surface, it’s not always easy to say when it’s time to throw in the towel and invest in a total reseed. “It very much depends on ground cover and how much ryegrass there is within that,” says Limagrain’s John Spence. “Even if ground cover is fairly sparse, if it’s predominantly ryegrass – as opposed to broadleaved or weed grasses – then overseeding is still a viable, and in many instances more cost effective, option.” If less than 50% of the grass plant population is ryegrass, the rule of thumb is to opt for a total reseed. “Look at several individual square metres over each field larger field. Use all the results to make your decision. Deeper underground: subsoiling – or swardlifting – is the only option to break up the mineral ‘pan’ and improve drainage


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John Spence: “Sow something that can ‘get up and going’ as quickly as possible”

Just one may give a false impression of the true condition of the field. And look out for weeds too. “A sward with a low ground cover but a high proportion of ryegrass can be rescued with an overseed. But if the gaps are filled with weeds and weed grasses, it’s a different story.” Field walking is also a chance to take a close look at the soil itself. If it’s water logged, dig to check for compaction. Compacted soil needs to be broken up and aerated before anything else. “It’s vital to start from the bottom up. Throwing seed and any other inputs at compacted soil is a waste of time and money.

“You won’t get the grazing or cutting swards that you’re hoping for – or need – this coming grass-growing season.” It’s vital to wait for the soil to be dry enough before you start working on it – whether that’s for a full reseed or an overseed. “The former will require a fine seed bed and you’ll need to get on it with a roller too, to maximise soil-to-seed contact and encourage germination and strong establishment,” says Mr Spence. “Overseeding also requires dry conditions, to avoid compaction and further damage to the existing sward. And again, rolling will be required, particularly if you’re overseeding with a broadcaster.”

Good tilth He says that broadcasting seed is the least expensive method, but he sees producers having greater success with harrow seeders and slot seeders. “Slot seeders place the seed in a good tilth, but the grass grows in defined rows and it will take time for it to populate the gaps in between. As for choice of grass variety, he recommends something that can ‘get up and going’ as quickly as possible. “A high proportion of tetraploids in the mixture will be more vigorous and quicker to establish. They’re also better able to

compete with the already established grass for light, moisture and nutrients.” Reseed variety choice should depend on the sward’s end use. “I can’t stress enough that producers should only choose a dual-purpose grass seed mix if they really are going to cut and graze a field. “All too often I see people losing grass yield because they played it safe and went with a dual-purpose seed mix, only to never cut or never graze it. Select something that’s going to do the job you want it to do. “If you want a grazing ley that will serve you well for four or five years, choose a mixture that will do that and maximise the grass yield potential from that field. Don’t sit on the fence and hedge your bets.” Weeds are rife because last summer’s poaching created plenty of gaps and opportunities for docks, thistles, nettles and chickweed to take hold. Many weed control spray programmes were abandoned due to the appalling weather. “If you’re still opting for overseeding and want to add clover, go for a mix without clover and tackle the weeds with a herbicide programme. “Once they’re under control, you can then overseed with a pelleted clover blend,” adds Mr Spence. l

Slitter solution: compaction in the top 12.5cm can be relieved with an aerator



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Just a selection of products to aid grassland management

Ryegrass and reformulations A silage inoculant that promises to improve silage quality, some new grass varieties and a dockknocking herbicide with a new formulation are just some of the tools available to help make 2013 a grass growing and silage making success. text Rachael Porter

Inoculant improvements Looking for an inoculant that guarantees more consistent mixing, less sedimentation and more even application resulting in better quality silage? Biotal has developed a new formulation of its leading range of grass, wholecrop and maize inoculants, which it claims offers all three. “Uneven fermentation leads to patchy and variable heating, increased wastage, variable intakes and reduced performance from forage so is something to avoid,” says the company’s Lee Gresham. “In many cases uneven fermentation can be traced back to how the inoculant has been applied and in turn to how it is mixed.” So Biotal has launched HC formulation products for the coming silage season. Using a unique production process, HC Technology produces a concentrated inoculant, which is highly soluble at all the rates used in commercial applicators. They have a significantly lower sedimentation rate than other inoculants on the market. “The result is a more consistently mixed inoculant and a more even application to the crop,” says Mr Gresham.

Dock control

Grass varieties Five tetraploid ryegrass varieties have been added into the Sinclair McGill range of grass seed mixtures, marketed by Limagrain UK. The varieties – Dunluce, Novello, Drift, Scapino and Aspect — will further improve the DM yield and quality of popular ley mixtures: Castlehill, Prosper, Progress and Polycrop, according to the company. “Polycrop, a short to medium term cutting and grazing mixture now benefits from the inclusion of Novello, a late tetraploid perennial ryegrass, and Scapino, a tetraploid hybrid ryegrass,” Limagrain’s Ian Misselbrook explains. “Scapino is newly recommended on the England and Wales Grass List. It is late heading and so stays leafy for longer, maintaining its digestibility. Scapino is a good addition to both cutting and grazing leys, as is Novello, a versatile variety that is already on Recommended Lists in several other European countries,” he adds. Novello also has a good disease resistance package with a top score of nine for resistance to Dreschlera and eight out of nine for resistance to crown rust. An above average score of six for mildew enables it to maintain its palatability and digestibility. “Novello has also been added to the grazing mixtures Progress and Prosper, as has Dunluce, a highperforming mid-season tetraploid ryegrass,” says Mr Misselbrook. It was bred by the AFBI in Northern Ireland, and has excellent digestibility and ME yield.

Dow AgroSciences has launched a new formulation of the market-leading dock herbicide Doxstar. DoxstarPro is a foliaracting spray containing two key modern active ingredients, fluroxypyr and triclopyr, which together deliver a more robust and reliable effect than when used alone. They are readily translocated within the target plants, giving longlasting control of both broad leaved and curled docks, as well as chickweed. “This year weed control will be a greater priority for many producers,” says the company’s Robin Bentley. “Many fields could not be sprayed in 2012 and poaching has produced open swards where docks will easily establish. “So the launch of a new, improved dock herbicide is timely, as infestations of these weeds are likely to be an increasing problem on many farms,” he says. The product is a high concentration formulation, so less is needed to treat a given area, leading to easier handling and less packaging. The maximum dose rate is now two litres per hectare per year, applied in between 300 and 400 litres of water. Applied when the weeds are actively growing in spring or autumn, it is selective in action, so does not affect grass growth in any way.


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Chart toppers Here are the three 100-tonne cows that ranked top for Lifetime Daily Yield (LDY) at the end of last year – December 2012. A full list is on the NMR website. Saddlers Up Ida 105 yielded 1.  102,963kg of milk in her fifth lactation and has an LDY of 30.24kg/day.   Owned by G Lambert & Partners, Stockbridge, Hants. 2. 278 – 107,652kg of milk in eight lactations and with an LDY of 28.64kg/day. Owned by T C Cox, Puddletown, Dorset. 3. Mittonvale Marshall Bredstrew 826 has produced 100,546kg of milk in six lactations and has an LDY of 28.05kg/day. Owned by C Middleton, Mitton Whalley, Lancashire.

Vet Gillian Whitehurst: “Producers can see Johne’s control measures in place”

Johne’s best practice Vets are inviting producers to onfarm Johne’s workshops supported by NML, which already screens many dairy herds for the Johne’s-causing MAP bacterium. Glenthorne Vets’ Gillian Whitehurst met dairy clients on a unit on the Derbyshire Staffordshire border to witness Johne’s disease control first hand. “The purpose of this meeting was for producers to talk about implementing control plans and to appreciate the complexity of the disease,” says Gillian. “We’re all learning more about Johne’s. It’s not an easy disease to eradicate – if it is ever possible – unlike some other diseases like BVD. We have to assess

the risks and control it on each unit.” Despite seeing no cases of Johne’s on the demonstration unit, Gillian used MyHealthyHerd to assess the risks of infection about three years ago and then tested the whole herd using NMR’s quarterly Herdwise screening service which takes milk from the NMR sample. “We found a few infected cows in this 220-cow herd – enough to cause a problem if these cows were not identified and managed differently from the rest of the herd. Quite a few were culled, but we still needed controls in place particularly in the calving areas and with colostrum management. “Producers were very open and I think it really helped them appreciate that

Johne’s control is not a one-off job. I am hoping that all my dairy clients carry out a risk assessment and that we can develop a good Johne’s control programme. There’s never any room for complacency with Johne’s.”

Cell counts and calving intervals drop Key traits like somatic cell count and calving interval have fallen in the main dairy breeds in NMR’s latest Annual Production Report (APR). Five dairy breeds have more than 1% of total recordings – dominated by the Holstein with 90% then the Jersey, Ayrshire, Friesian and Shorthorn. The Holstein cell count, now at 196,000cells/ml, is at its lowest level for seven years. Calving interval has fallen too, to 419 days, again back to the 2005/06 level. The Ayrshire, Shorthorn and Friesian have also reduced their cell count averages and have the lowest levels among the main dairy breeds. They stand at 171,000cells/ml, 167,000cells/

ml and 172,000cells/ml respectively. While the Jersey and Ayrshire have reduced their average calving intervals to 403 days and 405 days, respectively, the Shorthorn and Friesian still have the

best averages at 398 days and 401 days. NMR’s latest APR will be published on its website later this month. Figures are based on the recording year ending September 2012.

For more information on NMR products and services contact customer services, 0844 7255567, NMR web address:, NMR email address: cow man ag e me n t

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De Biesheuvel Summit – a rising sire from a winning combination

D e B i e s h e u v e l S u mm i t ( M as c o l x D u s t i n x W e bs t e r x B r a n c o x J ab o t )

Summit is a modern and exceptional all-round bull, offering

Production proof: 147 daughters in 112 herds (Source: GES/DairyCo breeding+, December 2012)

plenty of milk and protein combined with powerful conformation

Kg M % fat % prot. Kg fat Kg prot. PIN PLI +557 –0.11 +0.10 +13.1 +26.5 £41 £171

producer to find out how Summit’s daughters are performing text David Matthews

Conformation traits: 61 daughters in 47 herds 100


frame 106 dairy strength


udder 107 feet and legs


total score


stature 105 chest width


body depth


angularity 107 condition score


rump angle


rump width


rear legs rear view


rear legs side view


foot angle

and outstanding longevity. And it’s no surprise to learn that he’s by Mascol and out of a Javina dam. We spoke to a Dutch

+361 days Longevity: SCC: –10 Calving ease: 105 Temperament:   99 Milking speed: 100 Fertility:   96


The pinnacle of perfection



he Javinas have been one of the most successful cow families in the Netherlands in recent years. It is a cow family that has really blossomed on Arjan Verploeg’s farm in the Netherlands since he bought his Javinas from CRV as embryos. “We just wanted to be able to milk better cows, so we decided to buy embryos regularly,” explains Arjan, who implements a ‘no-nonsense’ policy with his 135-cow herd. “In terms of production the Javinas are way above

the herd average, with more litres and exceptionally high protein. More than 3.6% protein is the rule.” The Javinas go back to the family of Plushanski Chief Faith and are related to bulls such as Apina Fortune, To-Mar D Fortune and Kolhorner Elvis. In the Netherlands they always delivered top performance under Dutch conditions, with a special combination of high milk production, protein and strong conformation. The crowning glory of this family in

O Man daughter De Biesheuvel Javina 5, half sister to Summit

locomotion 107 fore udder attachment


front teat placement


teat length


udder depth


rear udder height


central ligament


rear teat placement


Delta Hu (Novali

High lifetime production Summit daughters are easily born calves who will grow into milky cows with high protein, low cell counts and great hoof health. A good longevity score will lead to high lifetime production.





VcEoE w T EmE a L Tn aja gn em ua en r it 1F /E 2B RU 2 0 A0 R 9Y

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Arjan’s herd is, without doubt, the foundation cow, De Biesheuvel Delta Javina, a daughter of health specialist Noorder Dustin. With EX90 for frame, VG88 dairy strength, VG87 udder and VG88 feet & legs Javina scored VG88 overall. With this type and producing 75,413kg of milk at 4.33% fat and 3.69% protein, or an average of 33.1 litres per day, she almost guarantees a high lifetime yield. Her best lactation to date was her third, yielding 12,527kg of milk with 4.19% fat and 3.64% protein, with a lactation value of 135. Also remarkable is the fact that she has never raised the high-cell-count alarm at any time in her life. She is deservedly an excellent cow who, to cap it all, passes her strong performance on to her son Summit.

Half sisters

Summit daughter Dolly

The daughters of Dustin’s De Biesheuvel Delta Javina also appeal to the imagination. With their towering genomic scores they made it to the top of the rankings and have therefore been widely used as bull dams. The combination of Javina and O Man Plushanski Chief Faith (Pawnee Farm Arlinda Chief) Plushanski Job Fancy (Hillhaven Standout Job) Plushanski Neil Flute (Sun-Valley Sensation Neil) Plushanski Mark Five (Walkway Chief Mark) Plushanski Pen-Gbi Fire (To-Mar Blackstar) Etazon Vincent (Mascot) Delta Pearl (Jabot)

Delta Hugo (Novalis)

Delta Jabikje (Branco)

De Biesheuvel Delta Janienke (Webster)

Delta Linfield (Addison)

De Biesheuvel Delta Javina (Dustin) De Biesheuvel Summit (Mascol)

De Biesheuvel Javina 5 (O Man) De Biesheuvel Sunrise (Jardin)

can certainly be described as one of the most successful. De Biesheuvel Javina 3 and De Biesheuvel Javina 5 are the two O  Man daughters that are often contracted. With VG87 points Javina 3 is the more attractive of the two. She produced a heifer lactation of 9,101kg of milk at 4.70% fat and 3.81% protein. In her second she gave 11,919kg of milk in 305 days at 4.59% fat and 3.73% protein. This resulted in lactation values of 137 and 114. Her full sister, Javina 5, went even further in terms of production. As a heifer she produced a first-lactation yield of 9,539kg of milk at 4.34% fat and as much as 3.81% protein. Her second lactation yielded 11,801kg of milk at 4.51% fat and 3.83% protein, resulting in lactation values of 137 and 141.

Etazon foundation Like many bulls, Summit’s roots lay in America. Ten generations before Summit, we encounter the famous foundation cow Plushanski Chief Faith, listed with EX94 points. Via Plushanski Job Fancy, listed with VG88 points, Plushanski Neil Flute, listed with VG87 points, and Plushanski Mark Fife, listed with VG87 points, we arrive at a Black Star daughter who was contracted for the Etazon programme. Mascot embryos from this Black Star daughter came to the Netherlands and resulted in Etazon Vincent. She immediately impressed, with a heifer lactation of 12,010kg of milk at 4% fat and 3.67% protein.

Scoring VG86, this cow is at the top of a whole series of cows that were tested and promoted to donors in the CRV breeding programme. For example, Delta Pearl VG87, produced the interesting breeding bull Delta Hugo, followed by Branco daughter Delta Jabikje, the dam of Linfield. With Webster daughter Delta Janienke we ultimately arrive at the grand dam of Summit. Janienke was born on Arjan’s farm, but was taken to the test station through the CRV buy-back scheme, where she did exactly what was expected of the family, producing a heifer lactation of 10,471kg of milk at 4.55% fat and 3.79% protein. “She was a special calf – long and strong. It was such a pity she was bought back,” says Arjan. It was agreed that if Janienke were to produce embryos, he would be given the opportunity to buy some back. There were six Dustin embryos, from which four heifers were born. Three of them went back to CRV, and the youngest calf stayed on the farm. This was De Biesheuvel Delta Javina. Arjan had so much confidence in his ‘Dustin’ that he did not buy any more embryos, but instead flushed Javina as a maiden heifer with O Man. The resultant Javina 3 and 5 attracted a great deal of breeding interest, both nationally and internationally. Despite this success, Arjan still does not see himself as a breeder. “I’m just not interested enough in breeding. We have cows to milk.” And the Javinas are doing really well on that front. l

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Price squeeze to ease Good news – feed prices could fall a little later in the year Our update on wheat and soya prices could help you to stay one step ahead when buying in feed during the next few months. And there’s some much-needed good news on the horizon. Two analysts tell us what’s in store and why.

text Rachael Porter


here is a real fear that dairy feed prices may see a further rise in 2013. “That’s on the back of the US drought and the harvest concerns in South America,” explains Offre & Demande Agricole UK’s Benjamin Bodart. He works for a private, independent consulting firm that helps buyers and sellers of agricultural commodities manage market volatility and price risks. “With world wheat production for 2012/2013 at around 650mt, about 45mt less than 2011/2012, and consumption relatively static at around 690mt, ending stocks will be 158mt. That’s 40mt less than last year, while the stocks-to-use ratio has declined from 28.4% to 23.1%. This is very supportive for prices,” he says.

Increased plantings High prices have resulted in an increased area of plantings, but even with a very early provisional five million hectare (2.3%) increase in the global wheat area (to 224 million hectares) for 2013/2014, harvest is still a long way off and production risks are real, according to Mr Bodart. “Two countries are already attracting our attention. US crop ratings are the worst they’ve been for 26 years, while in the south of Russia low rainfall has caused the planted area to be revised down by a million hectares. UK winter wheat plantings are significantly reduced and the 2013 harvest could be another disappointment,” he says. “That said, there is still potential for a large global harvest next year and, therefore, an easing in prices later this year. Our office in the Ukraine says that

things are looking positive for the next harvest and a good harvest means that export prices could come down a little. “UK producers should feel the benefits of that later in 2013, perhaps in late autumn.” Globally, soya supplies are also still low predominantly as a result of the US drought. “The Brazilian soya harvest was also poor,” says BOCM Pauls raw materials director Tony Bell. “Soya stocks are extremely tight at the moment. The biggest consumer of soya at the moment is China and the high price doesn’t seem to be slowing it down. This compounds the shortage problem for the rest of the world, including UK producers.” He explains that usually, as the price of a commodity increases demand tends to tail off as buyers and consumers look for less expensive alternatives. “But that rationalisation hasn’t kicked in with soya.”

Looking ahead So, what about 2013? “Soya prices should ease a little following the Brazilian harvest in June, provided it’s a good crop. But global stocks still need to be substantially replenishing, so prices aren’t going to tumble,” says Mr Bell. The good news for BOCM Paul’s’ customers is that ruminant feed prices have not fully reflected the high replacement prices. “We forward bought, so not all the price rises seen this winter have filtered through the system. Summer price levels will depend on how the market moves during the next couple of months.”

cow man ag e me n t

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Cows must have the will to perform and also suit their environment and management system

The right cows in the right place Consistency achieving top lifetime daily yields and managing cows to meet retailer and consumer welfare requirements were the focus of two dairy papers – one presented by a producer and one by a vet – at this year’s British Cattle Conference. text Karen Wright


ndrew Higgins, from Wilderley Hall near Shrewsbury, knows that it’s a combination of factors that has placed his family’s pedigree Holstein herd top in the Lifetime Daily Yield (LDY) rankings, making it the recipient of the NMR/RABDF Chris May Memorial Award for two consecutive years. This herd is consistently achieving high yields combined with good health and fertility. “There are a lot of hoops to jump through to achieve a top herd LDY,” said Andrew. “But number one would be the cows’ ability. Without their desire to perform everything else would be irrelevant.” In 20 years Andrew, brother Bill, and initially parents Bill and Margaret, have taken the herd from 130 cows averaging 7,000kg on a fairly simple system to 295 cows averaging 12,640kg on a three-times-a-day milking, housed TMR system.

Consistent ration “We’ve increased output from the farm to support three families and some might be tempted to say that we ‘push’ the cows, but I’m not quite sure how we would push them. For example, their diet must be balanced and consistent to not only optimise production but also to allow the heifers to continue maturing during their first lactation. It also has to minimise problems like acidosis or poor fertility,” said Andrew. “In fact I would say that cows producing a much lower yield, being fed an energy deficient diet or grazing grass with dry


matter fluctuating widely day to day will be under a lot more stress than a herd, like ours, that’s fed a consistent diet.” Number two in the top 10 contributors to high LDY at Wilderley Hall is management during the dry period, calving and immediately post calving. “We focus most of our time on cows in these periods. If we can get the cows through with no problems then the rest of the lactation should be plain sailing. I like to think that our cows are well prepared for each lactation.” To achieve this cows and heifers that are 17 days off calving are housed in a loose yard then individually penned after calving and given 40 litres of tepid water and the milking-cow ration. “If she does not drink enough we supplement her with a mineral mix in the water. At the next appropriate milking, the cow will join the post calving group for a week. At day seven we give her a full check and if all is ok she will join one of the milking groups,” explained Andrew. Fertility has to be good too and cows are served 70 days post calving. The herd has a conception to first service rate of 38% and a 416-day calving interval. Average age at first calving is 24.7 months and the replacement rate runs at 25%. Breeding plays a crucial role in the herd’s success. “I’m not looking for that magical mating that will produce a show winner, but I would rather breed 40 or 50 cows from a sire all producing more than 12,000kg and lasting for at least

four lactations. Our sire selection criteria are changing with more emphasis on health traits and less on the production side,” added Andrew.

Welfare standards Welfare expectations and achieving targets are high on supermarket milk buyers’ agendas. Vet Rob Smith, from the University of Liverpool, spoke of the pressure on the supply chain from retailers and consumers, explaining that some consumers say they would switch retailer if welfare standards did not match their expectations. “Tesco’s livestock code of practice accommodates all production systems and focuses assessing the outcome of the system from an animal welfare perspective to encourage best practice,” said Rob Smith. “Producers must record data and this will provide benchmarks, or key performance indicators.”

Perfect balance: rations must be consistent if they’re going to optimise production


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The data collected relates to consumer concerns such as antibiotic use, lameness, mastitis and calf loss. In addition, those supplying the Tesco Sustainable Dairy Group – a group that Dr Smith is involved with – must meet certain ‘absolute’ standards such as regular milk recording, participation in a Johne’s disease control programme and mobility scoring. “Routine body condition scoring is recommended, but making this a stipulation was considered too onerous so producers are now asked to focus on tackling thin cows with a condition score of 1 or less. “And with increased concern about antibiotic usage, the code requires producers to record all treatment courses including dry cow therapy.” By using key performance indicators (KPIs), Dr Smith said that he believed that producers would be better able to work to targets and breed cows that suit their environment.

Andrew Higgins: “We focus on management from the dry period through to post calving”

Rob Smith: “Using KPIs would allow producers to meet breeding targets”

“More emphasis should be placed on matching the cow to the environment on farm when breeding strategies are formulated,” he added. “Breeding for uniform stature would enable the cow environment to be optimised for all cows.” He cited a study that correlated digital dermatitis with the mobility PTA of a bull and suggested that this could be

used to reduce the susceptibility of herds to digital dermatitis. Other studies have shown that using bulls with good somatic cell PTAs can reduce the risk of clinical mastitis in daughters. “Breeding has the potential to contribute to producers achieving good welfare KPIs. The interaction between genetics and her environment will determine how fully this potential is realised.” l


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Sky high for health and type Delta Atlantic is a son of the German health specialist Ramos. The maternal sire is O Man, also a health specialist. Atlantic has surely inherited these traits from his ancestors, as he achieves high scores for health related traits in his genomic test. Although Delta Atlantic’s production figures are still based on his genomic test (his daughters produce plenty of Roosje 178 is an Atlantic daughter from a Paramount dam with a predicted production of 10,042kg of milk, 4.31% fat, 3.54% protein

milk) his high Final Score of 113 is based on 51 inspected daughters. He scores very well on udder health and somatic cell count, which means his daughters have a reduced risk of contracting mastitis than daughters of bulls with average scores for these traits. His daughters’ udders are not only very healthy, but they also have great conformation. He excels in feet and legs. His daughters have strong locomotion and a straight rear view of the legs. Delta Atlantic also scores well for calving ease, so he is suitable for use on maiden heifers.

High longevity Furthermore, Atlantic has a sky high longevity score of +740 days so he is the bull of choice for healthy and long lived cows resulting in maximum lifetime production. Delta Atlantic is available from Avoncroft priced at £25 per straw. For more information call 0800 7831880.

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‘A real milk bull’ Upgrade is his name and upgrade he more certainly will! He is a real milk bull with sublime udders and excellent legs and feet. Lowlands Upgrade knows the ropes in terms of production and type. This impressive son of CRV’s figurehead Delta Paramount has a Dutch pedigree combining Dustin, Lava, Jabot and Sunny Boy in his sire stack. In their appearance Upgrade daughters very much look like the daughters of his sire Delta Corrie 98 daughter of Upgrade

Paramount. The heifers have correct rump structure and slightly above average in width. They have beautiful long and shallow udders with phenomenal rear udder height and are well attached. They walk well on straight legs of excellent bone quality. Producer comments are all very positive about their milking Upgrade daughters: “They are good, decent milking cows with good conformation. They are well constructed with good udders and legs and feet, and they are not extremely large.” Upgrade’s December production proof is +764kg of milk, +16.6kg (–0.16%) fat, +25.0kg (+0.00%) protein and £145 PLI. His Final Score is 111, Udder 112, Legs and Feet 107, frame 104 and Dairy Strength 102 with longevity of +297 days. Lowlands Upgrade is available from Avoncroft priced at £18 per straw. For more information telephone 0800 7831880 for free.

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Larson Acres A new cross ventilation barn helped support milk production during the hot summer at Larson Acres.



Number of cows: Unit size: Number of employees: Milkproduction/day:

2,900 2000 ha 60 100.000kg

Sandy Larson

New building: the cross ventilation barn

US unit combines conventional breeding with a standard genome test

Maximum control in a turbulent climate A feed shortage stemming from the 2012 drought pushed this large unit’s breakeven price to 27ppl. But, fortunately, a new cross ventilation system helped support milk production during the hot summer and the business is still in the black. text Jaap van der Knaap


website geared to consumers and a telephone answering message with a friendly voice that ends with ‘drinking milk is also good for the environment.’ You don’t immediately expect this from a dairy where every day 2,900 cows are milked three times a day and where 60 staff look after a total of 5,500 head of cattle. “We believe it is important that the consumer knows what we do,” says Sandy Larson from the Larson Acres

farm at Evansville, Wisconsin. “We put a lot of energy into improving the public’s perception of modern dairy farming. I spend half of my time taking tours of school classes or interested people around our dairy.” Larson Acres is most certainly a modern dairy farm. The new cross ventilation barn brings the dairy completely up to date. Measuring 360 metres by 72 metres, 1,850 dairy cows, including some of the older young stock, are

housed. The climate is mechanically controlled via 185 large ventilators in the side wall. The climate can be cooled considerably because the air entering the building is water cooled. That proved extremely useful during the hot summer. “The outside temperature was 32°C for a whole month. This barn cost us £3,000 per cubicle to build but we hardly had a dip in milk production, or fertility results, due to the excessive heat. We can control the environment inside now,” says Sandy.

Genomic selection Sandy Larson is the first point of contact for the family farm. “I am the fifth generation to farm on this land,” she explains. Her father, uncles, brother, and sister-in-law are part of the team that works on the dairy. During the past 15 years things have

Larson Acres accommodates 5,500 head of cattle



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Climate control: air is water cooled by the cross ventilation system before entering the cow house

Big barn: 1,850 milkers, as well as some of the older young stock, are housed in the new building

changed quickly. In 1998 it was decided to change from the old tie-stall barn with 150 cows to a freestall with 600 cows. Two years later, the freestall was doubled in size and in 2010, the new cross ventilation barn arrived. That same year, four new calf sheds were erected, each taking 60 calves that are fed pasteurised milk three times a day. Sandy mentions a number of calves in particular. “They are descendants of Markwell Durham Felice and Lars-Acres Shottle Truffle, cows that we intensively flush and in which there is a lot of AI interest.” Felice is from the family of Markwell Blackstar Raven. Truffle is from the same family as the sire Lars-Acres Trigger, an early Shottle son with a high genomic index, which made him popular worldwide. Genomic testing is used to aid breeding decisions for the best cows and heifers, but there are plans to use it across the whole herd.

“We have also used sexed semen in recent years, but that resulted in too many young stock. The sale of two-yearold heifers is not profitable due to the high feed and rearing costs. “We now want to select the best calves we breed with the genomic test and sell the calves with lower indexes. That should help to save on heifer rearing costs.”

Milk price Sandy is open about the cost price margin. “We now need a milk price of 27ppl to break even,” she says. “That is considerable, but we bought 800 hectares of corn this year due to the drought.” “We have been lucky, the corn harvest halved here compared to other years although the quality was not entirely disappointing.” Larson Acres itself has 2,025 hectares, which is used to grow alfalfa and corn and for spreading manure. Via a three-

mile pipeline, the thin fraction is pumped and distributed. “We have a thin and a thick fraction of the manure and we recycle 96% of the sand used in bedding stalls,” says Sandy, with pride. She is responsible for the nutrient management plan. “With two kinds of manure and with different values in phosphate and nitrogen, we can manage manure more accurately,” she says. The tour at the 40 hectare farm ends at one of the two 44-point rapid-exit milking parlours where the staff milk 1,100 cows in seven-hour shifts. “Many visitors have never seen cows before, let alone a milking parlour. They often leave our farm fully understanding what we do. “Cow welfare is a priority here, as is ensuring that the herd produces highquality dairy products. “We want to promote the dairy business and it gives us support in living here,” adds Sandy. l

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SHOWS AND EVENTS February 24-28: February 26-27: March 1-2: March 3: March 6: March 6: March 8-9: May 15-17: May 29-June 1: May 31: June 25-26: July 3-4: October 2:

Spring beckons: there are signs of new life everywhere Picture: Harrie van Leeuwen

SIMA, Paris (France) BGS-BSAS Grazing Conference, Abbey Hotel, Great Malvern European Holstein and Red Holstein Championship, Fribourg (Switzerland) SIA, Paris (France) Precision Farming Event, Peterbourough Arena Agro Nord Show, Aars (Denmark) UK Dairy Expo, Borderway, Carlisle Balmoral Show, Balmoral Park, Belfast Royal Bath & West Show, Shepton Mallet, Somerset NMR/RABDF Gold Cup open day at Shanael Holsteins, near Evesham, Worcestershire Nottingham Feed Conference, Sutton Bonington Campus, Leicestershire Livestock Event, Birmingham The Dairy Show, Shepton Mallet, Somerset

ADVERTISERS’ INDEX C O N TA C T S CowManagement is published eight times per year by CRV Holding BV

Editorial team

Chief Editor Jaap van der Knaap Editor Rachael Porter Phone 01394 270587 E-mail Editing, design and production Veeteelt Contributing writers Roger Evans, Sara Gregson, Jaap van der Knaap, Allison Matthews, David Matthews, Matt Mellor and Karen Wright Publisher Rochus Kingmans

Chief editor’s address

P.O. Box 454, 6800 AL Arnhem, The Netherlands Phone 0031 26 38 98 821. Fax 0031 26 38 98 839 E-mail internet


CowManagement is available free of charge to customers of NMR, Avoncroft and Thompsons. If you think you are eligible, please contact: National Milk Records, Customer Services, Skipton Road, Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG1 4LG. Phone 0870 1622547 E-mail

Alta............................................................18 Ambic.........................................................38 Ancotec......................................................22 Avoncroft/Thompson...................................2 Batchelor Enterprises Ltd.............................15 Bekina........................................................42 Biotal..........................................................21 Birdgard......................................................36 Boehringer..................................................48 Boer Housing Systems Ltd, De....................20 Cosy Calf......................................................7 Boumatic....................................................15 CowCare Systems.......................................42 CowManagement.......................................36

Cowsfeet....................................................37 CRV............................................................32 DP Agri...................................................7, 38 Enviro Systems............................................20 Farmplus.....................................................36 FiveF...........................................................38 Fullwood....................................................11 Micron Bio-Systems....................................37 NMR......................................................6, 47 Norbrook....................................................22 RE Buildings Ltd..........................................20 Storth.........................................................20 Teemore Engineering Ltd..............................7 Westpoint...................................................36



Jonathan Davies, NMR. Phone 07970 017243 E-mail Willem Gemmink, Froukje Visser P.O. Box 454, 6800 AL Arnhem, The Netherlands, Fax 0031 26 38 98 824 E-mail

H o u s in g an d eq u ip m en t sp ecial March (March 19) – The next issue of Cow Management will focus on housing and equipment. We’ll also feature an article on antibiotic use.


Photographs by Veeteelt Photography, Sheila Metcalfe (33), Cowbell Pictures (8) and Drew Geddes (12).


CowManagement does not necessarily share the views expressed by contributors. No responsibility is accepted for the claims made by advertisers. No responsibility can be accepted by CRV Holding BV for the opinions expressed by contributors. While every effort is made to obtain reliable and accurate information, liability cannot be accepted for errors. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system without the express prior written consent of the publisher. Printer Classic Printing Phone 01452 731539 ISSN 1570-5641


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CowManagement February 2013  

CowManagement February 2013

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