V O LU M E 12 N O 2 MAR CH 2014
IN THIS ISSUE
S PR I NG G R A Z IN G
LA N D LO C KED
TM R F EEDI NG
Repairing damaged swards and early turnout
How to manage your herd if unit size is a limiting factor
Tips and pointers to get more milk from your ration
YOUR PARTNER FOR EFFICIENT GRASS-BASED GENETICS For daughters that: • will last multiple lactations • get back in calf quickly • give volumes of good quality milk
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Protein BV (kg)
Fat BV (kg)
Lwt BV (kg)
Body Condition Score BV
This is the team you need for your breeding programme:
Somatic Residual Total Cell BV Survival BV Long. BV
Type Traits Stature
PLEASE NOTE: All published Breeding Worth (BW) and Breeding Values (BV) are sourced from NZAEL 15/02/2014. Graph created using weighted average of selected bull team
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Cow Talk Overalls off: Trainspotter Roger Evans Veterinary practice: Bull fertility NMR Dairy Management News Avoncroft Breeding Information/ Thompsons Nutritional News 50 Events and contacts 4 12 20 35 39 45
14 Consistency is key to productivity and profitability for the large herd at Ledger Farms 46 Antibiotic use is shunned as a management tool at Reuter Dairy BREEDING
22 How to combine both production and components 40 Dutch cattle breeding organisation takes on British interest MANAGEMENT
16 Eyeing up fertility 36 How much land is really needed for profitable milk production?
Carl Charnley “Automation is a vital aid to cow health, welfare and fertility” 14
Editor Rachael Porter Spring challenges
pring has just about sprung as we add the finishing touches to this issue. In some areas of the UK, soil temperatures and grass growth are gathering pace. That said there are still dairy units with, at best, soggy grassland and, at worst, lakes rather than fields. We’ve an article on page eight that offers some timely and topical advice on sward repairs and complete renovations, as well as some pointers on how to take an early bite if soil conditions on your unit allow it. Our special focuses on forage and we’ve an article on lucerne. Take a look at page 26 and see if it’s a high-protein crop that you should consider growing to feed to your herd. Grass silage is king on one producer’s Somersetbased unit and we spoke to him to find out why treating it like an arable crop is the cornerstone of his success. You can find out more on page 28. We’ve a few tips too on feeding forages, as part of a ‘consistent’ TMR from a US-based expert on page 32. And consistency is also the watch word on the Kent-based unit that features in our herd report on page 14. Find out how the team of staff work with the latest technology to achieve impressive – and award-winning – results. Fertility across UK herds is also improving, according to the latest NMR data. Our feature on page 16 looks at how well one herd, in the top 25%, is performing and what steps are being taken to make further improvements. There should be a useful pointer or two here for most producers.
Main article Early turnout
Special Feeding Grassland and forage TMR tips
Good grass growth, but wet conditions: plan now to utilise swards
Is there a place for lucerne in your forage crop rotation?
Successful TMR feeding is all about consistency: how to get more from your herd’s TMR
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Spring staggers threat With record winter rainfall leaching minerals from the soil and potassium being more aggressive on magnesium than previously thought, producers are being urged to guard against a potentially greater threat from grass staggers this spring. “We can’t yet be sure how much of an effect the tremendously wet winter has had on soil mineral levels, but we do know that magnesium deficiency is always a significant threat at turnout,” said Rumenco’s David Thornton. “What’s more, relatively recent research now shows just how antagonistic potassium is to magnesium – so much so that we now know that cows need an extra 18g per day of magnesium for every 1% potassium in forage over and above a
base level of 1%. And mineral forage reports at the end of the 2013 grazing season were reporting very high potassium levels at 2.89%.” He added that these recommendations are based on average pasture potassium levels and on many farms levels of this aggressive mineral may be much higher. “I know we say it every year, but producers turning out cattle really can’t afford to be complacent with their magnesium supplementation. The staggers threat is very real and arguably greater than ever this spring.” Staggers prevention strategies must combine best practice stock management with effective magnesium supplementation. “It’s vital that livestock have access to
long fibre, as well as the lush grass they encounter at turnout. This prevents low dry matter spring grass passing through the rumen too quickly without enough of an opportunity for the animal to absorb magnesium. In addition, consider offering a suitable salt source – this will help maintain a high sodium:potassium ratio, which will improve magnesium absorption,” Mr Thornton added.
Have you got it covered?
Milking sleeves with adjustable cuffs Milking sleeves, with adjustable rubber cuffs that make them easy to put on, whatever size the wearer’s hands, are now available from Dairy Spares. The sleeves also feature a Velcro strap on the cuff, which enables them to be tightened around the wrist and ensure that arms are kept dry. The sleeves come in pairs, joined by a piece of elastic that goes across the wearer’s back. At 650mm in length, they are also much longer than standard milking sleeves.
Check your insurance policy. That’s the advice from AEGIS London’s livestock underwriter Sophie Dunkerley. All producers must check their policy carefully and read the small print. Key points to look for include: does your policy have geographical restrictions? “If machinery, equipment, vehicles or livestock have been relocated, does your policy provide cover away from the insured farm?” She stressed that producers should tell their broker, particularly if the change in location is to be for a prolonged period.
Semen-price correction In our January/February issue we printed an incorrect price for semen straws from World Wide Sires’ bull Seagull-Bay Supersire. This bull is currently available from Cogent Breeding priced at £40 per straw for conventional semen and at £56 per straw for sexed semen.
“Check to see if your policy is due to renew and review your policy. Does it provide the right level of cover? “If not, request terms to broaden your existing insurance.” Ms Dunkerley said that when getting alternative quotes there were a number of other factors to bear in mind: “If there is a potential or on-going claim situation then now may not be the time to change insurer. “If you’re changing your insurance with an existing insurer then there may not be cover if the loss occurred before broadening the policy cover.”
Milk residues poster issued Dairy producers in Great Britain will soon receive a poster with bulletpoint advice on best practice for preventing medicine residues in milk. Produced by the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) – in association with NOAH, VRC, RUMA, DairyCo, NFU, NMR, NML and DairyUK – the poster will be distributed through milk hauliers within a six-week period. The poster is an integral part of the industry’s drive to protect the quality and integrity of raw milk.
It will be published in English, but Polish, Latvian and Welsh versions will be available from the BCVA’s website. www.bcva.eu/bcva
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Good grass growth, but wet cond
Plan now to revive a nd It’s been one of the wettest winters for s everal decades, but it’s not all bad news for producers who are hoping for an early bite. We spoke to some of the UK’s leading grass specialists to find out more. text Rachael Porter
he weather has been extremely wet but, although some parts of the UK have seen severe flooding, many counties in the eastern and more northerly regions have stayed relatively dry. These areas, thanks in part to warmer than usual winter temperatures, could be looking at early turnout, according to Pearce Seeds’ John Harris. “Particularly producers who’ve really looked after their pasture,” he says. “Swards with no compaction and that are well aerated and that were not grazed too late in 2013 could be ready for a first bite in early March. Some may have even taken a bit in late February. “It’s been a mild winter and grass in most parts of the UK has continued to grow, albeit slowly. The soil won’t take long to warm up come the early spring and grass growth should take off relatively quickly, if we don’t see the late cold snap that we saw in March 2013.” Mr Harris is based in Tiverton, Devon, and says that there are some producers local to him who have turned out early and taken advantage of what’s been an exceptionally warm winter, once conditions were dry enough under foot.
Grass growth Get out there and see what you’ve got. That’s the advice to producers across the UK from DairyCo’s grass specialist Piers Badnell. “Many producers will probably have a good idea of how water logged their land is, but they may be pleasantly surprised by just how much grass growth there is in some areas,” he says. “Soil temperatures are high for the time of year. In early February some soils were already around 9°C and this should be considerably higher come early March. “It’s important to assess fields on an individual basis,” he stresses. I’ve seen units with two or three fields that could have been grazed in mid February, if they had good access tracks. So it’s important that producers get out there and go for a walk.”
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wet conditions could stall turnout
a nd maximise grazing “It’s vital to get the cows out if at all possible so they can take that grass. In such mild weather conditions, the grass can very soon get away from you. Having good cow tracks will really come into its own in a year like this.” Once grazing begins, which should be when grass plants reach the three-leaf stage, you can start to build up a wedge and have fields at different stages of growth. Cows can easily take between 4kg DM and 5kg DM in a morning. And that will set up the rotation for the rest of the grazing season. Ideally producers should feel a bit of anxiety about their wedge and be concerned about where the next few days of grazing are going to come from. “If producers feel that they’ve got their grazing sorted, then they’ve probably got a bit too much,” he adds. Oliver Seeds’ Rod Bonshor advises producers to take their time and avoid rushing in this spring – whether it’s for grazing or first cut. “Fortunately there are still good forage stocks on many units, after a good harvest in 2013, so there’s not too much pressure on producers to turnout. “The issue this year isn’t grass growth but, in many parts of the country, conditions under foot. Units with good tracks may be OK, but many are not so fortunate. And the main problem is often once the cows get onto the field – they can do a lot of damage to a sward if they’re turned out too early and the ground is too soft. “I hear producers say that the grass will recover after a little poaching, but it’s often the meadow species that colonise and not the desirable forage grasses. The ley is never as productive as it once was. Once it’s damaged it will stay damaged. So the key is to avoid damage if at all possible. So walk the fields and get a realistic view.”
Flood damage In areas that have been hardest hit by rain and floods, March will herald the start of a salvage, repair and restoration operation on both grazing and silage swards. “Flooding has a devastating impact on the grass, the soil, and the worms and micro organisms that keep it healthy and productive,” says Mr Harris. Standing flood water not only kills grass and suffocates earth worms, but it also causes considerable compaction issues. Just 8mm of standing water per hectare exerts four tonnes of pressure on the soil. “So not only do producers need to look at the mineral status and pH of their soil, because high rain fall and flooding can ‘flush’ essential plant
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nutrients out of the soil, but they also need to dig a pit to check the soil profile for any signs of compaction. Depending on the severity of that compaction, they could be looking at sub soiling or aeration to improve its profile. “It’s vital that producers should take a ‘bottom up’ approach when dealing with flood and heavy rain damaged swards. Test the soil and make sure you know what’s going on beneath the surface before you even think about over- or reseeding,” says Mr Bonshor. “Swards that have been under water for six weeks or more will require a re-seed. For other less severely damaged swards a stiff-tined harrow to scratch the soil surface and fill any holes, with a mounted seed box, should do the trick. A Cambridge roll over the top will ensure good soil-to-seed contact. Seed needs to be pressed and slightly incorporated into the soil,” says Mr Bonshor. He adds that to help establish a ley, a bit of soluble nitrogen close to the root should also speed up establishment and produce a dense sward.
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If you are looking at a spring reseed, John Harris recommends using a standard grass seed mixture – for grazing and/or silage – and around 5kg per hectare of Westerwolds. “This is a fast establishing and growing short-term, one-year ley grass that will be ideal for beefing up the grazing wedge or adding an extra few tonnes of yield for silage. It also responds well to fertiliser.” Since it’s not ideal to go from one grass ley to another, another option is to sow stubble turnips or forage rape in late March. “This will be ready for grazing in between eight and 10 weeks,” explains Mr Harris.
Land pressure Not only will this provide something for herds to graze, but it will also take the pressure off other grazing and silaging fields and allow producers to build up a wedge. “These crops also add organic matter back into the soil and, when they’re finished, there’s time to get in early with an autumn grass reseed.”
“If land is prone to flooding, sowing species that are more able to tolerate a high water table may be an option,” adds Mr Bonshor. “These include meadow fescue, timothy and cocksfoot – more traditional grasses. These will be able to stand a short period under water submersion due to their root structure. “And they’re also able to cope better if soil fertility dips. They could have an increasing role to play on units if flooding is set to become more common place and they’re good summer grasses, so there’s some potential there. Ryegrasses, on the other hand, are ‘bred to be fed’.” With so many decisions to be made, Mr Harris suggests that producers talk to their agronomist, their nutritionist and, in some cases, to also involve their vet. “The starting point is to decide what you want to achieve. Is it more grazing or more silage? Get your consultants on board and with their help you can work backwards and plan what you need to do to get there.” l
O V E R A L L S
Name: Location: Occupation: Hobby:
O F F
Gordon Bowden Worcestershire AI technician Photter (trainspotter and amateur photographer)
Gordon Bowden: “The smell takes me right back to my childhood”
Capturing a golden age text Rachael Porter
othing moves Gordon Bowden like the sight of a steam train and that’s why this AI technician from Worcestershire spends the little spare time that he has photographing these magnificent machines. A steam-engine enthusiast and amateur photographer, he’s what’s now known in train-spotting circles as a ‘photter’ and Gordon can’t remember a time when he didn’t enjoy a bit of ‘phottering’. “I think it’s in my blood. My great grandfather was a station master and my grandfather was a relief signalman. And, as a child, I spent time with my father at train stations looking at steam trains.” Because Gordon works most weekends, he’s lucky if he can indulge in his hobby more than 10 times a year. “I go whenever I can to meet up with other photters and we hire a steam train and run it past stations and other locations so we can photograph it. It’s ours for the day and we can pretty much do as we like,” he says. Gordon says that, nostalgia aside, steam trains are living things: “They breathe, leak and bleed, just like we do. They’re almost human. I never tire of seeing a steam train, even though I’ve seen almost all of the engines that there are in the UK. “The smell is a key thing for me. There’s nothing else like the mixture of steam and engine oil and it takes me right back to my childhood.” His favourite engine, of the 800 in the UK that are either wrecks or restored and running, or on display in museums, is the City of Truro: “That was the first engine to reach speeds of 100 miles an hour, even though the Flying Scotsman often gets the credit for that. Other ‘must see’ engines include the Duchess of Hamilton, the Royal Scot, and the Mallard, which holds the world steam record.” Gordon, who works six days a week for Cleobury Mortimerbased R Breeders, displays his photos at home and he has also had a couple published in magazines. “But that’s not my goal. For me, phottering is an escape – I just go out for the day and focus on something completely different to work. Even if it’s raining and cold, it doesn’t matter. I still get a buzz from it.” His dream photo – the one that would make his heart miss a beat – would be a shot of the City of Truro running along the sea wall at Dawlish. “Even when the track has been rebuilt, I doubt I’ll get to see that because the engine is in a museum now and I don’t think she’ll come out again.”
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New Sonido. For dependable forage maize.
Feed costs continue to rise. So you’ll welcome new Sonido seed treatment. Sonido helps deliver more of the dry matter your cows need to stay fed and productive, by giving you the maximum biomass and yield. If you’re in a wireworm area, Sonido can help combat the problem. Talk to your distributor, see www.bayercropscience.co.uk/sonido or call 0845 609 2266 or 01223 226644.
Sonido® is a registered trademark of Bayer and contains thiacloprid. Use plant protection products safely. Always read the label and product information before use. Pay attention to the risk indications and follow the safety precautions on the label. For further information, please visit www.bayercropscience.co.uk or call Bayer Assist on 0845 609 2266 or 01223 226644. © Bayer CropScience Limited 2014.
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Consistency is key to productivity and profitability
Hi-tech dairy herd’s success Winning an award was ‘the icing on the cake’ for one Kentbased ‘hi-tech’ large herd. Close attention to detail is key to its success, which is facilitated by a team of dedicated staff and harnessing the latest on-farm technology. text Rachael Porter
Ledger Farms Carl Charnley and his team work exceptionally hard to ‘consistently’ manage the 460-cow herd at this Kent-based unit. And technology lends a helping hand Herd size: Average milk yield: Somatic cell count: Unit size:
460 cows 9,000 litres 109,000 cells/ml 330ha
arl Charnley knows that some of his staff will roll their eyes or give a wry smile when he says it – they hear it on a daily, if not hourly, basis at the 460cow unit. But the ‘consistency’ mantra that this dairy farm manager repeats is what he says is key to the success of this award-winning herd and business. “It’s at the heart of everything we do, on a day-to-day basis, from feeding and milking through to dry cow management and calving. And it’s what helps to ensure that we not only maximise milk production, but also cow health, welfare, productivity and business profitability.” “We work hard to run a progressive, professional and profitable business and we use a lot of technology to help us achieve that,” says Carl. “Automating aspects of day-to-day husbandry and management is vital to cow health, welfare, fertility and efficiency in this size of herd.” The dairy herd is run on a 1,400-hectare farm, close to Deal, and was winner of the hi-tech farm category in the 2013 Cream Awards. The enterprise uses 330 hectares and the rest are down to arable. Pleasure palace: it now takes just two hours to milk 400 cows
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Flush and dip: system saves on labour costs
The pedigree Ripple herd has gradually expanded from 180-head in 2007 to today’s 460 and milk is sold on a liquid contract to Dairy Crest.
Hi-tech investment Recent investments in machinery and technology include a Westfalia 50-point rotary parlour and a 40,000-litre milk silo. “It takes just two hours to milk nearly 400 cows and it’s now a pleasure to milk them, rather than five hours of misery in the old 22:22 herringbone parlour,” says Carl. “And the silo means that milk is collected every other day. We get a hefty milk price bonus for this,” he adds. All milking cows wear ‘activity’ collars, to aid heat detection, and the unit also has a purpose- built handling system, to make life easier and less stressful for staff and the herd. “I designed that myself and it cost around £30,000, but it’s worth every penny. It has four holding pens and is invaluable when managing such a large herd. We’d be chasing cows around all morning for AI, foot trimming and drying off without it. That’s stressful and ‘inconsistent’ – both for the cows and the staff.” The unit also has bull pens and three sick-cow pens, also allowing any that are unable to walk far to be milked. A slurry separator works well with the slatted collecting yard, which cost more than £100,000 in concrete alone, and this results in less diesel usage as the slurry falls easily through the slats. There has also been a recent silage clamp expansion. Carl stresses that research is vital before investing in any technology or facilities.
Automated foot baths: key to keeping feet in tip-top condition
“We spend months – sometimes years – looking into something and making sure that it’s going to improve herd management and take the business forward.” The most recent investment in technology was in an automatic cluster flushing and teat dipping system for the rotary parlour. The Apollo was installed in December 2013 and cost the business a whopping £70,000, which includes a five-year service package. “We spent a long time researching this and waited two years for it to become available. Now it’s here it’s saving us £25,000 a year in labour costs alone, so we’ll soon see a return on our investment.” Somatic cell count is a respectable 109,000 cells/ml – not bad at all considering herd is loose housed all year round on straw. But mastitis is a problem and it’s one that Carl is keen to tackle. “I think cow housing is the issue here. So our next investment will be a new straw or sawdust bedded cubicle house with a slatted floor,”
Detailed data Fertility is also good for the herd, which is currently averaging more than 9,000 litres. Days to first service stands at 60 and the 100-day in-calf rate is more than 80%. NMR’s InterHerd plays a key role here. Carl says that he likes the detailed management data that it provides and the easy-to-use reports that flag up cows that need attention. His biggest focus is health. “As well as avoiding pushing for very high yields that can lead to production diseases, such as LDAs, lameness, metritis and mastitis,” he says.
The unit also has automated footbaths and a regular foot trimming programme ensures that the cows’ feet get the attention that they deserve. “We have five full-time staff and three part timers and we all use our eyes to spot problems and manage the cows. But the tools and technology that we have here at the unit act as ‘back up’. When you’re managing a large herd, a cow could get over looked. But the systems we have in place ensure that that will never happen and she’ll always be brought to our attention,” says Carl, who insists that he still knows every individual cow at the unit.
More time “The technology and systems also free up time to focus on management tasks. The rotary parlour and automatic cluster flushing and dipping system are prime examples of that. So the cow, rather than milking itself, is the focus for the staff in the parlour.” The hi-tech approach and unit facilities mean that cow numbers could be pushed up to around 500 in the near future and possibly, at some point, up to around 600 head. “We’re calving around 50 cows and heifers each month, so we should be able to increase herd size gradually with our own replacements,” he adds. “Growing organically, rather than buying in stock, not only allows us to be a closed herd and enjoy the diseasefree status that that can bring. But it also means that staff – and technology – can adapt more naturally to a larger herd size than suddenly buying in a group of cows. We can then maintain the consistency that’s key to our success.” l
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Have you got what it takes to make the top 25%?
Eyeing up fertility This year has seen the publication of new fertility data from the University of Reading. Its annual survey of 500 NMR-recorded herds highlights the good, bad and indifferent points and sets management targets based on the top 25%.
text Karen Wright
he good news is that there’s progress in dairy herd fertility. The median – or midpoint and often deemed a far better gauge than the average – calving interval has improved from 424 days in 2010 to 414 days. The report, which views its main aim as setting realistic targets for UK producers based on the top 25%, sets a new calving interval goal of 402 days. In 2013, 25% of herds achieved this – or better. Three years ago this target was 409 days. Moving on, the Reading report shows that the best 25% of the NMR sample are serving 63% of their cows by 80 days (4%
up on four years earlier). Heat detection has also improved markedly. This is measured using the percentage of all inter-service intervals that are between 18 and 24 days, indicating the cow is re-served at her next available oestrus. In 2013 the median herd value was 38% of service intervals; a significant increase on the 32% in 2010. The conception rate target is now 39% compared to 32% in 2010. These targets, provided through NMR’s InterHerd+ management system, are increasingly seen as valuable benchmarks for discussion between producers and advisers.
All cows wear Silent Herdsman collars – a valuable fertility tool for heat detection and at calving
One herd that is sitting in this top 25% fertility performance band belongs to Richard Chandler from Long Clawson, near Melton Mowbray. His 300-cow crossbred herd has a calving interval of 401 days, with 51% of the herd achieving 385 days or less. Calving to first service is 76 days and 68% of cows are served by 80 days post calving. The herd’s 100 day in calf rate is 46%, which is 8% above the NMR top 25% target of 38%. And conception rate is 41%, which is 2% above the NMR target.
Head herdsman Nick Connor, who has been responsible for the herd for the past 19 years, claims that a combination of breeding and management contributes to the fertility figures. But with a milk contract to supply most milk in midsummer there’s no chance of anyone taking their eye off the ball. Originally a Holstein herd, a declining milk price and increasing feed costs 10 years ago encouraged Richard and Nick to get off the ‘go for milk’ treadmill and all its related problems and opt for a more sustainable cow for their system. “A milk buyer who looked for high constituents and a good grass growing farm made us look towards the crossbred cow,” says Nick. “We’ve tried a few
Precise time of activity peaks influences timing of service on this Leicestershire unit
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“You can make money from the bills you avoid,” says Nick. “Better legs and feet, lower cell counts and fewer fertility issues all save on costs.” That isn’t to say that Richard and Nick don’t consider improvements and investments that allow the herd to progress. And anything that helps improvements in fertility management is worth considering. “We can still improve,” adds Nick. “Our calving interval could be lower and we still need to chip away at conception rates.” The farm’s recent investment in Silent Herdsman is looking like a useful aid in this improvement pathway. Nick Connor: “Good fertility takes a good system and interested staff”
crosses, but we’re now using the Jersey, Brown Swiss and Holstein in a three-way cross. That’s not to say we’re dismissing the pure Holsteins as there are still some in the herd that have done well under the system.” Despite a fall in yield from 9,000kg 10 years ago to the current 6,600kg, milk quality has increased to its current 4.8% fat and 3.65% protein and, with lower feed costs, more extensive use of grazing and less vet expenses, herd profitability has increased.
Pick up patterns “It’s a fantastic help,” adds Nick. “We calve in April to suit Long Clawson’s Stilton production and then we serve cows from the beginning of July and try to keep the calving pattern as tight as possible. We’ve got to pick up heats and get cows in calf and it takes a good system and interested staff who know what they’re doing.” Although Nick ignores the first heat post calving, it will be picked up on Silent Herdsman. “So at least we can see she’s cycling and pick up a pattern – or not as the case may be. It’s a great troubleshooting tool.”
Timing of services also plays a part and this is where Silent Herdsman has allowed Nick to ‘sharpen his game’. Cows are grazing 24/7 in the service period so the system reads the cows’ collars when they come in for milking and records the time of increased activity. “If there’s a peak on the graph at 9pm, we serve her the following morning but if the peak in increased activity is at say 4am we will wait until the following evening. You can’t do this with tail paint. Getting the timing right is that much more important too when we’re using sexed semen.” Nick is now also using the milk PD test 35 days post service and he is adamant that the combination of the two additions to his fertility ‘tool box’ has contributed to the improved conception rate. “We’re getting 80% in calf at each PD milk test,” he says. “It’s taken us to a new level in fertility performance.”
Detects calving activity All cows wear a Silent Herdsman collar and Nick is finding this invaluable. “As cows are dried off, we transfer them to a separate group on the Silent Herdsman software. By adjusting the sensitivity of this group, we are able to pick up changes in behaviour which indicate calving. “It’s an early warning system, which is invaluable in a large, spring calving herd like ours.” In the short term, Nick would like to see the herd’s calving interval fall below 400 days with most calvings in April and May. “It’s good to be in the top 25%, but it’s equally important to keep improving, set targets for your own herd and then work out how you will achieve them. We’ve got a system that requires tight fertility management and if we don’t achieve this we would probably take a knock with milk price. But there are lots of other more hidden benefits to be gained by improved heat detection and monitoring cow fertility carefully.” l
Grants on offer The Farming and Forestry Improvement Scheme is currently offering grant funding to help improve fertility in dairy herds. For further information, or to find out if the scheme can help you, visit the RDPE network website, www.rdpenetwork.defra.gov.uk
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Not for the faint hearted is how award-winning columnist and Shropshire-based producer Roger Evans describes his winter dry-cow-management regime. Read on to find out why.
Guilt trip S
o I’ve told you that we try to make more use of forage and sell less milk per cow by buying and feeding fewer concentrates. And I’ve also told you that we are better off because of all this. We are trying to calve our cows in two distinct groups – spring and autumn – and we thought we would try to save some money with how we over winter spring calvers while they are dry. I’ve got this 16-hectare field that I plough and sow with five hectares of kale and 11 hectares of turnips. We graze around five hectares of the turnips in the late summer with the autumn calvers and put that area into wheat and the rest is left for this winter and the springcalving dry cows. It’s a good crop of kale. The beaters who have to drive pheasants out of it say it is a good crop, so it must be. The cows went up there in the first week of January. It’s not a cow management plan for the faint hearted. When I say ‘up’, I mean that it’s at 275m above sea level. The landlord has wild bird cover fenced off adjacent to all the hedges, so the only shelter up there is a wire fence or the next cow. It might not have escaped your notice that it hasn’t been brilliant weather for grazing root crops. We haven’t been moving the fence every day. We’ve given them a big block every week to ten days instead. There have been more than 40 cows up there. The weather has alternated between violent and semi violent. Writing this in mid February, we’ve had two thirds of our annual rainfall since the beginning of December. Most days I’ve taken the cows a round bale of hay and I’ve tried to do it when it wasn’t raining. If it wasn’t raining the cows would be grazing or mooching about. If I went up in a squall they would be in a tight miserable group showing all the enjoyment of a group of Emperor penguins on a polar ice cap. I didn’t like seeing them like that. Dairy farmers get pleasure from seeing their stock thriving and contented. There was no pleasure to be had up there. At night, in bed, I would hear the rain lashing the window and think of those cows and feel guilty. Then there are the cows. They’ve put on condition and weight. I went up there one day after we’d moved the fence and there wasn’t a cow to be seen. Out and on the winter wheat, I thought. But no, they were all lying down among the kale and chewing away. I had to bring them down for TB testing. I brought them down to a grassy paddock near the buildings while I waited for the vet. After all that wet mud I thought they’d lie down on the turf or pick at the grass. The whole group just stood there – chewing the cud, belching and farting. I could smell the kale on their breath. The cows are now milking well. So it’s worked if the cows are any guide. And we passed the TB test.
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Dutch dairy cows have the highest lifetime production in the world
Focus on efficiency Efﬁcient dairying is vital in today’s economic climate. And breeding highly productive and trouble-free cows is key to efﬁcient milk production. In this ﬁrst article, in our seven-part series, we set out to help you to achieve this. Part 1: Lifetime production in the Netherlands Part 2: Efﬁcient production in block calving systems Part 3: Fertility: a ﬁnancial point of view Part 4: Weight of fertility in block calving systems Part 5: Dairy management in block calving systems Part 6: Easy-to-manage Holstein cows Part 7: Beneﬁts of reliable breeding values
Do you want production or components? You can have both with Dutch genetics. Today health and fertility and longevity are added to milk yield. The result is an increasing number of cows producing 100,000kg of milk and 10,000kg of fat and protein. text Alice Booij
hree cows pass the impressive 100,000kg of milk mark every day in the Netherlands. And every week another three are reaching the magical production milestone of 10,000kg of fat and protein. In total, 27,000 Dutch cows have produced more than 100,000kg of milk with more than 2,000 cows achieving 10,000kg of fat and protein. This proves that high production, high components and durability all go together. And it’s no accident that the average Dutch cow produces more than 30,000kg of milk, at 4.37% fat and 3.52% protein, during her lifetime. No other country in the world can match these high lifetime production figures. So what is the Dutch secret? “It all starts with high producing cows,” says CRV’s global breeding specialist Theo Gieling. “And, of course, producer management skills are important. But most of all it’s the result of breeding high producing cows with the conformation to produce persistently and to have the ability to be fertile and healthy year after year. ”
Trouble-free production Mr Gieling looks back to the 1980s, more than 30 years ago. Producers were focusing on production and selecting their bulls for Inet. This total index is based on milk, fat and protein. “The weighting of factors in the Inet are chosen to improve milk production without lowering the components,” says Mr Gieling. “Efficiency was also, indirectly, part
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From Sunny Boy to Atlantic and Kodak Sunny Boy is by far the top bull, delivering many cows producing 100,000kg of milk and 10,000kg of fat and protein. This son of Nehls, born in 1985, already has 217,873 daughters in his proof and still scores +385 days longevity. Producers who are looking for young bulls, that have the potential to sire daughters with a high lifetime production, can look at the top of CRV’s bull list. Delta Atlantic (by Ramos) offers +778 days of longevity and with 301 for NVI, making him a specialist in siring long life and productive cows. For red-and-white Topspeed Kodak (by Kevin) would be a good choice. He
of the Inet formula. The amount and differences of energy that is needed to produce these kilogrammes of milk, fat and protein are included. It means that next to a high and ‘rich’ milk production, producers have also bred an efficient cow.” As the production of cows increased, producers also demanded trouble-free production. They wanted cows with good udder health and high fertility – both important traits for a long life and a high lifetime production. This was one of the main reasons to introduce the NVI in 2007. “This total index sums up important breeding values (production, calving ease, longevity, health, fertility, udder and feet and legs) to sire high producing, low input and low labour cows, fit for the more and more exacting producer,” he says. In the future, Mr Gieling expects hoof health to be part of the NVI as well. “The hoof-trimming data from herds in the Netherlands and Flanders will lead to more and very precise information. This will make a perfect base for reliable breeding values.” He also expects more weighting in the NVI to account for the increased interest in efficiency. “Next to all the new breeding values that producers take into account, production and components stay on top. That remains important.”
Lifetime production The result of years of breeding is clear to see in the high lifetime production of Dutch cows. “A high lifetime production means more profit,” says CRV analyst Ite Hamming. “To rear a heifer to the point
combines +589 days of longevity with 203 NVI with very high components, +0.12% fat and +0.09% protein.
where she calves and joins the milking herd takes a lot of money. The more production a cow makes in her life, the lower the rearing costs per kilogramme of milk and the higher the return on the investment.” The first cow (recorded by the herd book) producing 100,000kg of milk was Clazina 48, in 1959. After a slow start, the number of cows achieving this huge amount of milk increased from the 1990s to more than 2,700 cows producing 100,000kg of milk. “There were so many cows passing this line that it almost became common,” says Mr Hamming. For producers it is still special when
their cow produces 100,000kg of milk, but the herd book decided to up the ante and set the next goal – 10,000kg of fat and protein. This milestone has already been reached by many cows, so the following question is: what will be the next level? Maybe 150,000kg of milk? “I think the most progress will be shown in the increase of lifetime production for the average cow. It’s possible that it will rise from 30,000 to 50,000kg of milk in the coming years.” Mr Hamming is an expert in analysing data from cows with a high lifetime production. “I think the sire is one of the most important success factors for a cow to get a high lifetime production,” he says. “Some bulls just give their daughters a higher chance of becoming a 100,000kg cow.” He mentions Sunny Boy and Ronald as examples of successful bulls and he notices that excellent udders and extremely strong feet and legs are very typical for cows with this huge production. “If you compare the first 100,000kilogramme cows with the latest ones, you’ll notice that the improvement of udders and feet and legs are huge. And their conformation is usually very balanced. Not too high, not too deep, not too heavy in the front end. These cows have optimal scores in all their characteristics to achieve maximum production.” l
Table 1: Lifetime production of Dutch herd book cows
2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 1996 1995 1994 1993 1992
30,751 30,536 30,318 30,482 30,543 30,777 29,851 28,845 27,701 27,080 26,358 25,401 24,980 24,044 23,883 24,125 23,255 23,410 23,950 22,924 22,666 22,132
4.37 4.37 4.36 4.37 4.38 4.39 4.41 4.41 4.42 4.42 4.42 4.41 4.40 4.40 4.42 4.44 4.45 4.45 4.46 4.45 4.44 4.41
3.52 3.51 3.51 3.50 3.50 3.50 3.50 3.50 3.49 3.49 3.49 3.48 3.48 3.48 3.48 3.49 3.50 3.49 3.49 3.48 3.47 3.46
1,344 1,333 1,323 1,331 1,337 1,352 1,315 1,273 1,223 1,196 1,164 1,120 1,100 1,058 1,056 1,070 1,035 1,042 1,068 1,021 1,006 977
kg protein kg fat+protein 1,083 1,073 1,063 1,067 1,069 1,078 1,044 1,009 967 944 919 884 870 837 832 842 813 818 836 798 787 766
C O WCMOAWNM AA GN E M E N T ESNE TP TME A MRB CE H R A G E M
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2,427 2,406 2,386 2,398 2,406 2,430 2,359 2,282 2,190 2,140 2,083 2,004 1,970 1,895 1,888 1,912 1,848 1,860 1,904 1,819 1,793 1,743
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Lucerne: is there a place for this legume in your forage crop rotation? Page 26 Silage focus: one Somerset-based producer shares his tips on producing top forage. Page 28
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Is there a place for a legume in your forage rotation?
A closer look at lucerne
As the price of feeds like soyabean meal and brewers’ grains keeps rising, growing a protein crop on farm is worth serious consideration. We spoke to an agronomist and a producer to find out more about an increasingly popular option. text Sara Gregson
ucerne is enjoying a bit of a renaissance, not least due to its high yields and a crude protein content of between 17 and 22%. It is also rich in minerals and vitamins and complements both maize and grass silages very well. And its structural fibre aids ruminant digestion, which reduces the risk of acidosis. “Interest in this leafy, tall legume has waxed and waned during the past 50 years, in line with the weather,” says Oliver Seeds’ Rod Bonshor. “It is in droughty seasons, and areas where low summer rainfall is the norm, that lucerne really comes into its own. A long tap root,
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reaching as far down as 15m, allows it to find water even in the driest conditions.” This main root stores nutrients, which helps the plant re-grow after defoliation, allowing multiple cuts or grazings. Like other legumes, nodules on the roots contain bacteria that can fix up to 250kg nitrogen per hectare per year. So the crop needs no additional nitrogen fertiliser. “It can, however, be hungry for phosphate and potash. There are currently no official recommended rates, but these are likely to be similar to red clover,” he adds. So at soil index 2, it is likely to need around 80kg of P/ha/year and
250kg of K/ha/year. But with fresh weight production, after the first year, of up to 40t/ha/year, this fertiliser yields a good return. Target annual dry matter yield, 30% dry matter for silage, should be around 12tDM/ha. Lucerne likes to be grown on freedraining soils, and will not thrive in wet or waterlogged ground. Given good conditions, including a pH status of at least 6.2, it will generally keep on going for four to five years.
Which varieties? “It can be grown on its own or in a mixture, but to maximise protein production per hectare a monoculture is best,” says Mr Bonshor. He adds that slow establishment can be one of the main downsides, and other sown plants and weeds can easily outcompete it in the first year. “Where it is grown as a mixture, cocksfoot, timothy and meadow fescue are better companions than faster growing hybrid or Italian rye grasses. “It can be sown under spring cereals, as long as priority is given to the lucerne,
and the wholecrop silage is harvested when the cereal grains are at the milky stage.” Two types are grown in Europe and the Northern Flemish ones are best suited to the UK. The most important characteristic to consider is dormancy. This is a measure of winter hardiness on a scale of one (very dormant) to 12 (no dormancy). “For UK conditions, and to achieve three to four cuts a year, a dormancy rating of between four and five is about right.” Daisy is the top performer on the BSPB Descriptive List for England and Wales by virtue of its yield, protein content and persistency.
Rod Bonshor: “Lucerne can be grazed, but it’s vital not to damage the crown of the plant” Lucerne’s protein content makes it ideal for replacing soya bean meal in dairy rations
“A cotton-wool type ball develops at the point of cutting on the stem of most lucerne varieties, but this doesn’t happen with Daisy,” explains Mr Bonshor, “This means there is faster regrowth from the ‘cleaner’ cut. This variety also has a good dormancy score, so it can survive harsh winters, and it is particularly persistent and performs well in the field.” He adds that producers wishing to graze lucerne should consider Luzelle, the first variety to be bred specifically for grazing. “Most varieties do not tolerate animals eating them in situ because their growing points sit so high on the plant. If these are damaged by trampling or are bitten off, the plant will never regrow.” In the UK it is most common to drill lucerne in the spring from late April onwards. The seed should always be inoculated with Rhizobia meliloti bacteria to ensure successful root nodulation and efficient nitrogen fixation. Lucerne can be grazed, but great care is needed not to damage the crown of the plant as this is where the growing points sit. “Rotational grazing is much kinder than set stocking as it allows a recovery time. Never let sward height fall below 6cm.” Lucerne silage can be clamped or baled, but its low sugar content can make it difficult to ensile. So wilting is advisable to a minimum dry matter of at least 30%, as is the use of an additive. “That said, up to 70% of the protein and 90% of the vitamins and minerals are in the leaf, so it is important to minimise leaf loss. The crop must not be overwilted or roughly handled at harvest and pick-up,” stresses Mr Bonshor. Shropshire-based producer Ben Dixon feeds lucerne all year round, to his 70cow herd of organic Jerseys, either as
silage or by strip or zero grazing. “Our oldest stand is five years old and still doing well,” he says. “We tend to establish it in the spring with spring barley, which is taken off as wholecrop, and then we lightly graze it in the first autumn. “When we make silage we cut it in the afternoon and then move it into sixmetre swaths. It is picked up between 24 and 48 hours later and clamped. There is around five to six weeks between cuts. “We have found that it can struggle in dry times, but does better than red clover. We have a dry farm and in the hot summer a few years back we lost fields of red clover, but the lucerne came back.” The high protein content of lucerne silages makes it a good replacement for soya bean meal in dairy diets. But caution should be taken when feeding it to dry cows as it has much higher calcium content than most other forages.
Feeding research A review of research trials, which compared dairy cow performance when fed either lucerne or grass silage, has shown that lucerne can increase dry matter intake by as much as 2.2kg/day and milk yield by 1.7kg/day. But there was no difference in milk constituents. When compared to red clover, lucerne again increased dry matter intake by around 0.8kg/day, but there was no difference in milk yield. That said, the lucerne increased milk protein content by an average of 0.8kg/ day. Researchers at Harper Adams University College, SRUC and the University of Reading are currently carrying out a large programme of research on growing and feeding lucerne, which is being funded by DairyCo. They will be looking at establishing crops in the autumn and spring, the effect of crop maturity at harvest on the yield and quality of the silage, what the best chop length is, and different inclusion rates in TMRs when mixed with maize and grass silages. l
For more information and case studies see the EBLEX BRP+ online document ‘Growing and Feeding Lucerne’ at www.eblex.org.uk/ returns A booklet ‘Lucerne Growers’ Guidelines’ is available on request from Oliver Seeds. Call 0800 056 11 22.
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Heavy reliance on silage demands an ‘arable’ approach
Treating grass as a crop Growing grass, just as he would any other crop on his Somerset-based unit, is helping Simon Bendall produce top quality silage – and plenty of it – to maintain his herd’s high milk yields. We spoke to him to find out more text Rachael Porter
ood silage is key to success of any dairy business, but for Simon Bendall’s 190-cow herd it’s absolutely vital. With a farm that simply isn’t suited to anything more than a ‘compressed’ grazing season, he relies heavily on silage and, more importantly, on the best quality grass silage that he can make. This is fed, all year round, as part of a mixed ration with any grazed grass effectively substituting some of the grass silage in the ration. The all-year-round calving herd is NMR recorded and averaging close to 9,500 litres, with contented and healthy cows producing consistently – as required – for the Tesco milk contract. So it’s a system that is clearly working well. “Much of our ground around the dairy unit is very steep, and the farm is dry and stony,” explains Simon. “We can manage about eight weeks of ‘sensible’ grazing in a typical season, but this needs to be monitored carefully because if we lose yields it is very difficult to get them back.” Later lactation cows normally go out onto a set stocked grazing area by day towards the end of April or early May, with the high yielders only going outside for a short grazing stint from around the end of May. Cows will typically go outside after morning milking, from around 7.30am, and will come back in themselves by about 11am. The attraction is a light and airy cubicle shed with a mixed ration, fed once a day at around 6am, which is available all day long. This is shifting from a 60:40 grass-to-maize ratio to a 70:30 ratio, in favour of more grass silage, and typically also includes
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rape and soya meal, crimped barley, chopped straw, molasses and minerals. “We’re upping the grass silage component because it is a better balance nutritionally,” adds Simon. “We’re increasing our first cut to 68 hectares this year, and reducing our maize from 40 hectares down to 28 hectares. We are focused on making the best quality grass silage as it is such an important part of the overall ration.” The silage analysis shown in Table 1 is testament to the success of this policy, and – perhaps not surprising for a mixed farm with a significant arable acreage – Simon is demonstrating the merits of treating grass as he would an arable crop.
term leys. Because we’re on Cotswold brash over limestone, we’re quite prone to drought so when it’s dry the red clover helps bulk out the silage. Good protein levels also mean we can reduce the level of bought-in protein going through the mixer wagon,” adds Simon. This red-clover silage typically analyses with a dry matter of 27.2%, 67.2 D value, 10.8ME and 16.5% protein. The longer term leys, which may only be cut once before providing aftermath grazing, are again exclusively Aber HSG, plus white clover, with current mixtures including a combination of the diploid intermediate perennial ryegrasses AberMagic, AberStar and AberDart along with the late heading diploid AberAvon. These longer-term leys are usually direct drilled with a power harrow drill
Reseeding policy With such reliance on conserved forage, it’s hardly surprising that Simon makes his own silage, sharing machinery and labour with his brother in law, and that he treats it just as he would any crop grown on the 365-hectare unit. The drive for quality begins with a disciplined reseeding policy and selection of Aber high sugar grasses (HSGs) in both his two-year and four-to-five year leys. The two-year leys actually provide a useful grass break in the farm’s arable rotation, comprising of the hybrid Aber HSGs, AberEcho and AberEve and red clover. “We have red clover in all of our shortTable 1: Manor Farm first-cut silage analysis (AberEcho/AberEve/red clover)
indicator dry matter (%) crude protein (%) D-value ME (MJ/kg)
value 38 16 79.8 12.8
Perfect timing: making your own silage means that you can do the job when conditions are optimal
fundamental to producing quality silage – be it in new or established swards. “If you don’t control weeds they will stifle grass growth. We frequently see chickweed and broadleaf weeds in new leys. We’ll determine whether weed control is needed on a field-by-field basis and go in with the sprayer in early April. Permanent pastures will also be sprayed for docks and thistles if necessary.
Simon Bendall: “Controlling weeds in new leys is vital”
combination – no later than the end of August – following tight grazing, a glyphosate desiccation of the old ley and treatment for leatherjackets. “Spraying with glyphosate is crucial to reduce competition from weeds,” says Simon, adding that weed control is a
“Timing is crucial to ensure everything is growing. You’ve got to knock out weeds or you won’t make good silage,” Simon explains. “After sowing we then roll with a three-metre, five-tonne roller to help consolidate and drive stones under the ground.” Generally these new leys will be shut up until the spring; although sheep may graze them during the winter should there be a flush of growth. Fertiliser is applied at the end of February. This will include one application of 375kg/ha of 20:8:14, followed by 140kg/ha of straight nitrogen for the first cut. Second cut receives
370kg/ha of 24:0:15 plus sulphur. For third cut Simon applies 250kg/ha of straight nitrogen. Apart from the high sugar content of the Aber HSG, these grass varieties are all outstanding for yield on the Recommended Lists, and all have exceptional D-value. The combination of the right quality of sward and timely harvesting practice is resulting in some exceptional silage quality. “We don’t rely on a contractor so we can do the job at the right time and make the best of the conditions,” says Simon. “We have a three-metre conditioner on our mower, so this avoids the need to spread the crop – we want to avoid stones getting in the swath. We’ll wilt it for as long as needed to achieve high dry matter silage, which could be up to 48 hours for first cut. We don’t use an additive, unless we are caught out by the weather, in which case we’d use an acid. “And we clamp most silage, but we will take round bales off steep ground if there is excess grass. We may also take a fourth cut as round bales to mop up grass,” adds Simon. l
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F E E D I N G
Tips to get more from your herd’s TMR
Successful TMR feeding is all about consistency – in terms of
do have a time lag due to the required sampling and laboratory analyses. “This can make it impossible to take immediate action and correct problems in the ration,” say Dr Leahy. More immediate ‘on-farm’ results are offered by the Penn State Particle Separator (PSPS). This is a good tool to monitor both within-batch and betweenbatch variation of particle size in TMRs and offers a relatively quick assessment of uniformity.
quality ingredients and particle size and mixing. We spoke to a
Add precision to your rations leading US dairy nutritionist for some trouble-shooting tips to help improve both intakes and milk production. text Rachael Porter
ariability in TMRs – and indeed partial mixed rations – can not only cost litres of milk, but can also put a considerable dampener on profitability. So says US-based Diamond V dairy specialist Kevin Leahy. He presented a paper at a recent nutrition symposium, held at the Wageningen University in the Netherlands, which outlined some of the most common ‘mistakes’ when feeding a ration – and what steps producers should take to put them right. “The goal of every nutritionist and producer should be to limit variation – consistency is key to success with any ration,” he says. “Producers should set out to minimise within-batch and betweenbatch variations in moisture, particle size and nutrient content of the mix. And also to minimise particle size
reduction of forages during handling, while maintaining a uniform mix.” He stresses that it’s also important to provide fresh, high quality, non-sorted rations to cattle at all times.
Monitor rations Sounds straightforward enough, but how do producers actually achieve this? Checking ration variation is the first step. “Determining dry matter content on a regular basis is the first and most important step in monitoring rations,” he says. “Full TMR audits are quite time consuming, but relevant if you have a specific animal health, digestion or production problem in a herd.” While there are various ways to measure TMR consistency, such as the use of ‘marker’ ingredients, including minerals like salt and calcium or magnesium, which are cost effective and useful, they
Check scales often and calibrate when needed
“But this must be carried out correctly,” says Dr Leahy, adding that to get accurate test results the procedure for using the PSPS must include the following steps: • Sample the ration immediately after it is delivered to the feed bunk and before cows start eating. • Scoop up approximately 500g of TMR and place it in a one-litre sealable bag. • Take samples from along the feed bunk representing the beginning, middle and end of the ration load. • Shake the sample through the PSPS and make sure that smaller particles, which are clumped together with any added liquids, are filtered through the top screen. • Calculate the percentage weight on each screen and determine the coefficient of variation (CV) for the batch. “The goal is to have a CV of less than 3% on each screen. In the US, reaching this goal for the top screen is rarely achieved for lactating cow rations. This is because they have between 5% and 10% of the ration, by weight, on the top screen,” says Dr Leahy. “However, in much of Europe it is not Monitor ration variation with a shaker box
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Maintain a smooth silage face to help minimize feed shrink
To create a smooth face, shave silage piles vertically
Maintain a smooth silage face to help minimise feed losses
To create a smooth face, shave silage piles vertically
unusual for most of the material to be on the top screen. The variation should be assessed on those screens where most of the ration is collected.” The middle and bottom screens can be used in the US to make on-farm assessments of within-batch variation, while in Europe all three screens can be used. More than 1,000 of these TMR analyses have been conducted and compiled throughout the US by Dr Leahy’s company during the past six years. “And more than 370 of these analyses included data that highlighted the specific items in the mixing process that were identified as causes of variation.” Of note was that fewer than 30% of the loads that were analysed were considered ‘normal’, in other words there were no mixing issues. “Worn mixer wagon parts were identified as the cause of variation in more than 20% of the loads,” says Dr Leahy. These were blunt knives and blades and worn kicker plates, as well as
jammed and feed ingredient infested augers. “A lack of proper maintenance means that even the most carefully formulated ration comprising the best quality ingredients won’t mix or feed out as it should.” Feed sampling procedures and locations were also identified as an area where variation can occur. Blending piles of silage and ‘pushing up’ can alter the analysis results for dry matter and crude protein levels, for example. “Proper silage face management and careful and accurate sampling forages is vital to ensure that the ingredients in the ration are, themselves, consistent,” stresses Dr Leahy.
Change blades at least quarterly
Park the mixer on a level area, that’s free of debris, to help create consistent diets
Level position The positioning of the mixer wagon, and the sequence in which ingredients are added to it, as well as the mixing itself are also important. “If the mixer wagon is standing on a slope, for example, mixing will not be even, particularly
where liquid feeds are being used,” says Dr Leahy. “Liquids will pool at one end or side of the wagon and the moisture in that mixed ration will vary at feed out.” As for the type of mixer wagon used – whether it’s vertical, horizontal or paddle – he says that there should be little variation, if the mixer wagons are well maintained, when it comes to TMR consistency. He has no preference towards any particular type of mixers. “The general principles are comparable for vertical, horizontal and paddle mixers.” And when it comes to loading up the mixer wagon, as a rule of thumb, he would always prepare a farm specific loading order for ingredients. “You want small additions to be in the wagon early in order to have them thoroughly mixed in the total ration, but not too early because they may not be pushed all the way up. Feed stuffs that need long mixing periods should also go in early,” he adds. l
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If only it were this easy to spot ketosis. You can’t see hidden ketosis. But it’s there. While it’s invisible, it’s not without consequences.
Hidden ketosis aﬀects cow welfare, reproductive performance and milk production. And it can lead to disease in early lactation (displaced abomasum, cystic ovaries and metritis), increasing the risk of culling.
Keto-Test™ and your vet can help reduce your risk. With Keto-Test milk test, you are able to detect hidden ketosis. Then you can work with your veterinarian and nutritionist to ﬁne tune your transition program and identify high-risk cows that need individual attention.
Talk to your vet about Keto-Test and other ketosis monitoring tools. To ﬁnd out more about Keto-Test, contact your veterinarian: Elanco, Lilly House, Priestley Road, Basingstoke, Hampshire, RG24 9NL, Tel: 01256353131, www.elanco.com
The Keto-Test label contains complete use information, including cautions and warnings. Always read, understand and follow the label and use directions. Less milk: Ospina 2010. Association between the proportion of sampled transition cows with increased nonesteriﬁed fatty acids and ß-hydroxybutyrate and disease incidence, pregnancy rate and milk production at the herd level. J. Dairy Sci. 93:3595-3601. Reduced fertility: Walsh 2007. The eﬀect of subclinical ketosis in early lactation on reproductive performance of postpartum dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci. 90:2788-2796. Culling risk: Leblanc 2010. Monitoring metabolic health of dairy cattle in the transition period. J. Reprod. Dev. 56:S29-S35. Displaced abomasum, metritis: Duﬃeld 2009. Impact of hyperketonemia in early lactation dairy cows on health and production. J. Dairy Sci. 92:571-580. Cystic ovaries: Dohoo 1984. Subclinical ketosis prevalence and associations with production and disease. Can. J. Comp. Med. 48:1-5. Elanco, Keto-Test and the diagonal bar are trademarks owned or licensed by Eli Lilly and Company, its subsidiaries or aﬃliates. Keto-Test™ is a trademark of Elanco Animal Health. Manufactured by SKK, Japan. © 2013 Elanco Animal Health. WEDRYKTO00035
Cow Management/210mm(w) x 297mm(h)
F R O M
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Vet Maarten Boers from The Livestock Partnership, based in West Sussex, takes a look at bull fertility and urges producers to test their stock bull first if cows are failing to get in calf, and to avoid issues like excessive work and over feeding.
Bull health, nutrition and age are all key to fertility
Put a spring in his step I
s your stock bull ready for the spring? Bulls only represent between 2% and 5% of your breeding stock, but are responsible for 50% of the herd’s fertility. I have tested more than 1,300 bulls in my career and have seen many unusual things. Bulls with a single testicle are more common that I imagined and I’ve seen strange penis deviations, with some shaped like a corkscrew. Tiny testicles can also be a problem – yes, size does matter! Poor semen quality can also be a problem and I’ve even seen some that’s mixed with pus. And a significant issue behind sub or infertility, which I often see, is lameness. Whatever the cause of sub or infertility, left undetected it could have a disastrous effect. It is always worth carrying out regular pre breeding soundness examinations. This proactive, rather than reactive, approach will mean that fewer herds will feel the impact of infertile or sub fertile bulls. Having said that the figure still stands at one in seven bulls being ‘unfit for purpose’. Sub fertile are worse than infertile bulls, as they’re more difficult to spot. An infertile bull will test as having very few, if any, sperm swimming. A sub-fertile bull will have between 20% and 30% ‘healthy’ sperm and, as a result, will still get the odd cow or heifer pregnant – it will just take three or four times longer than it should. In this instance, the cows often get the blame.
Bull checks My advice is to look at the bull first – it’s a quick and easy procedure. And then, if you can be sure that he’s not the problem, you can start to look at the more complicated cows issues that may be causing the problem. Many of the bulls condemned in 2013 had been found to be fertile in previous years. This proves the point that subfertility and sterility often happens in later years. It is essential that these bulls are identified before losses have occurred. Good fertility in one season does not guarantee good fertility for the following season. Bulls aged between two and six years are ideal. Younger than that and they’re ‘immature’. And, as a rule of thumb, a bull can cope with as many ‘girls’ as his age in months, up to a maximum of 50 cows and heifers for a mature bull. Over working a bull is a common cause of sub fertility. I see far too many producers go out and buy an 18 month old bull and then put him in with 50 cows. He’ll start off enthusiastically, but then get tired very quickly. And it will take several months for him to fully recover again. Penile injury is another cause of infertility – I’ve seen things that will make your eyes water. Hoof health also plays a key
role. Producers rarely have the facilities to treat a lame bull, so foot problems are often left. Bacterial infections, be they in the foot or anywhere else, will also directly affect semen quality. Bacteria in the bloodstream can track to the testicles and I’ve seen bulls ejaculate pus.
Weight issues Over feeding bulls can also cause problems. A maintenance only ration, of silage and/or hay, is ideal. Ruminal acidosis will affect semen quality and if a bull is too well fed he’ll become fat and lazy. An overweight bull can also become a ‘cow killer’. He’ll squash cows or knock them over. Over condition affects libido too. The testicles are kept outside the body cavity for a reason – to keep them cool. Too much fat insulation around the testicles will affect sperm count. As will any disease that causes a raised temperature. Sperm count can be lowered for up to six weeks following a fever.
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Zero grazing: it can allow producers to utilise every single blade of grass they grow
How much land is really needed for profitable milk production?
Overstocked and underpaid? Whatever your issue is with land – be it availability, price or management problems – you can’t produce milk without it. We asked a few specialists to put some perspective on just how much land is actually needed to produce milk profitably and what’s the best way to put the figures on paper into practice. text Allison Matthews
hether producers graze or house cows, land availability on expanding dairy units is a problem. Until recently quotas were responsible for restricting milk production but, according to Thompsons’ dairy specialist James Black, land is the new ‘bottleneck’. “With CAP reform making the headlines on a weekly basis, it seems certain that
the land base that they manage,” says independent financial consultant Jason McMinn. “The onlooker might suggest to these producers that the best approach is to cut back on cow numbers, but often it’s not as simple as that. The average debt per cow can be around £1,600 and many producers have commitments to loans and hire purchase agreements that make it uneconomical to downsize,” he adds.
Stocking rates most producers will have a reduced payment and increased charges on ground rented from non-active producers. There is going to be greater competition for land and, in particular, productive hectares that can be grazed or harvested for grass silage,” he says. “This is leaving some producers in a position where they are overstocked for
There are key variables that should be assessed, which will help to identify the best way forward for a producer. “Cow accommodation, milking facilities, grazeable hectares, infrastructure, debt, available labour and cow type all need to be looked at objectively. The answer to the question of how to make the best use of the land available should be
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Jason McMinn: “One size does not necessarily fit all”
James Black: “Land is the new ‘bottleneck’ for many dairy businesses”
Neal Pepper: “Zero grazing allows us to utilise all the grass that we grow”
somewhere within those variables,” says Mr Black. Maximising stocking rates per hectare is something Mr McMinn uses figures to evaluate, but he explains that every unit is unique and one size does not necessarily fit all. “As you move towards housing cows it is possible to increase stocking rates on the available land by 33%. The practical reality of this becomes significant when it is considered that a 150-cow herd can increase to 200 cows on the same land base, assuming that the housing and parlour can cope.” The downside to the housed system is that forage and its quality becomes a greater priority than ever before.
Mr Black explains the impact of housing cows on poor silage in comparison to grazed grass. “If the forage side of the diet does not hold the same nutritional benefits as grass, then large increases in concentrate will be required to sustain the comparable milk yield. Compared to a zero-grazed herd, the fully-housed herd will need another 1.2 tonnes of concentrate, or nearly a tonne over and above that of a conventionally grazed herd, during the summer period.” At the home of Utopian Holsteins, Quilly Farm in County Down, Neal Pepper explains why they decided to invest in a zero-grazing system. “The herd had struggled through the past few wet
summers to achieve good grass intakes and poaching was an issue on the heavier ground. We had invested in good cow housing a few years ago and the cows genuinely seemed to prefer staying indoors,” says Mr Pepper. “The zerograzing system allows us to utilise every blade of grass we grow and we can also bring grass from fields that we couldn’t walk high yielding dairy cows to.”
Table 1: Comparison of the intakes involved in three different systems
forage DM intakes per cow 180-day winter x 11kg DM silage (t DM) 185-day summer housed x 11kg DM silage (t DM) 185-day summer zero grazed x 17kg DM (t DM) 185-day grazed herd x 15kg DM (t DM) add 20% waste on the grazed herd (t DM) total DM intake (t DM) typical stocking rate (grass growth 12t DM/ha) (cows/ha)
fully housed zero grazed full-time grazing 1.98 2.04
2.78 0.56 5.32 2.25
Table 2: Comparison of the economics involved in three different systems
economics per cow winter feeding costs 1.98t DM x £100/t (£) 185-day summer housed x 11kg DM silage (£) 185-day summer zero grazed x 17kg DM x £70/t (£) 185-day grazed herd x 15kg DM x £70/t (£) add 20% waste on the grazed herd (£) summer housing costs (see assumptions) (£) 185 days x 27p/cow/day (£) zero grazing costs 185 days x 50p/cow/day (£) concentrates fed winter 5.5kg/day (£) summer feed rate (kg) summer concentrate costs (£) forage and feed costs for a 20-litre cow (£)
fully housed zero grazed full-time grazing 198 204
220 195 39 50 257 5.5 264 967
50 93 257 2 96 914
257 3 144 833
Assumptions 1. Six-month housed period per year (between October 15 and April 15) 2. Silage on a three-cut system, yielding 44.5 tonnes per ha at 27% DM net of waste 3. Contractor costing £148/ha per cut 4. Opportunity cost of £450/ha 5. Daily forage intake per cow 11kg DM (40 kg fresh) (allows for a lower forage intake in dry period and slightly higher than this during lactation) 6. Figures for zero grazing – all machinery/labour/forage costs for a 200 cow herd. Zero grazer costs 50pp cow/day on its own 7. Housing costs – (slurry spreading and bedding only) of 27p/cow/day 8. 20% of grass is lost/rejected/poached by grazing cows
Cost variations When you apply economics to the different systems, the impact of feed, machinery and housing costs vary. But, as Mr McMinn explains, there are practical ways to control every situation. “Where viable, the hectares round the yard should be grazed ‘hard’ as soon as cows can be turned out. This will allow high quality grass to grow for the lower yielding portion of the herd. “If the ground is available then grazing is still the most profitable option for stale cows. Lower yielding cows cost more to feed in a housed or zero-grazed system. As for dry cows and youngstock, grazing standards can be lax and are, therefore, just an inefficient use of ground. Contract rearing on another farm or straw-based feeding systems may be an option,” adds Mr McMinn. If faced with challenges regarding land or forage availability this spring, it is a good idea to take an hour and calculate the stocking rate. Realistic questions need to be asked but, as Mr Black points out, sometimes analysing dairy systems creates more questions than it answers. “We must take into account that if there is a shortfall in forage intakes in the fully housed system, this must be filled with concentrates. So a keen eye should be kept on feed costs, which are trading lower than this time last year but are not necessarily cheap. By reviewing the cost of every system, and knowing what land is available, educated decisions can be made so that, when the milk price shifts, the only figure that matters is the margin,” he adds. l
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11/02/2014 14:56:45 27-02-14 14:25
DAIRY MANAGEMENT NEWS
Annual report names top herds NMR has published its top production and genetic merit herds nationally, by breed, for the year ending September 2013. Matt Jenkin’s nucleus breeding herd, from Helston in Cornwall, is in top place in the production rankings for Holsteins with 997kg of fat and protein and 13,315kg of milk on twice-a-day milking. A unique system, the 65-ha farm supports 250 Holsteins and 120 newly calved heifers are sold annually. Matt is also a business manager for nutrition company BOCM Pauls. In second place, moving up from sixth, is the Harvey’s Dumfries-based herd from Beeswing and in third place is John Shropshire’s herd from Market Drayton, Shropshire. Moving into the top 10, in fourth place, is A J M Eavis’ herd from Somerset followed by: Church Farm Partnership, Dorset; Wilderley Hall Farms, Shropshire; Nick Cobb, Dorset; and Willie Ley, Devon, in places five to eight respectively. Moving from
number 42 on the list to ninth place is Tack Farms, from Herefordshire, followed by the Miller’s Shanael herd from Worcestershire. The Windel’s Wiltshire-based Ayrshire herd moves into top place this year from eighth with 606kg of fat and protein and 8,216kg of milk. Pearn Watt’s Shorthorn herd form Norfolk stays in top place for the breed with 621kg of fat and protein and a yield of 8,609kg. The Wadman’s Jersey herd, from Somerset, holds top spot with 762kg of fat and protein and 7,197kg of milk and Brian Archer’s Friesian herd, from Derbyshire, is top of the breed with 615kg of fat and protein and 8,465kg of milk. NMR customers can access all national and county rankings using an individual password available from NMR on 0844 7255567. A list of top national herds for all breeds is published on the NMR website at: www. nmr.co.uk.
Top production herd owners, left to right: Margaret Jenkin (with Thomas), Beccy (with Chloe), husband Matt and Graham with Mabec Talent Annie
Moves and changes at NMR
NMR vice chairman NMR board member Trevor Lloyd has been appointed vice chairman. A dairy producer from Valley, in Anglesey, Mr Lloyd runs a 350-cow herd with his father Richard.
New development manager Harper Adams graduate Nicola Hares has joined NMR’s business development team. She is responsible for disease surveillance service developments including NML’s new BVD surveillance programme. Nicola has worked as marketing and PR manager at Newbury Racecourse. In 2013, she was awarded a Tesco Sustainable Dairy Group travel scholarship that took her to North America to study transition cow management.
Latest 100 tonners The top three NMR cows reaching 100 tonnes of milk in December 2013 and ranked on lifetime daily yield are: 1. Chalclyffe Iron Arlene EX91,with 113,864kg of milk and an LDY of 35.09kg/day in seven lactations. Owned by Nick Cobb, Dorset. 2. Miresdale Sweetness 12, with
NI manager for the east
113,786kg of milk and an LDY of 29.64kg/day in eight lactations. Owned by Geoff Spence, North Yorkshire. 3. Shaker 1459, with 108,757kg of milk and an LDY of 28.10kg/day in eight lactations. Owned by W J Venn and Son, Somerset.
Peter Caughey is NMR’s new area field manager in Northern Ireland responsible for managing NMR’s business in the East of the province, covering County Down and South Antrim. He is also a partner in a dairy business, based in the Ards Peninsula. Peter moves to NMR from Genus ABS.
For more information on NMR products and services contact customer services, 0844 7255567, NMR web address: www.nmr.co.uk, NMR email address: email@example.com COW MAN AG E ME N T
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Dutch cattle breeding organisation takes on British interest
Breeding – with additional benefits The UK cattle breeding industry is constantly evolving and this year has already seen a significant development, with Dutch organisation CRV taking over UK-based semen supplier Avoncroft. So what does this mean for UK producers? text Rachael Porter
n extensive genetic portfolio for UK producers, as well as support systems including SireMatch and fertility advice. That’s just the start of what the newly formed CRV Avoncroft can offer its UK customers. “The focus on fertility and other production and longevity traits, aside from milk yield, will also continue apace and, in terms of selection ease, may even surpass what’s been available in the UK before,” says CRV’s Paul Vriesekoop. He adds that CRV Avoncroft offers sires from two definite categories – Holstein bulls and those bred specifically for grassbased extensive systems. And both groups include naturally polled, sexed semen, as well as genomic sires. Premium milk, which has high levels of fat and protein, is increasingly being sought after by milk buyers for use in the production of cheese, butter, yogurt and other processed dairy products. “Having high levels of fat and protein in your milk can result in extra milk revenues, on top of the premiums already received for meeting standards for cleanliness or somatic cell count,” adds the company’s Holstein specialist David Matthews. “We can offer producers genetics that are proven to help produce high component milk.” “With the backing of CRV, we can offer customers a more diverse portfolio that focuses on efficiencies in lifetime production, fertility, health, nutrition and decreased inbreeding. “CRV is also the only company in the world that has its own genomic
reference population, which allows it to innovatively manage and select for specific traits in its testing programme, like hoof health and polled breeding. Polled genetics are becoming more interesting for safety, welfare and economic reasons with genomic selection increasing the number and high level of many young polled bulls,” adds Mr Matthews.
allow parent verification but targeted breeding decisions and screening for genetic abnormalities. “Beyond this, there is already talk of nutrigenomics, which enables diets to be formulated to suit specific animals, as well as ‘genomic medicines’ and even bTB resistance. So watch this space,” he says. “UK – and indeed many global – breeding programmes have focused heavily on production for many decades. But during the past decade best breeding practice has been redefined because producers and breeders alike have recognised that this sole focus came at a price – namely fertility and profit,” says CRV Avoncroft’s general manager Barry Ward. “Our national calving index is now up to around 420 days. DairyCo says that every day above 400 days is costing £5 per day in lost production. Ask any producer what their main problems are – apart from the weather and the Government – and fertility will always be near the top.” He adds that estimates are that almost 10% of producers class their production system as ‘grass-based’ now and that the vast majority of these herds are
Grazing trend: almost 10% of producers class their system as ‘grass-based’ now
Efficient production The Dutch organisation also recently launched the ‘Better Life Health Index’ and the ‘Better Life Efficiency Index’ and this brings a dynamic new set of tools to the market. Developed to support the growing number of producers who are concerned about wanting to breed healthy and long lasting cows, these indices help producers prioritise their breeding goals in terms of efficient production and healthier cows. Genomics is another area of expertise that the take over will bring a step closer to UK producers. “Genomic data was initially used to help ‘scan’ larger numbers of young bulls to bring to the market much earlier than the traditional daughter-proven sire testing programmes,” explains Mr Ward, the general manager of CRV Avoncroft. “The reliability of such data is consistently improving, but the risk needs to be balanced by using a team of bulls. The future for genomics looks exciting. As reliability increases and the cost comes down it will become practical to chip female stock at birth. This will not only
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block calving. “So fertility is the key to success for these producers. The more they can calve in the first six weeks of their block, the more profit they will generate.”
Cost benefits “The key to profit is to know your cost of production and the actual cost of your cows’ diet,” he says, adding that grass costs approximately 5p/kg DM, silage between 10p and 12p/kg DM, and concentrates and blends costs can vary upwards from 20p/kg DM. “New Zealand and Irish research has shown that profit in grass-based dairy systems is driven by stocking rate – the higher the stocking rate the higher the profit. Some of the top UK grass-based herds are achieving stocking rates of nearly four cows per hectare.” Mr Ward says that there are two important aspects to achieving this: “Firstly, grass needs to be measured consistently – you can’t manage what you don’t measure. And, secondly, you need the right cow.” Grass based producers with ‘white water’ contracts have generally used New Zealand Holstein-Friesians, typically
producing between 5,000 and 5,500 litres per cow, using between 500kg and 1,000kg of concentrate on a spring block calving system. An autumn block calving herd will be producing between 6,500 and 7,000 litres per cow, feeding between 1,000kg and 1,500kg of concentrate. “But with the noticeable shift in the market and milk companies offering more constituent-based contracts, many producers are now finding the crossbred cow suits their system better,” says Mr Ward.
Fertility focus Focussing on fertility has the potential to increase profits in all UK dairy systems, not just grass-based ones. Due to the uncertainty of feed costs, and the expected fluctuations in the milk price, more producers are looking to increase milk from forage. “And, with the national average sitting at around 2,500 litres per cow, there is certainly room for improvement and a subsequent increase in profit,” says Mr Ward. The introduction of the CRV Ambreed’s products to the UK market, available through CRV Avoncroft means that
producers can choose Holstein-type bulls that have the fertility characteristics necessary for a New Zealand-style system – be it grass only or one that involves a high level of added feed. These sires are also capable of transmitting high volumes of milk. As for breeding indexes, the updating of the £PLI and the new £SCI (spring calving index) are long overdue, according to Mr Ward. “The new £PLI will reduce the emphasis on production by about a third and have higher weightings for fertility, lifespan and udder health. “Two new traits that will be included are calving ease, which aims to help producers breed a more easy-care cow, and a cost of maintenance, which will reflect the better profitability of the medium-sized cow. The new £SCI has an increased emphasis on protein (13.8%), fertility (21.8%) and maintenance (16.2%) and will have the advantage, compared to the £PLI, of being an ‘across breed’ index. So it will enable producers to compare bulls from different breeds. “The new £PLI and £SCI indexes will perfectly suit the CRV Avoncroft approach to the market,” adds Mr Matthews. l
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Invitation to ‘track and fencing’ field day
Blitz daughter 3498
Building herds for higher milk revenues When searching for bulls with high fat and protein, look no further than the highly reliable proven genetics from the CRV Avoncroft sire catalogue. These sires will breed medium-sized cows that produce milk containing more butterfat and protein, which allows herds to earn more money from the same number of animals. Two good examples of bulls that will deliver medium-sized robust cows with more than 50kg of combined fat and protein are Blitz and Jeroen.
Skalsumer Blitz (Paramount x O Man x Addison) The cow family behind Blitz is well known for production, famously producing the legendary Sunny Boy, and ensures longevity. It is the ultimate bull for Lifetime Efficiency Jeroen daughter Belle
(10%: high lifetime production in combination with medium-sized cows). Blitz is an easy calving bull (105) and his daughters are tremendous producers, trouble free, and able to produce extreme amounts of fat and protein (+61.4kg) in a sustainable way. With +467 days of longevity and scoring 101 for frame, 105 for dairy strength, 103 for udder, 105 for feet and legs, and 104 for total score, Blitz has a PLI of £184. He offers +1,036kg of milk with +29.2 (–0.13%) fat and +32.2kg (–0.02%) protein. Semen is available from CRV Avoncroft priced at £16 straw. Call for free on 0800 7831880.
Aurora Jeroen (Bertil x O Man x Jocko) Sky-high quantities of fat and protein are the key features of Jeroen’s transmission pattern. They are also
CRV Avoncroft is organising a ‘track and fencing’ demonstration open day with AR Richards, which supplies and lays concrete railway sleepers as cow tracks, along with KiwiKit, Grasstech and Agricultural Supplies. The event will be held on Thursday March 27 at Old Ford Farm in Coton Clanford, Staffordshire, ST18 9PQ. The day starts 10.45 am. Please e-mail email@example.com or call CRV Avoncroft on 0800 7831880, by Friday March 21, if you wish to join us.
functionally built with sturdy frames and very good udders and legs. Jeroen’s hoof health score of 108 comes as no surprise. The Frisia cow family behind Jeroen is a sound, productive family with problem-free cows. Dam Frisia 5 has so far produced 72,602kg of milk, in six lactations, with 4.32% fat and 3.61% protein. Maiden-heifer bull Jeroen therefore delivers very efficient producing cows – just what every producer wants. The Bertil son breeds cows of a kind that many producers are looking for – medium-sized with strong front ends and a very good body capacity. They produce very easily because of his high breeding value (107) for condition score. With 50.7kg for combined fat and protein, Jeroen is part of an elite group of daughter-proven bulls. With +168 days of longevity and scoring 106 for frame, 108 for dairy strength, 106 for udder, 106 for feet and legs, and a total score of 108, Jeroen has a PLI of £220. He also offers +431kg of milk with +26.3 (+0.11%) of fat and +24.4kg (+0.13%) of protein. Semen is available from CRV Avoncroft priced at £19 straw.
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R E P O RT
Good housekeeping: hygiene is second to none in the calf shed
Busy pit: herringbone parlour runs for 23 hours a day
Antibiotic use is shunned as a management tool at one US-based unit
It’s all down to details During the past eight years the average somatic cell count at Reuter Dairy has been 76,000 cells/ml. Strict protocols for dealing with mastitis, as well as sand-bedded cubicles and low protein rations, contribute to the notable performance of the 850-cow herd. text Jaap van der Knaap
ot a piece of straw lies out of place and no crumb of feed is spilled on the yard. The hygiene in the calf sheds resembles that of a hospital and the 850 cows are in excellent condition. Whether dealing with feed rations, housing, work flow, or the breeding philosophy, Rick and Dan Reuter, from Peosta in Iowa, have clearly considered every detail of the management of their operation. For example, during the past six months, all the cows have been dried off without routine use of antibiotics, following the introduction of a policy of no longer using antibiotics to treat cases of mastitis. It seems inconceivable that, with a herd average yield of more than 14,000 litres of milk, at 3.8% fat and 3.1% protein, that antibiotics are no longer used. Reuter Dairy is not organic, but a deliberate decision was made not to use antibiotics. “Of course we do have mastitis, but if you ensure that the cows are healthy, seven out of ten cows with mastitis are able to cure themselves,” says Rick. “The other three cows we don’t want to work with. We work with a strict protocol. When a milker finds a
cow with mastitis, the cow will be given an injection of oxytocin to ensure that the udder is milked out really well. After that we use an uddermint oil on the udder. The cow then has two days to prove she will recover. “If she doesn’t, she leaves immediately. The advantage of our system is that we no longer run the risk of putting ‘antibiotic’ milk in the tank.” An important factor in the strict mastitis policy is the large number of young stock on the farm and the high beef prices. “A culled cow brings in £720, while raising a heifer costs £900,” Dan says. “Many producers are not aware that culled cows are an important contribution to the total income of their dairy operation.”
Improved resistance Anyone who thinks that the replacement rate is high is wrong. With a cull rate of 30% it is below the US average. The dry period is also antibiotic free. “By radically changing the environment and the feed ration you create stress and as a result the cow dries up nicely, regardless of production,” Rick
says, basing his thoughts on experience. He points out that the rolling average tank cell count for the past eight years stands at 76,000 cells/ml. “The cell count demonstrates the resistance and the health of the herd.” So, what is the secret of the high production and good health of the herd? “Sand bedding, a low level of protein in the ration and a focus on breeding,” says Dan. He has worked for many years as a hoof trimmer and mentions the combination of sand bedding and rubber on the floor as an important basis for good hoof health. Rick is clearly the feed specialist. “The reduction of protein in the ration to 15% has also contributed greatly to the health and resistance of the herd,” he says. The TMR ration that is fed to all milking groups comprises: all groups are fed: 34kg of maize silage, 5kg of alfalfa hay and 12.5kg of a concentrate mix, which includes cotton seed, soya, bone meal, cereals and minerals.
Mixer wagon The mixer wagon, with a 17.5 cubic metre capacity, appears small for this number of cows. “We make up 14 feed rations per day,” Rick explains. “We chose this small feed mixer wagon deliberately. It has just one vertical auger. We have noticed that this produces the best mix. We want every bit of the ration to be the same for every cow.” At the end of each year the wagon is exchanged for exactly the same new wagon. The bunk silos are remarkably clean with hardly any loose corn silage
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Reuter Dairy Zero antibiotic use, high production and healthy cows. Tight protocols and strict management are key to Dan and Ricky Reuter’s success.
s a day
Herd size: Average yield: Somatic cell count: Unit size:
850 14,000 litres 76,000 cells/ml 340 hectares
spilled on the floor. Moreover, there is only maize silage – all the alfalfa hay is purchased. “We grow maize on every hectare we own. In two days we chop everything and every load is weighed. In this way we know exactly what a field produces, how much feed we must buy in and which field we must fertilise a little heavier next season.”
Calf rearing No alfalfa itself is cultivated. “Alfalfa changes too much in quality because of the weather and the seasons. Also the yield is lower than maize silage. We buy alfalfa with the exact protein values that we want,” says Dan. A total of 32,000 litres of milk leave the dairy operation every day. The milkers, in total a staff of 15, milk the herd three times a day and keep the 2:12 herringbone milking parlour running 23 hours a day. “The milking parlour has recently been modernised, but we did not extend it and kept it simple,” Rick explains, as the cows walk calmly into the parlour.
Clean beds: using sand helps to keep the somatic cell count low
The cows and first calved heifers are kept separate, but there are no other groups. Not even a transition group or a group of hospital cows. “We don’t need one,” says Rick. “For a year we kept the fresh cows in a separate group with the idea that they could get stronger before they went to the main group. But we ended up with more problems. “Now cows go from the dry group in as short a time as possible to the calving barn and, several hours after calving, to the large group.” Calf rearing is also strictly organised. The hutches are in a ventilated barn, where hygiene is the key word. Everything is clean and appears brand new, despite the fact that the facility is already a few years old. This year a new, identical calving barn has been built. “We want to use this barn to reduce the risk of infection,” Rick explains. “We can leave one of the two barns empty for a while so that the bacteria and viruses disappear. We can easily use the barn for feed and straw storage and after a time fill it with calves again.”
Genomic bulls In addition to the business organisation, the Reuters also make time for a ‘hobby’ – keeping a number of special breeding cows. In three pens are three animals that originate from the Reuter Bailey, a cow the father-and-son team bred
themselves. With 95 points, she is a Goldwyn daughter from the family of Regancrest Barbie. “We like to give a couple of cows a bit of extra attention,” says Dan. “There is AI interest in these animals. We have flushed Bailey and there are more than 25 daughters from her in the herd.” Is she also the type of cow that is best suited to the farm? Dan laughs. “We want to breed cows that produce around 41,000 litres in three lactations. We are looking, on average, for large cows that produce a lot of milk.” Reuter Dairy also has a breeding strategy. “We use genomic bulls on our yearlings. It gives our calves the fastest rate of genetic progress.” Half of the dairy cows have progeny tested bulls as a partner and the other half older genomic bulls. “I am not a huge fan of genomics because I think that progeny tested bulls are underestimated. Therefore I also continue to use them,” says Rick. “Furthermore, we use some older genomic bulls whose fertility indexes are known. With them we can keep up with the rate of genetic gain, but we can exclude genomic bulls with poor fertility.” It all sounds so simple and logical and it is yet another example of the well-thought-out management at the Reuter’s dairy. l
Tidy silo: the bunks are kept clean and any loose maize silage is regularly swept up
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