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Progressive Your essential guide to forward-thinking dairy farming.

December 2019


A Dairy Farmer publication in association with

Inside • Unlocking potential • Selecting the best genetics • Feed utilisation and using KPIs • Management protocols for success • Positive supply chain partnerships

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How to unlock potential in cow welfare, resource use efficiency and people management

COMPANY INTRODUCTION Davy Dunlop, from Genus ABS, on selecting the best genetics


11 COMPANY INTRODUCTION Kynan Massey, managing director of Massey Harpers Feeds Group, on understanding KPIs

Genomics an integral tool in realising herd’s potential

8-9 Breeding

CASE STUDY Robust use of data helps build business resilience

12-13 CASE STUDY Simple systems is key to success when running three enterprises




Huw McConochie, from Zinpro, on implementing the necessary management protocols

CASE STUDY Elite herd hitting targets with its commitment to excellence


18-19 CASE STUDY Collaboration helps keep herd at the top of its game


22-23 SUPPLY CHAIN RELATIONSHIPS Making the most of supply chain relationships in an increasingly competitive market

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CASE STUDY Supply chain

Making targeted improvements is boosting performance

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A successful dairy business is defined by excellent leadership which is constantly making incremental changes to advance all aspects of cow welfare, resource use efficiency and people management.

Unlocking the potential in your business


ncreasing price volatility, ongoing regulatory and assurance requirements and the vagaries of the political climate could all prove a perfect storm for those seeking to build successful dairy businesses. This is according to Neil Adams, managing director of Promar. In spite of this, he believes dairy producers can thrive by implementing a clear strategy and he suggests there are enormous opportunities for farmers willing to rise to the challenge. He says: “Dairy farming is like a jigsaw where the pieces are the market, a farm’s working assets, livestock, its land resource and the environment. They only get fitted together properly if the key individuals who lead, work and support the farm collaborate to achieve coherence. “It is all about unlocking

potential. Have a look at the current state of your business in detail and ask yourself these four questions: ■ What will my milk market want in the future? ■ How should I organise my system of farming to best meet that demand? ■ How do I manage myself and my team to optimise the potential of the market and my system? ■ How do I ensure we retain the trust and confidence of society at large?” Mr Adams says for many, expansion has been the key strategy for survival but he cautions this will not be appropriate in every situation, especially if external influences are likely to make this approach more difficult. “We are already seeing processors in the liquid sector taking steps to halt unbridled expansion. Irrespective of our future trading relationship with the EU, we will need to meet certain environmental

The theme underlying all these successful businesses is management ability and leadership NEIL ADAMS

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Dairy farming is like a jigsaw, where all the pieces only fit together properly with good leadership and collaboration, says Neil Adams.

and welfare standards which are likely to become more demanding,” he says. Mr Adams is very optimistic about the future of UK dairying and believes there are many opportunities for those farmers who are willing to grasp them. He says: “The UK is unique because our dairy industry is so diverse, and farmers make it work on their farm by adopting a variety of different systems, whether it is all year round calving within an entirely housed unit or grazing based spring calving. The theme underlying all these successful businesses is management ability and leadership. “It is tempting to think there is one magic bullet which is missing, but this is rarely the case. The really successful businesses are managed by people who are meticulous about everything they do.” He describes business expansion as ‘a good thing’ as long as farmers manage the risks associated with this growth.

He says: “Growing is one thing but growing profitability is another. The ambition associated with growing a business is what gets many people out of bed in the morning, but it also keeps them awake at night. “Establishing the right work/ life balance is very important and having the right people around who are as committed as you are is critical.”

Money matters Euryn Jones, interim head of agriculture with HSBC UK, says a commercial approach with a ‘strong focus on generating profit and cash’ is fundamental to any successful dairying business. “Price volatility is an inherent characteristic of agricultural commodities so it is vital to make a farming business as resilient as possible. Profit defines all successful dairy businesses and the figures show the top quartile to be 1.8 times as profitable as the bottom quartile.” He adds: “In most cases the factor which

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drives performance is management. We urge dairy farmers we work with to calculate and be clear about their break even milk price. What price do they need to receive for their milk to cover all their costs? “We encourage our clients to plan ahead, draw up budgets and monitor their actual financial outturn against their budget. They need to understand the variance between budgeted and actual figures and appreciate the causes so they can act upon them,” Mr Jones says. HSBC UK takes into account a number of factors which any business would need to be

mindful of when looking to borrow money. These might include: n The calibre of person who will borrow the money n Affordability – can the person afford the loan? n Equity n Security – what the bank can recover from collateral if it goes wrong He believes there are several performance indicators which are a good guide as to whether a dairy business is successful. Mr Jones says: “Feed costs per litre usually reflect excellent forage production and utilisation. The ability to manage fertility is a major driver of profitability in all

Understanding the market is critical and we advise farmers to be aware of the clauses in their milk contract EURYN JONES

systems. And controlling fixed costs such as power, machinery and labour is another variable which influences profitability. “There is no one system which is better than another and I see people succeeding

with a whole range of approaches. Understanding the market is critical and we advise farmers to be aware of the clauses in their milk contract so they avoid the penalties and achieve bonuses wherever possible.”

Cow health – The cornerstone of profitable dairying n IMPROVING cow health and welfare is likely to be at the top of the list of priorities for every progressive dairy farmer. Jonathan Statham, a partner with the Bishopton Veterinary Group and chief executive of RAFT solutions, describes it as an ‘ongoing team approach’ with vets as an integral member of the farm team. He says: “We have to consider what a sustainable dairy enterprise looks like in terms of cow health, fertility, nutrition, welfare and environmental impact

Jonathan Statham

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and focus on root causes and prevention. “The health issues a farmer faces broadly fall into two separate categories. The first is single agent infectious disease such as BVD, Johne’s, IBR and TB. These can affect all herds, irrespective of how well managed they are. “The second category is multi-factorial management disease including calf pneumonia, mastitis and lameness. These diseases are complex, farm specific and usually require a range of herd health changes to deliver improvement. “In order to tackle either type of disease, the first stage is always to establish the health status of the herd by testing and measuring current performance and levels of disease. Secondly, if the disease(s) is present in significant levels, the next stage is to make a plan for

control which may mean eradication or for management diseases, dramatically reducing the level of incidence.”

Balance Mr Statham says tackling disease relies on understanding the balance between immunity in the herd and the scale of the disease challenge. “Examine the specifics of the farm system and look for patterns of disease. What are the things which compromise cow immunity? It may be several factors including stocking rate, building design or management of transition period nutrition. “Some of these may require capital investment, but luckily there are often many things a farmer can do which cost relatively little. For example, herd health training for staff in relation to procedures such as the milking routine can make a

significant difference to the incidence of mastitis,” Mr Statham adds. Technology offers the dairy farmer considerable scope for improving the early detection of disease in herds. He says: “Precision livestock farming techniques, such as activity monitors, can provide an early alert to health problems and can enable farmers to target cows rather than relying on blanket group treatment.”

Precision livestock farming techniques, such as activity monitors, can provide an early alert to health problems JONATHAN STATHAM

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hoosing the best genetics is key to improved performance in a dairy herd and recent technological advances have enabled farmers to have much more control over outcomes. Progressive farmers have embraced sexed semen and genomics leading to a marked impact on breeding both in terms of improved genetic selection and animal welfare. Davy Dunlop, marketing director for Genus ABS, says understanding their clients’ business and their future strategy is fundamental to selecting the best genetics for their herd. He says: “Helping our farmers to improve the performance of their herds is no longer simply about selling the best semen to them. It is about gaining a clear picture of where they want their herd to be in five years’ time. “We take into account the nature of their milk contract, particularly what bonuses are paid for what the market may be looking for in the future. We need to learn about the factors limiting performance of the cows and the main reasons why they are leaving the herd,” Mr Dunlop says.

Custom index This enables the Genus ABS team to develop a custom index for clients to select the best bulls for the future of their herd. “We can develop the index based on our client’s objectives, calculating weightings for specific traits. For example, someone might be looking for an index weighted to milk yield, whereas another farmer might be looking for improved fertility. “We can now select for

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‘Understanding future strategy is fundamental to selecting the best genetics’ individual traits such as milking speed and teat placement which is particularly valuable information for those clients who have robots or are planning to install them,” Mr Dunlop adds. Genus ABS’ Heifer Optimisation Tool enables farmers to plan a replacement strategy to ensure they have enough heifers coming through. Mr Dunlop says this technology allows farmers to run a number of different scenarios to help them make breeding choices. He says: “Farmers can input the numbers of cows they require in the parlour in three years’ time, for example. We then input herd specific data such as calving index or pregnancy rate, the percentage of still-born calves and proportion of calves which will make it to the parlour. “From this data, the Heifer Optimisation tool will calculate the number of animals and services required to achieve the desired number of replacements. It is possible to compare different scenarios, such as the number

Davy Dunlop

We can now select for individual traits such as milking speed and teat placement, which is particularly valuable for those clients who have robots or are planning to install them DAVY DUNLOP

of services with sexed semen to give the number of replacements needed, and consequently, the proportion of the herd which can be served with beef semen. “The Heifer Optimisation Tool will calculate the value of the calves born, based on these options so it is then possible to tweak the variables to compare different breeding strategies

to minimise rearing costs and optimise the value of the beef calf crop.” The use of genomics has further enhanced the ability of farmers to dramatically improve herd performance and reduce wastage in the form of cows reared and entering the herd which do not make the grade. “Genomics allows us to make better mating decisions because it provides accurate information to determine how a heifer will breed and perform based on her own genetics rather than basing the judgement on data from her parents.

Bull calves Concerns from milk buyers about the fate of bull calves have translated into growing demand for sexed dairy and beef semen. Genus ABS beef data collection is improving beef sire genetics, according to Mr Dunlop. “Retailers are interested in animals which finish faster and have a higher killing out percentage. Genus ABS is carrying out beef progeny research with various partners to measure growth rates and carcase traits which are related back to their genome so the best sires can be used in the future. “For beef animals, knowing a calf has the genetics which will result in good growth rates and killing out percentages means even if the calf does not look impressive at a young age, buyers know it has the potential to do well.”

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Genomics are being used as an essential tool to improve milk yield, cow health and welfare and efficiency on a Cheshire dairy farm.

The dairy herd at Huntington Hall Farm totals 750 cows.

Herd statistics


Milk yield average is 12,000 litres per cow per year


Somatic cell count is 100

Genomics an integral tool in realising herd’s potential


irst impressions of Huntington Hall Farm are of an attractive country residence which barely resembles a dairy farm. Looking across to the immaculate buildings and yard, the atmosphere is tranquil and there is hardly a scent of slurry. Yet the farm is home to more than 1,000 animals comprising one of the best performing dairy herds in Cheshire. Despite achieving impressive milk yields and a welfare record which is second to none, John

John Allwood

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Allwood is far from content to stand still. He is constantly striving for improvement and views genetics and, in particular the use of genomics, as an essential tool to improve milk yield, cow health and welfare and efficiency. He says: “We started genomic testing four years ago and we were probably one of the first farms to do this. But initially we did not really use the results because we were not sure what to do with the data. “More recently we have used genomics to find out which calves are in the lower end of the herd. We need to keep all these animals in the milking herd at present because we suffered a TB breakdown last year and lost 100 cows from the herd. But we will not be using them to breed replacements. To help make the most of this genomic data, Mr Allwood works closely with experts from Genus

ABS’ Technical and Genetic Services team to prepare a genetic plan, analyse genetic progress and set future strategic goals for the herd. He now selects calves which he hopes will push the annual milk yield average from the current 12,000 litres per cow to 14,000 litres, a figure which his best cows are already achieving. “The range of yields across the herd varies between 9,000 litres to 16,000 litres, so even the genetics in the bottom quarter of our herd are probably equivalent to the country average.


Protein is 3.38%


Butterfat is 3.78%


Calving interval is 380 days with a 60-day voluntary waiting period


Pregnancy rate is 29


Average lactations is 3.2


Age at first calving is 22.8 months


Average number of services is 1.62

Youngstock “We want to be able to find the calves we do not want to keep at the earliest possible age so we can have every youngstock stall containing the best possible genetics,” Mr Allwood says. When he first started genomic testing, Mr Allwood thought the results would be

more diverse, and admits he was ‘pleasantly surprised’ by how positive the outcome was. He is already starting to think about selecting breeding heifers on the basis of other traits. He adds: “So far our focus has been on milk production but the information is out

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Calves are selected which Mr Allwood hopes will push the annual milk year average up.



there to allow us to make more informed decisions about a range of other traits including immunity and milk speed. “As we are three times a day milking and we have a rotary parlour which is slightly below the capacity we really need, moving cows through the parlour as quickly as possible is very important for us. We are already collecting data on the milking cows but genomics will help us select for this in the future.” Moving away entirely from conventional semen to SexcelTM on all but 5% of the maiden heifers and using beef semen on the remainder has enabled Mr Allwood to meet his target of 280 heifer calves born each year. SexcelTM is also used on the top 25% of the first lactation cows on the basis that the lowest quartile of the maiden heifers will be genetically inferior to them. Genus ABS beef semen is now used for all other services because it makes economic sense, but Mr Allwood also believes the issue of the fate of bull calves on dairy farms is a very emotive one and something which he thinks the industry needs to address. “We put three-quarters of our first lactation cows to Angus beef because we do not want any black and white bull calves on-farm. Positive PR and animal welfare are paramount for us

I think there will be scope for us to use genomics to produce the calf which is exactly what the market wants JOHN ALLWOOD

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and sending three-week-old calves to an abattoir is a ‘no no’. “Not only that, but if a bull calf costs us £3 everyday until it is three weeks old and then we sell them off-farm at £45, we are losing money,” Mr Allwood adds. He thinks genomics will play an increasing role when selecting genetics for the beef calves, as buyers become increasingly selective. He says: “We sell our beef calves to Meadow Quality and Buitelaar but they now only want to buy the animals which exactly fit the supermarket specification. In the future I think there will be scope for us to use genomics to produce the calf which is exactly what the market wants and this will minimise waste.”

Disadvantage One disadvantage of dairy herds using more beef semen has been an increase in the supply which has brought downward pressure on price, according to Mr Allwood. “The beef calf price has crashed and this has meant we are reevaluating our options to respond to this. Now we are looking at whether we look to produce a calf from our cows every 13 or 14 months rather than every year. “If we can identify these high yielding cows which are giving the same amount of milk over a longer lactation period, it makes sense to extend the calving interval if the revenue from calf sales has fallen. We are already working to a voluntary waiting period of 60 days.” Unsurprisingly, Mr Allwood adopts a similar scientific approach to every aspect of cow health and welfare at Huntington Hall Farm. Reducing antibiotic use is a key objective and he banned the use of fluoroquins on the farm three years ago.

Farm facts ■ Huntington Hall Farm is located to the south of Chester and extends to 389 hectares (960 acres) in several blocks with 81ha (200 acres) at the home farm. About one-third of the land is owned or on a long-term tenancy and the rest is rented or contract farmed ■ 186ha (460 acres) is permanent or temporary grassland, the rest is used

“We use selective dry cow therapy and now only 23% of the herd are receiving treatment. We have an ongoing training programme for our staff so they have a thorough understanding of what we use and why we use it. “We have implemented standard operating procedures for issues such as mastitis and lameness and we have an extensive vaccination programme.

Heat abatement “We are also looking at heat abatement in the buildings and have already installed fans throughout. We recognise heat stress is becoming more of an issue as we have these periods of extreme heat during summer.” Mr Allwood believes responding to the threat of climate change is an opportunity as well as a

to grow maize and maize (Mr Allwood employs seven full-time employees and several part-time staff) ■ There are currently 750 cows in the milking herd, down from 800 cows following a TB outbreak with a further 500 followers. The herd is all-year-round calving and milk is sold on an aligned contract to Muller for Tesco

challenge for the industry and he is seeking to minimise the carbon footprint of his herd as one of his key targets moving forward. “I am looking to achieve more food for the same carbon footprint. So currently each of my cows is producing 857kg of fat and protein combined per year and I would like to produce another 150kg per cow by the end of the five-year period, which is equivalent to 1.3 times its body weight,” Mr Allwood says. Striving for constant improvement is evidently Mr Allwood’s ‘moving target’ and he accepts there is no single change which will enable him to do this. “There is no one single action which will make the difference. We are doing lots of little things to improve and we are always looking for the next one to focus on to allow us to be even better.”

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Running a profitable and resilient grass-based dairy business with high quality, healthy cows at the core, is the philosophy driving the Ratcliffe family.


Robust use of data helps build business resilience


hen the family farm in Cheshire no longer provided the scope for Ian and Cath Ratcliffe to farm how they wanted to, they had little hesitation in uprooting themselves to their ‘dream farm’ in Devon. A shortage of accessible grazing land and little opportunity to buy or rent more grassland, plus the limitations of being in an NVZ meant the Ratcliffes were unable to rear their own replacements. Ian says: “We had a flying herd but were struggling to find the sort of animals we were looking for. We don’t like buying-in cows because of the disease risk and we were looking for crossbreds, but it was really difficult to source consistent, high quality cows to suit our system. “We are looking for a compact but milky cow with good solids, which can walk a kilometre to grazing twice-a-day and get in-calf. “So when the farm came up in Devon we jumped at the chance, even though the move came up sooner in our farming career than planned. We were able to

more than double cow numbers and can now graze harder and breed the cow we need,” he says. In the six years since the move, Ian and Cath have worked hard to make their business more resilient. Focus on herd fertility and a robust approach to achieving a tight autumn block calving pattern has paid dividends this year.

Challenges The herd achieved a six-week in-calf rate of 92 per cent which strengthened the business to cope with the challenges which followed. Ian says: “We had a TB breakdown last autumn after the drought and lost 40 animals in six months. We bought-in some fantastic young cows to replace them in the autumn, where on paper, herd health appeared second to none. “Unfortunately, since this purchase we have had a salmonella outbreak. Twenty cows aborted late in pregnancy, rendering them barren. It is a credit to our herd fertility that we have been able to withstand this sixty cow loss.” “Until this year, fertility

Farm facts n West Webbery Farm extends to 226 hectares (558 acres) of which 129ha (319 acres) is rented. The grazing platform totals 135ha (336 acres) and the silage ground comprises 59ha (145 acres) of grassland, 19ha (47 acres) of maize and 13ha (32a) of wheat

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n Ian and Cath Ratcliffe started farming in 2011 and moved to Devon from Cheshire in spring 2013 n They have expanded from the 180-cow flying herd to a milking herd of 360 plus followers n The family employs three full-time staff and one relief milker

has been our main focus, but now we feel our performance is good enough to really challenge ourselves and we are trying to put more milk into our replacements. As a consequence, we have moved away from a three-way cross between the Holstein, Norwegian Red and Friesian, to a two-way cross without the Friesian,” Ian says. The herd average is currently 7,436 litres and 618kg solids, but the Ratcliffes are looking to increase this to 8,000 litres with a continued emphasis on milk from forage, particularly grazed grass. Ian says: “We are looking for a compact, long lasting, ‘easy-care’ cow, with excellent production traits, fertility and confirmation to suit grazing. We are selecting low stature, high ACI Genus ABS bulls, including Holsteins Atrium, Jaguar and Appeal and Norwegian Reds Smaagarda and Knaphollen. Cath says: “Last year we used SexcelTM sexed semen on the maiden heifers to natural heats and, as anticipated, achieved 90 per cent conception of what we got with conventional previously, but gained the heifer calves. This year with the growing bull calf issue and challenging beef market, we plan to serve selected cows to sexed semen to meet heifer numbers.” Use of the Genus ABS Heifer Optimisation Tool has helped plan their replacement strategy, maximising genetic progress and beef calf value. When deciding which cows to serve with SexcelTM, Cath is targeting first, second and third calvers which have historically achieved highest conception rates. She is limiting sexed services to those which calved

Herd statistics

7,436 Herd average is 7,436 litres


Somatic cell count is 182


Protein is 3.63%


Butterfat is 4.46%


Mastitis rate is 18 cases per 100 cows per year


Lameness rate is 18 cases per 100 cows per year


618kg of milk solids sold per cow, supplying Arla


Conception rate at first service is 65% (68% first cycle)

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I believe knowing the numbers is vital in order to make the right decisions for the business CATH RATCLIFFE

Ian and Cath Ratcliffe with the new 44-point rotary parlour investment.

The milking herd is 360-head plus followers.

in the first cycle of the calving period so are inherently most fertile and have had most time to recover from calving. Within these constraints, low producers have also been selected out as well as any with a Johne’s concern. She says: “We have tailored a cow grade system and have 30 straws of Genus ABS conventional semen, so any outstanding cows which come bulling in the first cycle but who may be older or calved to the second cycle, still have the chance of a dairy heifer calf. We feel these selection parameters allow us to breed to our best genetics while minimising bull calf numbers. “Any cow which does not meet these criteria is served with beef semen. We use Angus on the first and second calvers and any small cows to avoid calving problems which may impair production and future fertility. “The third calvers and upwards are served with Genus ABS British Blue bulls to maximise calf value.”

Data As a former dairy consultant, Cath is a big fan of data, but she insists it is important to focus on useful figures because looking at too much data can be counterproductive. She says: “I analysed our calf mortality and found although losses were 4 per cent for the entire herd, losses were heavily

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weighted towards stillborns from maiden heifers. This illustrates the importance of using easy calving sires and having heifers. “Five years ago I set up a cost of production group because I believe knowing the numbers is vital in order to make the right decisions for the business. There is value in comparing figures and having an open book attitude. Through farm walks we try to promote this transparency to other dairy farmers.” Cath points to extremes in weather and volatility in the milk price in the six years since they moved to Devon as evidence of the importance of achieving resilience within their business. She says: “Knowing and understanding our costs of production has been an extremely powerful tool for monitoring our business and aiding strategic planning. Last year we had the confidence to invest in a new 44-point rotary parlour because our data demonstrated the efficiencies it would give us. “After two years with significant spells of drought in June and July, we are realising the value of maize as winter forage. “Drier summers are becoming more common place and so growing more maize and being slightly less reliant on grass seems a sensible insurance policy.” Cath says they aim to maximise margin per cow rather than increasing numbers because quality of life is the priority for their family and staff: “The last increase of 20 cows was lucrative because most overheads remained the same. These marginal litres have been achieved by hitting the sweet spot between cow type, resources and farming system. “We aim to have a profitable autumn calving dairy business and offer our staff and our sons, Josh and Freddie, a promising future in the industry we are so passionate about,” Cath says.

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‘Understanding KPIs is what sets progressive farmers apart’


eed utilisation in dairy cows is one of the key performance indicators (KPI) influencing profitability because feed is usually the most significant variable cost on-farm, according to Kynan Massey, managing director of Massey Harpers Feeds Group. Mr Massey says a clear understanding of their objectives is what sets progressive farmers apart, irrespective of their system. “Progressive managers know their production objectives and are focused on achieving them at optimum cost. They know the most important KPIs and the target level for each of them. “They understand the importance of a close focus on nutrition and are looking for increased sophistication in both diet formulation and monitoring. Knowledge of the function of the various components of a dairy ration and their influence on rumen health and milk production has advanced hugely in recent years and progressive farmers exploit this.”

Product development The Massey Harpers Feeds Group comprises of Massey Feeds in the North and its subsidiary, Harpers Feeds in the South West. Mr Massey says the group invests significantly in product development and is always looking to incorporate the latest research into its offering.

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The dairy sector is blamed for contributing to climate change, yet we have some of the most efficient, progressive dairy farms in the UK which have the lowest carbon footprint KYNAN MASSEY

“One of the most significant developments in our dairy feed range was the launch of the UK’s first dairy compounds to fully integrate the findings of the industry-wide ‘Feed into Milk’ project. “The research initially focused on the relative feed values of the various raw materials included in feed. This demonstrated the relative contribution which the different types of protein made to the cow’s diet and rumen function. “Based on these findings, our FiMLAC range ensured cows receive the right types of bypass protein in the correct ratio to energy. Over the years, this range has been continually refined, based on the latest research, so cows are obtaining the right macro and micro nutritional elements from their ration. “We use the Trouw Nutrition NutriOpt Dairy system which

is the most sophisticated dairy rationing system available. We also recently reviewed and updated all our mineral specifications to reflect the latest research.” Mr Massey says the business actively looks for new ingredients and approaches, to help customers further increase efficiency, recently adding Novatan to improve protein digestion and utilisation. “We carry out our own trials, in partnership with research institutes and our farmers, so we have firsthand knowledge and evidence to demonstrate products do make a difference. This allows us to tailor our feeds to the needs of an individual customer and his situation,” Mr Massey adds.

Different systems “We recognise all our clients operate very different systems, ranging from

all-year-round calving herds which are kept indoors, to more extensive grazing herds, some of which are springcalving. Working closely with customers and becoming an integral part of the team allows us to supply exactly the right products and offer the best value,” Mr Massey says. The industry is facing many new challenges and Mr Massey firmly believes the feed industry has a part to play in helping farmers face some of them. “The dairy sector is blamed for contributing to climate change, yet we have some of the most efficient, progressive dairy farms in the UK which have the lowest carbon footprint. “At Masseys we are actively assessing developments which can lower ammonia emissions. Through our research programmes we are working to offer practical solutions to our customers to help them reduce emissions.”

Kynan Massey

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A location on the edge of a steep hill on the western fringe of the Peak District may not appear to be ideal for a grass-based system, but one farmer is making it work.

Simple systems are key to success when running three enterprises


xpanding on the back of his success at Midgley Farm, Paul Dean now runs three farms, and each is very different. Choosing the approach which best suits the farm has paid dividends and allows Mr Dean to capitalise on each farm’s assets. He says: “At Midgley, we have been once-a-day milking for nine years because the grazing land is quite spread out, so the cows have to walk up to a mile on difficult terrain to come into the parlour. “We have been crossbreeding here since 2000 because even though the cows were Friesian, they were becoming too big. We are looking for a smaller cow, weighing no more than 500kg, which suits the farm. “We started using New Zealand genetics to introduce some Jersey and now we are introducing more Friesian genetics again because we find they can cope better with the

Expansion has been the biggest challenge for me, but it is also very rewarding PAUL DEAN

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Paul Dean runs three different farms on the Cheshire/Derbyshire border.

climate here,” Mr Dean adds. Milk from the 200 cows at Midgley Farm goes to Arla on a constituent contract, with a bonus for butterfat and protein and a penalty for volume. By the middle of the lactation, cows will typically be giving 5.44% butterfat and 4.3% protein, totalling 300kg of milk solids over the lactation.

Calving The cows calve from mid-March onwards and are turned out within 24 hours of calving. They are then outside until November, when they are housed and dried off in time for Christmas. “We aim to calve six weeks before the day we calculate the grass can grow faster than the cows can eat it, which on average is April 23. The cows are initially on a 60-day grazing rotation and this will be reduced to 24 days at the end of April, by which time we aim to have the entire farm grazed once. “The farm is split into 32 2.5-hectare paddocks and we graze one paddock each day. We reseed when we need to and sometimes stitch in some ryegrass and white clover if the sward is becoming a little tired,” Mr Dean says. Although grass is the mainstay of the diet at Midgley, Mr Dean feeds 0.5kg of concentrate to all the cows in the parlour throughout summer.



“It is much harder to achieve consistency within the diet when grazing. Through careful grassland management, we aim to achieve metabolisable energy [ME] values of 12-12.5 and about 24-25% protein across the grazing platform. “Masseys analyse our grass and the results show we are achieving mid to high 20s for protein, so the cows are getting plenty from the grass alone. “Masseys were quick to come on board with our strategy and supplied a low protein (12%) high energy concentrate with a Fimlac mineral pack which has organic copper, selenium, zinc and manganese, which is designed to fully mineralise the cows at lower feed rates. “We find rumen health is better and the cows get back in-calf more easily on this diet,” Mr Dean adds. “Just prior to calving we feed dry hay and a low protein dry cow roll from Masseys. Due to forage shortages, we have also been feeding straw in the diet. “We have had the easiest

calvings since feeding this way. We see very little milk fever, mastitis or displaced abomasum post-calving,” Mr Dean says.

Groups After taking sufficient colostrum from their dams, the black and white calves are kept in groups of eight or nine and fed milk replacer from teat feeders, but Mr Dean will encourage them to

Herd statistics

62 per cent

Ave. conception rate at first service across the three farms

375 days

Average calving interval across the three farms is 375 days Milk solids per annum (kg)

300 435 547

at Midgley Farm at Hammerton Farm at Symondley Farm

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Midgley Farm is 1,200ft above sea level.

eat some hard feed as soon as possible. They are weaned and turned out to grass, although the slower growing calves will be fed up to a kilo of concentrate a day. “We are aiming for all calves to be roughly the same size by the time we house them at eight months old. The ones on target will be on grass alone. We tend to graze calves on the rough, steep or more inaccessible ground which is in a stewardship scheme,” he adds. Mr Dean works with his neighbour, who now houses the calves and then grazes them the following summer. Working with other farmers in the area has paid dividends for Mr Dean as he looks to make the most of the opportunities available to him. “Seven years ago we approached two brothers at Hammerton Farm in the village who were looking to wind down. We now contract farm for them and have 180 cows which are spring and autumn block calving. “These cows are slightly bigger than at Midgley, weighing about 550-600kg, but it is a flatter, kinder farm. We supply a volume contract with Muller for Sainsbury’s from there,” he says. The most recent opportunity to expand came two years ago when a farmer near Macclesfield wanted his farm to be home to a milking herd again. Mr Dean now rents 72ha (178 acres) at Symondley

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Farm and milks his 170 cows there, with the owner helping to manage the forage production and feeding. Mr Dean step feeds up to a maximum of 6kg/cow/day in the first 100 days of lactation. He says: “The herd is all-yearround calving and we supply Arla on a manufacturing contract.”

At Midgley Farm cows are turned out within 24 hours of calving.

Self-sufficient Symondley Farm is all grass and is largely self-sufficient except for some wholecrop from the ‘support land’ Mr Dean rents near Congleton. “We grow wheat and barley on this lower ground and follow it with a three- to fouryear grass ley which we silage. It means we are hauling forage a long way but find the ground down there makes far better quality silage than up here. “The grass at Midgley is fine for grazing but the silage we make is never more than 10.5ME and we are looking for at least 11ME if possible,” Mr Dean adds. Mr Dean insists the system at each farm is ‘simple’ and this is his secret to ensure it all works well. He has no immediate plans for further growth, but admits he is ‘open to opportunities’. “Expansion has been the biggest challenge, but it is also very rewarding. It is all about people management, and how we build relationships with diff-

Farm facts ■ Paul Dean farms a total of 337 hectares (840 acres) spread across four locations in partnership with his brother, Alister. The farms are situated in the Peak District, with land rising to 364 metres (1,200ft) at the home farmMidgley Farm ■ Exceptional grassland management and rotational grazing to maximise milk from forage is key to success at Dean Farms. A low protein concentrate with added minerals supplements the forage diet to promote rumen health and high milk solids

erent farmers and landowners. “I have to create a business which is attractive to people who might want to come and

■ Friesian genetics form the basis for all the herds. Midgley farm is spring calving, Hammerton farm is spring and autumn block calving and Symondley Farm is all year round calving. Most of the youngstock are reared at Midgley where they are housed over the winter then out at grass ■ Mr Dean has used sexed semen for the first time this year on a third of the heifers and 200 cows and plans to use it on the top half of the herd to rear all replacements in the future. All other cows will run with the Angus bulls

work here, or invest in it. I am proud of dairy farming as an industry and I would not want to farm anywhere else.”

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erfecting the system to enable the cows to ‘eat, drink, lie down and make milk’ is the aim of Tony Mitchell and his son Will at St Kew Barton Farm in North Cornwall. This modest aim belies the commitment to excellence and the attention to detail shown in every aspect of farm operations. Ensuring feeding, animal health, genetics and fertility management are correct allows the Mitchells to focus on the development of their elite pedigree herd. When Will returned home from completing his degree at Harper Adams University College, it signalled a change in direction for the farm business. Tony says: “Will has a passion for the pedigree side of the business and he identified some of the internationally renowned cow families which he knew would help us achieve our goal. “We have started buying into pedigree lines including Cosmopolitan, Bambi, Elegance, Dellia, Lila Z and Rachel to

Herd statistics


The average 305-day yield is 9,995 litres


Somatic cell count averages 126, aiming for between 100 and 120


Protein is 3.45%


Butterfat is 4.17%


Calving interval is between 380-385 days with a drying off period of 45 days

Big Dairy p14 15 Harper Case Study 2.indd 2

‘Keep life simple’ is the motto for the Mitchell family and their Laram herd of pedigree Holsteins so they can concentrate on making the business profitable.

Elite herd hitting targets with its commitment to excellence enable us to breed elite pedigree animals and reach these figures.” Will adds: “These cow families go back several generations and have produced hundreds of descendants worldwide with exceptional classifications and production figures.”

Embryo transfer Now they have a number of heifers and first lactation cows which are of outstanding genetic merit, Will is using embryo transfer (ET) to build numbers. He says: “We are flushing a few maiden heifers and some milking cows which have been served using sexed semen. This acceleration in genetic gain is incredible and will help us to build the type of herd we are looking for.” Ensuring the recipients hold a pregnancy is obviously critical to the success of this genetic advancement and the Mitchells believe feeding correctly underpins management. Will says: “We tend to use heifers as recipients because they do not have any other stress to contend with so we see a better success rate with them. Ensuring a stable diet throughout the early stages of the pregnancy is vital so we purchase all our feed from Harpers Feeds because the quality is consistently high and delivers results.” The consistency of the diet is similarly critical for the calves

and youngstock and Will has refined the ration with Paul Cholwill from the ruminant team at Harpers, so it delivers the required rate of live weight gain. Mr Cholwill says: “The calves are given a Harpers 18 per cent calf rearing nut and 2kg of Deccox fed at a preventative level against Coccidiosis from birth until 10 months of age. Over this period the calves are achieving growth rates of 0.9-1.0kg per day.” Frequent monitoring and recording ensures they are meeting the required growth rates. Tony says: “We invested in electronic weigh scales which are accurate to within 0.5kg. So we weigh the youngstock regularly to make sure they are achieving the live weight gain we are looking for.

Will (left) and Tony (right) Mitchell with Paul Cholwill.

“At 10 months old we switch the heifers onto a blend which contains sugar beet, soya, wheat and molasses. We have switched to barley straw for the youngstock because there is far less variation between bales compared to silage. It also aids rumen development. “We aim to achieve between 0.7-0.8kg live weight gain per day from 10 months. We serve our heifers at between 12-14 months old and by this time they are 60 per cent of their

Housing incorporates sand bedding.

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The Mitchells have a number of heifers and first lactation cows which are of outstanding genetic merit.

“ anticipated adult weight. During the embryo transfer stage, heifers are fed a bespoke diet,” adds Tony. Heifers calve between 22-24 months old when they weigh 600kg and as soon as they calve, they are given a reviver product to rehydrate, boost energy levels and encourage their appetite. Although Will has not set out to select genetics on the basis of production, the herd average 305-day yield currently stands at an impressive 9,995 litres, with 50 per cent of the herd comprising first and second lactation animals. Will says: “We are hoping to

break the 10,000-litre bar next month and over the next year we hope to add 500 litres to our herd average. We supply Saputo Dairy UK on a constituent contract, so we are working closely with Harpers to ensure our butterfat and protein levels remain high throughout the year. “In the parlour, the high yielders will receive 9kg split into two feeds of Harpers Buttermax which is 18 per cent protein with a high sugar beet content to maintain energy levels. The cows are buffer fed with second cut silage and a blend in the shed during the day in summer. “Over the autumn and winter,

In our business plan we aim to produce between 1.8 million and 2m litres of milk by year five TONY MITCHELL

we feed a mix of grass silage, maize, home-grown wheat, a protein mix containing soya, maize, rape and distillers grains supplemented with UFAC Supa Cream, a mycotoxin binder, mineral and a rumen buffer. “Our maize is harvested with a shredledge unit on the forager and this year it is the best we have ever made, analysing at 42 per cent DM, 39 per cent starch and 12.8 ME. We add this to the

ration during late autumn. “Harpers analyse our silage on a regular basis to monitor and check the rations are balanced and effective,” Will says. Cows are turned out after first cut silage, usually in the first week in May and are out day and night until July when cows are housed during the day, as daily temperatures rise. Will says: “Eighteen months ago we invested in SenseTime technology. As well as helping us with heat detection, it has enabled us to monitor rumination, which aids early diagnosis so we can isolate and treat cows appropriately. “We have introduced strict milking protocols which include pre- and post-dipping. We use selective dry cow therapy and now more than 90 per cent of the herd receive no antibiotics at drying off,” adds Will.

Farm facts ■ St Kew Barton Farm is situated in North Cornwall where Tony Mitchell and his wife, Lindsey and son Will are Duchy of Cornwall tenants ■ The farm is 162ha (400 acres) comprising about 61ha (150 acres) of maize and

Big Dairy p14 15 Harper Case Study 2.indd 3

cereals and 100ha (250 acres) a mixture of permanent and temporary grass leys ■ The Laram herd of pedigree Holsteins is an allyear-round calving herd of 84 cows ■ The Mitchells recently bred heifer, Laram Rubi-Agronaut

Cosmopolitan, with a PLI of £798 which ranked 13 in the UK ■ Plan is to milk 120 cows by 2020, with the aim of growing numbers to between 150 and 180 cows in the milking herd by 2021 through the use of embryo

transfer and sexed semen ■ Virtually no antibiotics are used on the farm and cows are all vaccinated against salmonella, IBR, BVD and leptospirosis. Newborn calves are BVD tagged and tested and then vaccinated from nine days old

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“The excellent results we get with Sexcel mean we breed all of our replacements from the top 90% of heifers and our better first lactation animals, boosting genetic progress and maximising our beef calf crop.” Stephen and Sarah Suckley - Jones, Banhadla Farm, UK

Profit from Genetic Progress Learn more at WWW.GENUSBREEDING.COM  or talk to your Genus ABS representative today to bring your herd’s future into focus.  Alpha Building, London Road, Nantwich, CW5 7JW

PG_12_P16.indd 1


01270 616681

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‘Implementing the necessary management protocols is essential’


or farmers looking to build sustainable businesses, assessing every aspect of herd management to identify where improvements could result in higher yields, better welfare and fertility and greater longevity is key. Huw McConochie, research nutritionist with Zinpro, believes a holistic approach is required to tackle common cow health problems but correct nutrition, including trace elements, is an important part of the picture. He says: “When looking to tackle performance issues in dairy herds, it is clear cows are often kept in challenging environments. Correcting these problems can require significant investment in the longer term, which is not always possible. “Conversely, addressing operational elements of the system and nutritional deficiencies can be acted upon immediately and can play a significant role in improving lifetime performance.” Dr McConochie says more

Excessive inflammation in transition dairy cows is the link between inadequate cow management and transition diseases HUW McCONOCHIE

Big Dairy p17 Zinpro Intro.indd 3

progressive farmers appreciate the importance of proactive cow management, especially during the transition phase. “Transition diseases are a consequence of late lactation nutrition and management during the dry period which predisposes the cow to an increased risk of a poor transition into lactation. Excessive inflammation in transition dairy cows is the link between inadequate cow management and transition diseases but by the time it is evident, it is usually too late. “Controlled inflammation is a normal part of transition as cows overcome the rigours of parturition and settle into milk production. “In contrast, uncontrolled inflammation is associated with over-conditioning, excessive body weight loss, infections such as mastitis and metritis, and damage to tissues associated with conditions such as acidosis and lameness. Oxidative stress is also a major challenge for transition dairy cows. “Feeding a performance trace mineral supplement, such as Zinpro’s Availa-4, provides a combination of trace elements which are vital for immunity, reproduction, skin and hoof integrity, growth and muscle development, milk production, rumen health and energy metabolism,” he says. Organic zinc, manganese and copper are the main constituent elements in the product and together with selenium they are essential components of the anti-oxidant defence system. Dr McConochie says: “Although

Huw McConochie

demand for trace minerals declines during lactation, it is worth remembering the foetus will be growing. In the final stages of pregnancy, the dam will be expending additional resources to support calf development, so it is vital to continue supplementing during this period. “Similarly, at peak lactation, the cow’s level of metabolism is so high, it is vital to have an adequate supply of the elements she needs because otherwise she may begin to deplete her reserves which will have an adverse impact.”

Lameness Lameness is a common issue which leads to poor reproductive performance, reduced milk yield and premature removal from the herd. Recognising the cause of the problem through regular locomotion scoring and careful and frequent assessment of lesions is the first stage to addressing the problem. Dr McConochie says: “Implementing the necessary management protocols, including routine foot trimming combined with effective foot bathing for the entire herd,

including dry cows is essential. “Using the correct formulation for the footbath solution and ensuring cows pass through it regularly are management strategies which can be easily implemented. It is vital to monitor the prevalence of digital dermatitis in heifers and dry cows as they can be an important reservoir for the disease within a herd. “Zinpro has developed tools to help assess the effectiveness of the foot health regime. Its ‘FirstStep’ app forms part of a troubleshooting service which helps identify the cause of the lameness and then take the necessary steps to confront it,” Dr McConochie says. He acknowledges lameness is usually the result of more than one management issue, such as walking surfaces and stall design, but says nutrition is often a major factor. “Feeding the correct levels of minerals is a vital part of tackling poor locomotion because zinc and copper are both necessary for good horn formation. Zinpro products contain a unique metal amino acid complex making the minerals stable throughout the digestive tract,” he says.

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Dairying at the foot of the Welsh hills brings its own challenges, but Richard Pilkington has succeeded in establishing one of the most productive pedigree Holstein herds in the country.

Collaboration helps implement new strategies to keep herd at the top


ombining a successful commercial dairy enterprise with selling pedigree Holsteins and Friesian cows from highly regarded cow families necessitates exceptional attention to detail. Mr Pilkington has not been afraid to seek the advice of others to find solutions to some of the issues he has faced. Digital dermatitis (DD) was one such problem and despite implementing rigorous foot bathing and targeted foot trimming, rates within the herd remained at unacceptable levels. Mr Pilkington says: “We were already footbathing five times a week through a 200-litre bath and then Huw McConochie of Zinpro came to see us and recommended making some changes to our footbath solution. This included adding washing-up liquid together with a small measure of sodium bi-sulphate. “The sodium bi-sulphate is a chemical used in swimming pools and it had the effect of reducing the pH so the chemical remains active for longer and improves the solunbility of the

Washing up liquid was added to the footbath solution.

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A specific mineral formula was included in the ration for the milking her and dry cows.

copper sulphate. The inclusion rate was only 1-2g per litre of solution but it had a big effect on the effectiveness of the solution.

Effective “The washing up liquid was the cleaning agent and I was surprised at how effective it was when added to the solution. It improves the interaction of the chemical with the skin but also over time helps to remove the manure from the heels,” Mr Pilkington explains. Spending time locomotion

scoring the cows and then examining their feet carefully was instrumental in reducing the incidence of the disease in the herd, according to Mr Pilkington. “Each month we would locomotion score the cows and examine every cow for the presence of DD lesions. Key to this was looking carefully at the heels of every cow daily in the parlour with an LED torch so any lesions could be picked up immediately. “Over time, the number of cows affected began to reduce dramatically. Once we had a list of just five or six cows which required attention, we could really get on top of it.” Dr McConochie visited Mr Pilkington on a monthly basis to offer hands-on practical advice and support. He says: “We needed to break the issue down into its component parts so we could address each one systematically. We considered

We needed to break the issue down into its component parts so we could address each one systematically HUW McCONOCHIE

hoof horn quality and how the correct mineral balance is essential to promote healthy formation of the hoof to reduce the incidence of lesions, which in turn, predisposes a cow to other problems. “We provided a specific mineral formula, Availa-4, which contains the required organic trace minerals and this was included in the ration for the milking herd and the dry cows. “When I first began working with Richard, the

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The team continues to locomotion score regularly.

Farm facts ■ Shordley Hall Farm extends to 324 hectares (800 acres) and is situated on the Welsh border just north of Wrexham. The farm is about half grass and the remainder comprises wheat, hybrid rye – used for dry cow feed, maize and root crops for the sheep ■ The Aintree herd of pedigree Holsteins calves

DD rate within the herd was approaching half of the animals but over time we reduced it to significantly and now there are only occasional cases. “Controlling the disease requires the implementation of a number of different measures

all year round and the cows are milked three-timesa-day. Mr Pilkington also has a small herd of elite pedigree Friesians ■ There are 260 cows in the milking herd, plus 200 followers. The average yield is 10,950 litres, butterfat is 3.92 per cent and protein 3.28 per cent. Milk is sold to Muller on a volume contract

and a concentrated effort over a period of time,” Dr McConochie says.

Proactive Mr Pilkington agrees, pointing to the changes in management he has made to combat DD:

Fans provide good ventilation in the cubicle housing.

Big Dairy p18 19 Zinpro Case Study 1.indd 3

“We have always been very rigorous about scraping and changing the cubicle beds at least three times a day. We continue to locomotion score very regularly and we are now more proactive about foot trimming.” Ensuring dry cows and heifers are included in the treatment protocols is important, Mr Mc Cononchie says, because otherwise they will act as a reservoir for the disease. “This can be more difficult, particularly when planning how dry cows and heifers can be foot bathed regularly. It is vital they are examined frequently so any infectious lesions can be treated as otherwise they will cause a

snowball effect as the disease spreads.” Mr Pilkington is now confident the disease has been largely eradicated after implemeting strict examination procedures which are now standard practice for all his cows. He says: “Investing in a cow comfort crush allows our trained staff to examine the feet properly and being able to trim them and remove lesions effectively has made all the difference. It is rather like a jigsaw puzzle; it is about the feed and the minerals, the housing and the management – they all play a role in maintaining foot health.”

The business invested in a cow comfort crush to aid with cow foot care.

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Making targeted improvements to cow health, feeding and genetics is boosting performance on a family dairy farm in the Midlands.

Most of the forage is home-grown.

Dave Richards

Small improvements have paid big dividends in herd performance


passion for dairy farming led Dave Richards to bring milking cows back to the family farm after his father retired. Now he manages one of the most progressive herds in the area and is constantly seeking ways to improve cow health and welfare and milk from forage. The Richards family has farmed at Ridgend, near Wichenford, Worcestershire, for 75 years, initially as tenants but then they were able to buy the farm in 1981. Dave Richards’s father worked hard to repay the mortgage so by the time Dave entered the business in 1997, his father had opted for a quieter life and sold the milking cows. Mr Richards started out small with just 20 cows but he has gradually built up the business and he now milks 300 cows. Grass forms the mainstay of his system and most of the forage is home-grown.

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Mr Richards says: “Our milk contract requires us to graze all the cows for at least six months so making sure our grassland management is right is very important. We have a fantastic climate here for growing grass because it is warm, but with enough rain for the clay loam soils.”

very impressed by the results. He says: “We grew forage rye between the maize and the grass reseed and it worked really well. It provided some much needed additional forage and it also rebooted the system so the grass ley established very well afterwards. “I do not like to see any bare ground on the farm, so we are hoping to do the same this year

if the weather allows,” he adds. Trying to make many small improvements to all aspects of the system at Ridgend Farm has paid dividends for Mr Richards as performance has improved year-on-year across a range of parameters. He says: “I work very closely with the vet and my nutritionist to maximise cow health and

Reseed He adds: “We are on a paddock grazing system so I am using a plate meter to measure the sward. We reseed regularly and more recently we have opted for a seed mix which tends more towards a grazing ley. “Over summer cows are out at grass most of the time, but when they come in we top up with TMR which contains the grass silage together with crimped maize, protected rapeseed and a blend. After a challenging year last year where forage was in very short supply on-farm, Mr Richards experimented with a catch crop of forage rye and was

Farm facts ■ Ridgend Farm is located outside the village of Wichenford to the north west of Worcester ■ Dave Richards farms 182ha (450 acres) at the home farm with a further 40.4ha (100 acres) rented ■ Milking herd of 300 cows plus followers ■ Herd is all-year-round calving with the aim of achieving a flat milk profile ■ Cows are grazed on a rotational paddock grazing

system from April until October and the grass is supplemented with a TMR comprising grass silage, crimped maize, protected rapeseed and a blend plus Zinpro Performance Minerals ■ Milk is sold through an aligned contract and he is paid on volume. Cows are currently averaging a yield of 10,500 litres with 3.7 per cent butterfat and 3.35 per cent protein

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A tailor-made mineral is added to the ration based on any deficiencies identified following forage analysis.

to ensure their diet precisely matches their nutritional requirements so they can reach their productive potential. Life is simple if our cows are healthy so we will make the best use of any tools available to help us maintain a robust, easy system,” Mr Richards says.

Health Although he has had few specific health problems in the herd, Mr Richards has been adding Zinpro performance minerals to the TMR for several years. He says: “We have been feeding a tailor-made mineral to the ration based on any deficiencies identified following the forage analysis. We have quite high molybdenum levels and because this can act as an antagonist, particularly affecting copper availability, the addition of Zinpro performance minerals ensures the cows receive everything they need. “Achieving high herd health status is very important to us. We are very proud to be BVD free but TB remains the biggest threat and we are now in a cull area. “Our cows have excellent foot health and we have a very low percentage of lame cows. Overall, the performance of the

Big Dairy p20 21 Zinpro Case Study2.indd 3

We have formed a separate heifer group and this has been very successful DAVE RICHARDS

herd is consistently good and now we are focusing on tackling the very occasional spike in mastitis cases. “We are working hard to reduce our somatic cell count, because while more than 80 per cent of cows in the herd are below 100 cells, we have a few repeat offenders. We are trying to increase cow numbers and so we have held onto these cows when we really should have moved them on. “We need to become tougher because these cows are causing our herd average to be too high.” Mr Richards’ aim of expanding the herd size was thwarted initially by being short of grass.So while he has focused on selecting the best genetics to improve the herd, he has not been able to be as selective as he would like to be when rearing replacements.

“We are now using genomics to identify the bottom proportion of the heifers so these can be bred to beef. It is our intention to phase out these low performing families so we can focus on rearing replacements from those heifers with the best genetic potential,” Mr Richards explains.

Calves Producing calves which ‘hit the ground running’ is another priority and the correct mineral supplementation of the cow during early pregnancy through to the transition phase has been instrumental in achieving this. “We measure colostrum intake to make sure calves are taking sufficient quantities. The calves are then reared in small groups and the target is for them to gain a kilo a day while on milk and then averaging 0.8kg per day once they are weaned. “We are aiming for a target weight of 380kg at 12 months and they are aged between 22-23 months old at calving and weighing 630kg when they join the herd,” Mr Richards explains. Observing the dynamics and behaviour among the heifer cows after calving persuaded Mr Richards to make some changes to the management

of this group to reduce stress. “We have formed a separate heifer group and this has been very successful. The heifers seem much quieter when kept apart with their pier group and there are no signs of bullying. “We have found the conception rates in the heifers have increased since doing this. After their second calving, they join the main herd.” Assessing the relative benefits of different options has resulted in a change in strategy when serving this heifer group after first calving. “We have increased the voluntary waiting period from 40 days to 70 days and have found a marked increase in the conception rates. Our heifers were joining the herd at a young age and then we were serving them again soon afterwards. “We were drying off some heifers that were giving 12,000 litres. By allowing them an extra 30 days, they continued to give good yields and it gave them the opportunity to put on more condition before calving. “Another benefit is they are now giving more milk in their second lactation. So, on balance, it has worked very well,” Mr Richards says.


Calves are reared in small groups.

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Supply chain



Matching quality and quantity of milk to the needs of a supply contract ensures maximum revenue, but there is much more to making the most of the relationship with the buyer in an increasingly competitive market.

Joined up approach can help build positive supply chain partnerships


here continues to be a small but persistent oversupply of milk which arises because of the continued expansion of most units, despite some producers leaving the industry. Matt Sheehan, principal consultant with Promar, says this imbalance suggests the supply chain is not as joined up as it needs to be. “Production plans on-farm are sometimes disconnected from market needs. Market signals do not filter through effectively, leaving the current milk price as often the only tool to influence production plans,” he says. “The industry also has to acknowledge external influences and adapt accordingly. There are those who oppose and challenge dairy production and who are influential, especially the millennial generation, many of

whom are turning away from dairy.” Mr Sheehan says. Despite this, he remains optimistic, suggesting farmers who are willing to engage with their buyer can look to a bright future. He explains there are a number of well-established supply chain relationships and schemes which are effectively transmitting market signals and developing longer-term, more strategic decision making to ensure consumer needs and pressures are met.

Opportunities He believes there are opportunities for more progressive farmers to exploit these positive partnerships. He says: “A farmer who is willing to engage with the supply chain, both upstream and downstream and who understands what the market wants, can be more successful. Mr Sheehan believes there

are broadly four different groups of farmers in terms of how they respond and interact with their milk buyers. He says: “The first group of farmers do not engage with their milk buyer or wish to understand their customers. They simply want to get on and farm. “Many have already exited from the dairy sector and will continue to do so, as ignoring the pressures of the market no longer works.” He says the existence of this first group probably reflects the culture and practice of the dairy industry historically, where the farmer was so remote from the market for his product. He says this approach is no longer tenable. “The second approach is where producers are reluctant to do any more than they have to. They are unwilling to change and adapt reluctantly to a shifting market. This type

A farmer who is willing to engage with the supply chain, both upstream and downstream and who understands what the market wants, can be more successful MATT SHEEHAN Matt Sheehan

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of attitude still persists with some, but will not pay dividends in the future. “The third way of thinking is farmers who adopt a responsible approach to their contract, aiming to at least achieve all the standards expected of them. They probably use an adviser to help them move forward and embrace technology as far as they can. “Finally, you have the pioneers who take a proactive approach and try to keep one step ahead of the market, thinking more widely about what their customer and consumers will want in the future. “These farmers are often members of discussion groups, they benchmark their own data, seek outside advice and different opinions and will engage regularly and positively with their processor and secondary customer. They display an open mind set in relation to potential changes and future demands. Mr Sheehan believes the four categories define a model which represents the increasing maturity of the sector. “It is inevitable that over time, this last group will come to dominate the marketplace as the industry becomes more demanding. Farmers will need to adhere to higher standards across their business, whether it is cow welfare, people management or environmental improvement, as well as coping with increasing commercial pressures.

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Supply chain

“Meeting these demands will be best achieved by working with supply chain partners and finding common, shared, solutions. It will also provide the producers and the wider industry with a very positive story to tell. Maintaining clear lines of communication with a milk buyer is essential, Mr Sheehan says, pointing to the example of how many farmers fail to inform their buyer when they plan to increase production.

Communication He says: “Many farmers significantly increase their milk output but do not even think to tell their buyer. “There has to be a dialogue because very often there is an assumption the milk will just find a home and the price received will stay the same. This is against a background of an absence of an immediate market for the milk or additional costs being incurred elsewhere in the supply chain. He urges producers to invite their buyers to the farm to open the dialogue. Asking them what they are looking for from suppliers in the next one to five years is a good starting point for the discussion. “Ask the supplier what you need to do to become a supplier of choice in the future and how you can best work together in the future. “This conversation is likely to flush out a range of issues from changing milk quality standards, milk production requirements, future welfare and environmental expectations and reactions to likely policy changes. All of these will help a producer to stay one step ahead and establish a positive on-going relationship with the buyer.”

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The Farmer’s View

Michael Oakes


ichael Oakes is the chairman of the NFU dairy board and a tenant farmer on the outskirts of Birmingham. He runs a closed herd of 180 pedigree Holsteins selling milk to Arla and he is striving to improve relationships between farmers, processors and end users. “The UK is lagging behind the rest of Europe on milk price and the industry has had to cope with several years of very tight margins and massively increased costs. As farmers, we need to focus on the things we have control of, but investing to produce more from less is very difficult when the milk cheque does not pay all the bills,” Mr Oakes acknowledges. Mr Oakes says the processing market is changing and where the milk is produced and the quality is becoming more important. “The cost of transporting milk to market is a significant factor and there may come a time where dairy farmers

who are a long way from the processing factory have to face difficult choices. We are already seeing this happen where producers are located a long way from the market.” It is not all doom and gloom, however, and Mr Oakes believes there is still scope to increase domestic consumption of dairy products, as the UK is still only 80 per cent self-sufficient.

Potential “There is potential to increase UK sales of milk and dairy products but it is a very competitive market. There are also opportunities to export globally and some UK companies are telling us they can make a higher margin by exporting quality products such as artisan cheeses to the United States than they can selling them at home. “If we are to make the most of these markets there needs to be a constructive partnership between farmers, processors and Government to invest in and foster these relationships.” Despite all the criticism,

Mr Oakes believes the industry can put forward a strong argument in its favour, whether it is animal welfare or the environment and climate change. He says: “We have a fantastic story to tell about UK dairy production. We are at the forefront of reducing antibiotic use. We have made a commitment that as an industry, we will reach net zero emissions by 2040 and this presents a significant opportunity. “We have to communicate the message that our dairy farms are grass-based systems and grass leys are very effective at sequestrating carbon and feeding it back into the soil. We are very much part of the climate change solution.”

As farmers, we need to focus on the things we have control of MICHAEL OAKES

” 22/11/2019 13:44

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Progressive Dairy - December 2019  

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