Technical nutrition adviser – Biotal
Life changing. That’s the description of the impact that feed nutritionist, Ian Smith, has had on some of his Nottinghamshire clients dairy herds.
“If it were not for Ian’s intervention six years ago, we wouldn’t be milking cows here today,” says Steve Leveridge who milks 125 cows with partner Jacky Nullis at Red House Farm, Dry Doddington near Newark.
When Ian arrived on their farm, the cows suffered from depressed milk yields, bad fertility and ill health. Tweaks to the diet advised by various nutritionists just seemed to make things worse, admits Mr Leveridge.
Then Ian came along and he not only changed the diet, but offered guidance on silage making, buildings, water troughs and condition scoring. The dairy cows are now averaging 11,000 litres with butterfat at 4.1% and protein 3.2%. “He has been a great teacher – explaining his ideas and thinking, which has given me confidence to produce good silage and take the business forward,” says Mr Leveridge.
And Nigel Armstrong, herd manager for the University of Nottingham Dairy Centre is quick to add his praise: “I visited Steve’s farm and was amazed by their performance and health so I asked him who was advising him on feed. Our own herd had major health problems with metritis, sub-clinical acidosis and displaced abomasums (DAs),” says Mr Anderson.
In just over 12 months, “Smithy’s Menu Board” as he calls it for milking cows, dry cow groups and general rumen health has transformed the performance and health of the cows in the university herd from averaging up to 30 litres per cow to almost 40. “DAs are now non-existent and the cow’s health and rumination excellent,” adds Mr Anderson.
Another seven testimonials in the same vein can be added to these accolades, which is pretty good for a “sports-mad city kid” with little to no farming experience.
Ian went to agricultural college, rather than join his father in the motor industry. He spent time with West Midlands Council as an animals inspector and more than 15 years with BOCM Pauls, before moving to Agriplan and has spent the past six years with Biotal. He is the company’s technical nutritional support for the direct sales team and merchant distributors. He is often called in to “troubleshoot” poor dairy feed performance and manages nearly 50 clients, seeing 30 on a regular monthly basis.
What’s the secret of his success? It’s not just the pair of ladies’ stockings he uses to sieve cow manure, nor the can of Fosters to measure grass height; it is simply understanding the basic needs of the animal and diagnostic nutrition, he says. That means not trusting silage analysis to the lab and taking his own microwave and scales to quantify dry matter.
He walks every inch of his clients’ dairy parlour, cow sheds and silage/slurry operations to get an overview of a dairy herd’s performance before getting out his diagnostic tools to “measure and monitor” yield quality, intakes, waste, body condition, rumen fill, cudding rates, dung consistency and fertility. He takes a holistic approach to nutrition, factoring in cow comfort, feed and space.
He looks at nutrition from what the cow as a ruminant needs. It’s not just a ration on a computer. And producing high-quality home-grown feed is at the heart of Ian’s nutrition plan, with grass and wholecrop silage regular elements on his feed menu.
He is developing nutritional protocols with selected clients that will hopefully give them the confidence and skills to take the “stabilisers off” as he puts it. “It will be good to see clients and their staff having greater independence and job satisfaction,” he says.
With the very little spare time that he has, Ian gives presentations to farmer discussion groups and breed and grassland societies. He sits on the British Grassland Council and is secretary for the Derbyshire Grassland Society.
Clients: 30 regular clients and up to 50 for one-off advice
Specialism: Dairy cow nutrition
“Ian’s hands-on approach to meeting the cow’s needs first and foremost is having a great impact on his clients’ needs and profitability.” Roger Mercer, independent judge
What the judges liked
• Highly focused on cow performance
• Enthusiastic, energetic and hard working
• Making a significant impact on the economic viability of dairy herds in his area