A new and unfamiliar face among the dairy cows inevitably causes some disruption, but James Bowditch and his father Robert are impressed with how new herdsman Mark Bayliss has managed the change.
“There’s still some disruption to the calving pattern at Knowle Farm (part of Cooper Dean Estate), but it will come right soon,” says Robert.
“Mark has brought cell counts down dramatically, from up to 230 back to 125.”
A carrier cow was to blame, he says.
“It could have been down to the plant, or a number of other factors, but we chose to separate all the cows with high cell counts and treat them.”
Working with Robert’s brother Matt, a vet, the team began to cull those cows which failed to respond to treatment.
Cows in the isolated block were milked last, which meant a lot of extra time and effort for Mark.
“But we’ve conquered it,” says Robert.
Watching Mark tackle the problems has set James thinking about how he can adapt his approach to managing the farms’ team, which includes five full-time workers, four relief milkers and one student.
And so he was interested to hear Farmcare’s David Gardner speak at a recent seminar organised by DEFRA and the Kingshay Farming Trust in Dorchester.
“One of the most interesting ideas was to have yearly reviews with individual staff; an opportunity to talk about what they want to achieve and how that can fit in with the farm and the rest of the team, as well as what we want from them.”
Taking time away from the day-to-day management was beneficial in itself, he says.
“It allowed me to step back and see everyone on the farm with a fresh pair of eyes.
“Once staff begin to know other people’s interests, commitments and the demands on their time, it encourages consideration among the whole team.”
But the job of running a farm team does include times when the manager has to address accidents, mistakes and errors, James says.
“But to level criticism is not necessarily the right approach.”
Farm staff will have long-term ambitions and goals, and it is pointless to overlook that, he adds.
“One of the herdsman has recently got married and he and his wife wanted to restore an orchard they had bought.
So we have been and discussed how that can fit in with his milking commitments and found a way it can work.”
The seminar was billed, The Future’s Bright – The Future’s White, but James doesn’t agree that is entirely true.
“More than 80% of milk is sold to the top five supermarket retailers, compared with 64% in 1996.
They have just got too much clout.
“There are industry hopes of Eastern bloc countries taking New Zealand supplies away from us, and of marketing milk into China.
But you can’t plan a farm business around pipedreams like that.”
Closer to home, the dairy herds have moved on to winter rations, and James has been experimenting to see if he can shave any extra costs.
Removing the protected fat supplement Megalac, which costs 350/t, saw a noticeable drop in yield at North Bowood, he says.
“It’s worth about 2 litres a cow a day, and does help them keep condition.”
Together, the dairy herds are turning their rations into milk well.
“We are trying to use crimped wheat more effectively this year, and reduce blend use slightly, but we have to keep the crimp wall moving back at the right pace to keep it fresh.
But our grass silage is some of the best we have made for years, with dry matter at 29%, ME at 11.2% and protein at 13.4%.”
The indoor beef bulls are also feeding well.
“For a bit of inspiration we visited a farm that had left dairying and moved to a pretty big beef operation, and all our staff involved in our beef job came with us.”
It was clear some pens at Bowditch Farms needed modifying to cope with the intensive wear and tear of the bulls, and the trip proved worthwhile.
“As soon as we were back the welders were going on the barley bull feeders.
We’ve seen how offering extra responsibility to those that show enthusiasm for it can reward everyone,” says James.