Targeted breeding to tackle lameness has paid off for the Lambert family at Darfield Farm, Stockbridge, Hampshire, where 95% of their 170-strong Holstein herd score 0-1 on locomotion.
The farm has been using computerised mating programme Genetic Management Services (GMS) for the past 18 years, with a focus on selecting bulls for good legs and feet.
Speaking at an LKL open day at Darfield Farm, Steve Mitchell from Genus said: “A lot of people are very cynical about computerised mating programmes, but I think GMS has significantly improved this herd over the last 18 years. It is essentially a computerised dating service, which gets better use of the semen that the farmer is using.”
The system produces a mating list based on information from selected bulls each season, against a scoring system for every cow on the herd, which considers traits such as stature, legs, side, foot angle etc.
“We score cows twice during their working life, and put all that information into the computer. We then feed the bull information in and that gives us our mating list which we use in the breeding system,” added Mr Mitchell.
“We use the durability formula to try and create the longevity cow, and we are looking at using bulls that will improve legs and feet, and more recently we have started emphasising fertility index.”
He said an added benefit of the programme is a reduction in inbreeding, with the Darfield herd scoring a low 2.4% inbred rate.
Getting the ration right
Getting the ration right and working to reduce poor intakes is essential in ensuring a healthy rumen, says Jim Willshire from the Endell Vet Group.
Speaking to delegates about rumen health, he said dairy cows needed to consume a huge amount of energy, and poor intakes were a common complaint causing problems such as body condition loss, poor fertility, poor milk yield and an increased risk of culling.
“Intakes are essential, and making sure that the forage dry matter is correct and the ration is formulated right, is really important,” said Mr Willshire.
He said cows in the dry period and lame cows were particularly at risk because they naturally wanted to eat less during these times. In addition, he said insufficient fibre levels, as a result of poor intake, could result in a decrease in pH and a drop in butterfats.
However, he warned poor intakes were not necessarily a whole herd problem, and could be a problem suffered only by individual cows.
The cattle at Darfield Farm are fed a specific ration, and only grazed on grass for a few hours a day during the summer months. The annual yield per cow is 11,441 litres based on an average diet of 2,477kg straights and 0.22kg concentrate a litre.
Herdsman Steve Lee said: “The aim for me when they go out in spring is that they have as little grass as possible – it’s all strictly rationed.
“And as far as I’m concerned, the next lactation starts at drying off. They go out for about four weeks and then come into transition on a ration as well.”
Communication is key
Dairy farmers can improve teamwork by working on communication and leadership, says LKL managing director George Gordon.
Addressing labour challenges in the dairy sector, Mr Gordon said farmers could improve their farm without spending a penny.
“Communication is a pretty poorly understood area, because people don’t know much about working with people and how to improve things. But everyone can improve and get more out of their team, making people want to work with them and also improving their personal lives,” said Mr Gordon.
He said making sure staff felt appreciated was paramount, and by being more assertive to your team you were likely to get more feedback if and when problems arise.