KEEPING FRESH calved cows out of the milking group is the latest change to management that has improved cow performance and eased removal of colostrum from bulk milk on an Essex dairy unit.

Using a separate area of loose housing and special diet for between four days and about two weeks post-calving at Boyton Hall Farm, Finchingfield, follows other changes to nutrition over the past year. With low butterfat and fertility concerns, Nick Loftus decided a specialist nutritionist would benefit his 260-cow herd.

Kingshay One-2-One adviser Malcolm Graham made some alterations to milking cow rations to boost milk fat percentage to ensure it remained above the legal requirement. But, as milk is sold on a liquid contract, Mr Loftus is not keen for it to be too high, as it uses extra quota without any benefit to the milk price.

But Mr Loftus and herd manager Andrew Crooks believes changes to transition – pre and post-calving – management are the most beneficial. They list improvements in cow yield, near elimination of milk fever cases, reduced condition score loss post-calving and improved conception as the main benefits. Calves are also born bigger and healthier.

Cow yields have risen by 1000 litres in the past year to an 8800-litre rolling average. Half of this has probably come from transition cow management and half from improved management through lactation, reckons Mr Crooks.

He is also confident fertility is improving and hopes reducing calving interval to 375 days will boost yields by another 500 litres. “It is early days for fertility, but recent pregnancy diagnosis results have been more consistent.”

Conception rates for autumn calvers, in the May to December calving herd, have been a particular problem in the past. “In autumn, fresh calvers walk straight back out to grass rather than compete for buffer feed,” says Mr Crooks.

He reckons keeping autumn calvers in the separate, TLC, group until fit to join the main group has helped them to get a better start, reducing condition score loss and boosting fertility.

With time pressures on staff, there was an initial reluctance to keep this extra group. But they liked the idea proposed by Mr Graham and have adapted it to suit accommodation available.

Now they can see the extra half hour it takes to feed and clean the group means better performance and hassle saved elsewhere. As any other cows having antibiotic treatment are also put in this group, it saves time during milking and all this group”s milk can easily be diverted out of the bulk tank.

This group’s diet is based on the dry cow diet fed for three weeks before calving. Close to calving dry cows have been managed separately for some years, but are now fed on a diet based on ingredients in the milkers’ ration.

The post-calving, TLC group ration has more ingredients of the milkers” mixed ration added, says Mr Graham. But it still has less caustic wheat and brewers” grains than milkers are fed, no protected fat and dry cow minerals.

“The aim is to prepare the cow’s rumen, but not to push her to produce milk until she is ready to look after herself.”

This year, for the first time, whole-crop is being mixed with maize and grass silage through winter, rather than saving it for summer. This extra fibre also seems to be benefiting cow condition and butterfat percentages.