BETTER MILK prices and a decent margin are encouraging James Bowditch to boost milk production.

The average margin over purchased feed at the farm’s North Bowood herd is 1169 per cow, or 14.94p/litre.”We’re finally getting 19.5p/litre with Milk Link so we’re going for every litre of milk that we can,” he says.

Another catalyst for greater output is that Mr Bowditch does not view quota as a limiting factor this season. The farms currently own 2.8m litres and lease a total of 300,000 litres of quota, and have produced 2.5m litres so far this milk year. “I think quota will be here for the next 12 years, but I don’t think we’ll reach it again,” he says.

He has enlisted the help of independent feed adviser Trevor Birchall to get the most out of the Keenan total mixed ration system, which was introduced to the Knowle and North Bowood herds last year. “I’ve done my expansion on the numbers – now I”m aiming to look after those cows better. If you’re using the feeder wagon, you might as well do it properly. I want to get them all to the 9000-litre mark.”

The rolling 12-month average output to December for the North Bowood herd of 130 cows was 8100 litres, while butterfat and protein levels for the month hit 4.3% and 3.7% respectively. Knowle Farm has 150 cows averaging 8400 litres at the same butterfat and protein levels, while Yard Farm has 140 cows of better genetic value yielding 9100 litres at 3.88% butterfat and 3.41% protein.

Yard Farm is still on a self-feed system because it would cost too much to convert the buildings to accommodate the feeder.

Mr Bowditch is paying much more attention to the dry cow transition diets up to calving, especially in the last three weeks of pregnancy.

The dry cows receive 30% of the full lactation diet with straw and an energy additive, Trans Omega F, to boost energy, protein and mineral content. This costs 69p per cow a day, but should raise each cow”s lactation by 500 litres, he says.

Cow comfort

Housing the cows is another important issue, as better cow comfort and hygiene will boost yields and cut vet bills. Already 3000 has been spent on 30 new cubicles at North Bowood, and the same again is earmarked to replace cubicles at the other two dairies this summer.

The new cubicles should help reduce somatic cell counts, which have become a bit of a problem at Yard Farm. Mr Bowditch recently attended a mastitis workshop with one of his dairymen and is now targeting treatment more effectively. “It was the best morning you could spend in between milking. We discovered that you can waste so much money on antibiotics.”

He is working closely with his uncle, vet Matthew Bowditch, to bring cell counts below 200,000 on all the farms. “With Milk Link that will increase income by 4000 for every 100 cows.” Yard Farm is proving the most problematic, with a recent batch of milk testing at 240,000 and resulting in a 0.5p/litre price cut.

The Cooper Dean herd is currently testing at 165,000 but three of the last six tests have been slightly over 190,000. The new cubicles, improved hygiene and better disease management at North Bowood maintain SCCs at 125,000 to 150,000 in the winter, and Mr Bowditch hopes to emulate this on the other two farms.

On the arable front, land has been too wet to travel on since the November spraying campaign. Mr Bowditch has spent 100 having the soil on the 10 fields going into potatoes and cereals analysed. The fields furthest from the dairies are the poorest, as they are not receiving as much manure – something he plans to remedy this year.

But most fields tested well, and will require only 187.5kg/ha of MOP 0-0-60 fertiliser instead of a full 350kg/ha of 0-20-30 compound. “That should save 5000 on each farm, which is 15,000 across the estate. It is a huge saving.”

That will help the planned purchase of a new tractor to replace an older one with 8000 hours on the clock. “We are looking at downsizing from a New Holland TM150 to a TS-A 135, which has a better power-to-weight ratio.”

As the main ploughing tractor, this lighter machine costs slightly less and should be cheaper to run. But the decision has yet to be made, as prices from John Deere have been increasingly competitive, he says.