9 April 1999

High culling rate before cows hit third lactation

By Jeremy Hunt

WHO would pay £1750 a head for third lactation cows? Lancs dairy farmers were asked this when the real financial impact of a high herd culling rate was revealed to them by the Kingshay Farming Trust.

The £1750 figure is based on the number of third lactation cows remaining in the herd compared with the actual number of heifer replacements brought in three years previously.

Data received from 1050 UK herds in the Trusts investigation into cow longevity shows that some herds are culling 76% of their replacements before they reach their third lactation.

Of the 25 replacement heifers brought in to these low retention herds, only six were still milking as third lactation cows. These were initially worth £20,000, based on a value of £800 each as newly calved heifers.

The 76% culling rate removed 19 animals worth an estimated £500 a head, totalling £9500. The six remaining cows having reached their third lactation have, therefore, cost £10,500 in total, or £1750 each, said the Trusts development director, Duncan Forbes, when he addressed the NMR meeting.

"That is a horrifying figure. Making cows last longer means you have got to keep them in the herd. If you are selling them, they have to go because you choose to and not because you have to."

Even herds achieving a high retention rate of heifer replacements face third calvers costing £1342 based on a 52% culling rate over three years. In this calculation the cull value was reduced to a more realistic £300 an animal.

The longevity investigation, which has been jointly funded by NMR and the Milk Development Council, also compared the 25% of herds in the study with the lowest and highest heifer replacement rates.

It compared herds with a high heifer replacement rate – 30% – and averaging 3.3 lactations a cow, with herds achieving a low heifer replacement rate – 18% – and averaging 5.5 lactations.

Based on a 100-cow herd averaging 6500 litres and an £800 heifer replacement value, high replacement herds face costs of £24,000 compared with £14,400 for herds bringing in only 18 heifers a year.

"Working that through on an individual cow basis means improving lifespan from 3.3 to 5.5 lactations can achieve annual savings of over £6800, worth 1.05p/litre," said Mr Forbes.

The Trusts longevity investigation shows that 62% of cows are culled involuntarily, 18% are culled after the first lactation and 50% within the first three lactations.

"A dairy cow needs to reach its third lactation before it starts to leave any profit so dairy farmers need to ask themselves how many cows in their herd are actually making any money.

"The worst herds in our survey have 81% of involuntary culls. Fertility accounts for 20% of culls across all herds with the worst herds losing 30.8%.

"Across all herds in the investigation we saw an average cull rate of 8% for mastitis, 5% for lameness, 8% for cell count and 7% for low yield.

"Look closely at cow longevity and its impact on profitability. This study has highlighted areas of herd management that can be quantified in terms of culling rate. If you can measure it you can manage it and that has got to be the starting point for improvement," said Mr Forbes. &#42

&#8226 High cost of replacements.

&#8226 Impact on profitability.

&#8226 Quantify culling rate.

Some herds are culling 76% of replacements before their third lactation, says Duncan Forbes.

Beef cows return?

BEEF cows could return to the western Highlands of Scotland, thanks to a cheap system for over-wintering in wood-chip corrals.

Basil Lowman, SAC beef specialist says environmental agencies have been calling for a return of beef cows to those areas. "I think the corral system could make it possible. I now want these agencies to put up some money to let me test the idea in three or four sites on the west coast.

He estimates stocking at half the normal density for straw courts and a quarter of that for slats. The cost of the wood chips would be the same for three years as for one year of straw bedding.

"The environmental agencies such as Scottish Natural Heritage keep saying we need cattle back to mix with sheep and create a natural environment. Let them come up with the funding to test out something which gives a real possibility of getting cows back to these areas. It could save the environment from becoming a wilderness," says Dr Lowman.

A spokesman for SNH says it welcomes the idea in principle. "We will need a detailed proposal from Dr Lowman and we will then consider whether we could fund the project or encourage other government agencies to come up with the cash," he says. &#42

Third pig herd win for college

CANNINGTON college has won the BOCM Pauls agricultural college pig herd competition for the third year in a row.

Achieving 23.22 pigs sold/sow/ year, the colleges 140 NPD manor Meishan sows are managed by Keith Woollerson and farms director Steve Bryant. Sows at the Bridgwater, Somerset unit are currently being changed to Rattlerow Whitelands.

Runners-up in the competition are Plumpton college, Lewes, East Sussex, achieving 23.16 pigs sold/sow/year, and Oaklands college, St Albans, Herts, producing 22.8 pigs sold/sow/year.

According to latest MLC figures, average UK figure for pigs sold a year at slaughter weight, divided by total sows and gilts in the herd is 19.8. &#42

IN BRIEF

&#8226 THIS years SouWest Sheep event is to be held on May 7 at North West Farm, Winterbourne Kingston, Devon. South Sheep 99, on May 25, will be held at Cross Farm, Ipsden, Wallingford, Oxon.

&#8226 LEATHERJACKET numbers are at a nine year high, and up to half of newly emerging grass seedlings could be killed by feeding larvae, claims Dow AgroScience. Its Pest-watch report warns that leatherjacket activity will increase as weather becomes warmer. The company advises contacting agrochemical distributors to complete a risk assessment chart, sampling with a testing kit and treating areas when required. &#42

Bid to realise profit

PROFIT Potential reports, launched by NMR last week, aim to help Britains milk producers cut the £90m lost each year through poor health, infertility and low genetic merit.

Match targets

NMR estimates that if Britains milk producers could match its targets for factors such as calving interval and cell count they could benefit by £90m.

It bases its calculation on Potential Profit reports generated for the 13,000 producers currently using NMR milk recording.

The reports will be issued free to all NMR milk recorded herds in April and May and will then cost £2 a month from June, said NMRs Robin Turner at a press launch. Reports are generated using existing NMR data.

Up to now only physical performance has been available from NMR, said the companys product manager Catherine Smith. "Now we are identifying the financial implications on one page which is easy to read."

Cows contributing to financial loss are also listed so they can be targeted by producers.

Producers also have the option to record mastitis and lameness cases and can set their own targets for each parameter included. &#42