23 January 1998

Calving pattern change

BREEDING dairy cows for the future that will be profitable with a lower milk price needs long lasting cows with good fertility which can be managed easily in a block calving herd.

John Downing Jnr plans to alter his calving pattern from all year round to simplify management of his 145-cow Wintersell herd in Kent.

He has chosen to begin calving in September because the farm suffers from drought. So its more practical if cows are dry in summer. Block calving requires good fertility, so fresh calvers will receive full winter rations and late lactation cows can take advantage of low cost grazing when safely in-calf.

The milking herd currently averages 8840 litres at 4.2% fat, 3.32 protein and is £33 PIN, while the 165 heifers average £63 PIN.

He believes block calving would help with the challenges of improving nutrition without increasing concentrates as yields increase through genetic merit. Yields had increased by 300 litres over the last year but over the same period concentrates were reduced by 0.5t to 2.1t a cow.

Block calving would mean less stress on labour because management of cows and youngstock could be simplified and the herd would be managed as one group. Vet call outs would be fewer and more seasonal and there would be more opportunities for splitting straws of semen.

To achieve these aims, he said reliable proofs are needed that dont alter. "I want to increase performance but also want type, not for showing but for a good functional type. Bulls currently used in the herd average £97 ITEM, £92 PIN and 2.42 type merit," added Mr Downing.

Block calving will simplify herd management – John Downing.