30 August 2002

Cow tracks lead to profit

By Wendy Short

North-east correspondent

INVESTING in farm tracks has made it easier for one North Yorks dairy herd to walk to and from the parlour, paying dividends in this years appalling wet weather and reducing lameness.

Roger Cook, of Burgate farm, Harewood, Scarborough, says the £15,000 it has cost to buy limestone to build tracks has certainly been money well spent.

Tracks were put in largely because of an increase in cow numbers and a switch from set stocking to paddock grazing two years ago. Roger and his father John have laid one-and-a-quarter miles of tracks. Not only has cattle lameness halved, 20ha (50 acres) of previously inaccessible grass can now be grazed on the heavy clay land.

With 220 Holstein Friesians and only 69ha (170 acres) of grazing, Roger Cook admits that they had little choice but to bite the bullet and make the investment. Previously about 10% of the herd was lame at any one time. That is now down to 5%.

"White line disease was the main problem, plus some digital dermatitis and some inter-digital growths. There were also nine or 10 cases of foul of the foot each year and that seems to have completely disappeared," he adds.

There has been a saving in vet bills, he says, but that has been difficult to assess because cow numbers have risen. It has also saved time. "There are only three of us working here and getting cows in to treat lameness was taking up a lot of time."

There have been other spin-off benefits, says Mr Cook. "Extra grazing has allowed us to increase cow numbers to spread fixed costs. We are spotting bulling cows more easily and cows are coming into the parlour cleaner. It has also made a better working environment for us – it was no fun struggling along in the mud every day."

Farm labour was used to create the 3m (10ft) wide farm tracks. The first layer consisted of a 75mm (3in) layer of limestone spread 15cm (6in) deep on the ground and consolidated using a 5t sit-on vibrating roller. Then a 45mm (2in) limestone mix was put on to create a dome-shaped track 15cm (6in) at its deepest level and thinning out to 7.6cm (3in) to encourage water run-off.

After that a 5mm (0.2in) limestone dust finished off the track. This will be replenished in part every two years to fill in any rough patches. The whole process took about four weeks and was spilt into two sections, with half the tracks being laid in 2001 and the rest put down this year.

"We found it easier to spread stone by hand with a shovel. One thing we have learned is that the ground has to be very dry or a lot of stone sinks into the ground and is wasted," he says.

But Mr Cook stresses that another factor contributing towards the reduction in lameness is the stringent foot-bathing programme introduced in March. "We are hoping this will really tackle the incidence of digital dermatitis this winter."

When the programme began, cows were run through a 5% formalin dip every day for four months. This has now been cut to weekdays only and Mr Cooks ultimate aim is to dip five days out of 14 once cows feet have hardened off.

"At the moment we are spending about £15 a week on dip, but we hope it will go down to £10 a week once we get on top of the problem." &#42

NEWTRACKS

&#8226 Less lameness.

&#8226 Cleaner cows.

&#8226 Improved grass use.