26 April 1996


CHANGING to Holstein breeding five years ago has helped increase yields by 50% for one Devon herd.

The switch away from Friesian breeding was avoided because bulls were kept for beef. But the cows were fat and round, admits Robert Binns, Swingdon Farm, Ashwater, Holsworthy.

On the low input:low output policy cows averaged 4800 litres of milk off 800kg of concentrate.

But at this level of production Mr Binns couldnt generate enough profit.

Changes to feeding and improved genetics since 1990 have helped yields increase to 6760 litres off 2130kg of concentrates.

"To speed genetic progress four years ago some heifers were bought in. Some of these animals gave 7000 litres in their first lactations," says Mr Binns.

"But most breeding progress is being made through sire selection. One of the first Holstein sires used was Canadian sire Hanoverhill Designer. He now has 35 daughters in the herd."

ADAS senior consultant Nick Holt-Martyn claims that Designer was good value for money, producing commercial, long lasting cows with sound udders, legs and feet.

Mr Binns adds that much production has come from heifers over the last two years. But he says there is no point in improving the genetics without improving feeding.

"Extra trough space has been provided, and the basic ration is now complete diet fed replacing the old silage and cake policy."

Maize is now grown even though the farm is high at 240m (800ft).

The mixed forage diet has helped increase dry matter intakes. Cows now eat 20-21kg DM a day compared with the old Friesians which ate 18-19kg DM.

Mr Binns claims that last year sires were chosen for milk production and value for money, all at less than £30 a straw.

"Selection will be more type orientated in future, for the next crop of down calving heifers already averages over £50 PIN," he says. These 40 heifers will be put to good proven bulls.

However, this years breeding policy is based on using Cogent young bulls on half the herd. The top 10-15% of cows will be put to better proven bulls and the bottom 40 cows to beef.

The next aim is to achieve more uniform yields across the herd so one diet can be fed. Mr Binns hopes this will stop the four litres a cow yield drop that occurs when cows move out of the high yielding group.

"Even when concentrates are increased for cows that change groups and then reduce slowly to the correct level, yields still drop," he says.

This occurs despite feeding similar diets. High yielders are fed for maintenance plus 27 litres in the base ration then parlour fed 0.5kg of cake a litre to a maximum of 8kg. Low yielders are fed a mix for maintenance and 20 litres, plus concentrate in the parlour.

This current feeding regime allows an exceptional cow to express her potential, such as one who yielded 50 litres a day. When on cake and silage this cow would have been underfed.

"However, we need a smaller range of PIN so milking cows can be kept in one group," says herdsman Jim Atchley. PINs now range from £62 to £-38, and milking cows average £7.

Mr Atchley approves of the Holstein breeding: "Cows are now bigger and leggier with more body. They also carry less condition than the old Friesians, but the Holsteins keep milking well. And during wet summers the Friesians drag their udders in the mud. This is not the case with the taller Holstein cows.

Mr Binns believes that changes to housing have reduced cow stress. All cubicles measure 2.1m (7ft) by 1.2m (4ft) and new cubicles have no lower rail giving cows room to spread.

The new cow housing now allows group sizes to be variable to avoid moving cows between groups and diets. &#42