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Mark Osman

23 July 1999

ITS NOT ALL BAD NEWS…

Thinking positively in times of falling milk prices is not easy. But thats what producers who want to stay in business and have a good lifestyle must do to survive.

Some, as revealed in this Update, have looked for positive ways to improve profit and their efforts of the last year are beginning to pay off. Many of these successful producers are finding improving grass management is worthwhile, but they are also basing plans on simplicity and reducing labour.

But making a plan, and costing it out carefully, is probably more important than the direction chosen – be it high forage, high yield, minimal investment or added value. Then its vital to carry out plans with positive enthusiasm and confidence.

When this seems too tough, another option is to plan your way out. Most businessmen in other professions plan for retirement, something many producers are poor at. Paying into a pension should be a top priority, however young you are, according to one producer.

But there are many positive things happening within the industry: Improving herds at lower cost using DIY ET will be possible – with further promises of sexed embryos later this year; exports for UK genetics have opened up with sales of UK semen into Europe; and MDCs technology transfer programme should help access research results coming through. It is certainly not all bad news for those willing to fight for a prosperous future.

REPORTS FROM THE SHARP END…

The real world of dairy

farming is reflected in the

experiences of our

livestock producer

contributors. Heres the

latest news from our four

busy producers. Their

reports are from Berkshire,

Gloucestershire, Stafford

and Sussex

Stephen Brandon

Stephen Brandon farms

100ha (250 acres) at New

Buildings Farm, Stafford, in

a ring fence, with another

30ha (73 acres) of grazing

taken annually five miles

away. He has 170 pedigree

Holstein Friesians and 110

dairy replacements. About

28ha (70 acres) of cereals

are grown each year

GRASSLAND management is always a great challenge, with the weather keeping it interesting. Currently our biggest challenge, with plenty of silage already in the clamp, is to provide cows with plenty of quality grazing throughout the summer.

But with excessive nitrogen use we will end up making more silage and incurring extra contractor charges. The situation is made worse writing this column, with all my sceptics waiting for things to go wrong. It would be hell if I had to start buffer feeding.

The big pay back is low cost feed for cows when we get it right. If you are interested in margin over concentrate a litre, Junes margin here is the same as the milk price.

A couple of months ago I mentioned our milking parlour and its poor throughput, since then we have been looking into the possibility of changing it after only five years in action.

As you would expect the cost is fairly horrendous and we may have to resort to plan B, which is to make the existing 20:20 into a 24:24. The pit is already long enough for the extra units. But throughput will only increase marginally, so am I throwing good money after bad? Plan A is to do some building modifications at the entrance and exit to help improve cow flow.

When cows are only fed grass, automatic milk recording is of less value. I am not particularly interested in individual cow yields any more and the computer isnt needed to work out individual concentrate requirements. The best and cheapest milk meter is the bulk tank, that soon tells you if you have got grazing right.

Following on from this, I have changed to alternate month milk recording to reduce costs. Its very rare I stop to look at milk records. If we keep the existing parlour the milk meters can continue to record milk yields, so we shall only be missing some fat, protein and cell count tests. &#42

John Round

John Round farms 134ha

(330 acres) in the

Gloucestershire Severn Vale.

It is home to his 180-cow

Roundelm herd of Holstein

Friesians and 180 followers.

Cows average 10,000 litres

on twice-a-day milking. Maize

and cereals are also grown

AFTER reading this months contribution you will realise I awoke this morning with a headache, sore throat and no hangover, feeling rather sorry for myself.

But it is not my health that is depressing, rather the overall mess our industry is getting into.

On July 1, Dairy Crest knocked another 0.25p off our groups milk price, for the simple reason that they could, there is no other reason. They could not go abroad to find farm-assured milk within 20 miles of their factory.

Apart from moan and complain, we as an industry seem to do little together to change things for the better and are still fighting the dairy companies rather than working alongside them.

I pay the MDC £1000 a year to advise me on how to extend my grazing season and spot cows on heat. If their advice was how to sustain yields of 15,000kg over six lactations with high genetic merit cows I might be interested.

In recent years there has been much talk of advertising milk, but still no action. It is about time working dairy farmers, rather than retired bureaucrats protecting pensions, were allowed to use our money how we want to. Expanding the market for our product, milk, through advertising, promotion and education.

Among the public it is a common myth that milk is high in fat. How many attractive women with bodies to die for will tell you they only use semi-skimmed, as full fat is bad for you? You have got more chance of getting them into bed than into believing the difference is 2% fat to a staggering 4%.

Another of my hang-ups at present is our vet medicine cost. The current system ensures we pay more than our contemporaries in Ireland and mainland Europe. Hardly fair trade when market forces dictate our end prices and bureaucracy dictates our inputs.

MAFF, the Royal College of Vet Surgeons and drug companies may have a great influence on the government. But as dairy farmers, we should pressurise for deregulation of medicine supply, so we have a chance of competing. &#42

George Holmes

George Holmes farms with

his brother David, on two

rented units totalling 144ha

(360 acres) in Sussex. They

are currently stocked with

145 dairy cows, block

calved in the autumn and

100 followers. His objective

is to decrease costs,

particularly by increasing

use of grazed grass

WEVE suddenly got to prepare for a farm walk in mid-July, because as winners of the Sussex Grass and Forage Societys Buckhurst Trophy we are now to host the winners walk.

It is judged on overall forage management and production. Our success was based both on our overall grassland and forage management, and our current management figures for the herd. To the end of June these are an annual average yield of 6800 litres a cow at 4.15% fat and 3.53% protein, concentrate use of 1.2t/cow for the last 12 months and milk from forage of 4300 litres a cow.

These figures, while pleasing, are only a part of whats needed to be profitable, and we need to continue improving other areas.

I have recently been analysing herd culling and fertility. We have 77% of cows due to calve in six weeks, our target is 82%. The survival rate of heifer calves through to their second calving will struggle to beat 70% of this years milking heifers, when our target is 80%. And I estimate that our empty rate will be 7%, above our 3% target.

In addition, our vet bill was unacceptable at £60/cow in the year ending September 1998, although it will be considerably lower this year. I am confident that introducing New Zealand Friesian bloodlines, proven for high survival, will improve these figures, while continuing to increase our herd genetic index from our current herd average of £60 PIN.

We have finally started to use the farm well to provide drinking water for cows, something that we have planned for the last two years. For a capital outlay of around £1000, we should save at least £1000 a year. In future, we can save even more by connecting up the remaining water troughs in fields which are on a couple of different meter supplies.

My only concern is that well water has a fairly high iron content and we may have to install an expensive filter to remove it. Local farmers who use their own water supply with similar iron contents seem to have varying views on the need for filtering. &#42

Mark Osman

Mark Osman is herd

manager for the 300ha(750-

acre) Berks farm owned by

Zeneca. It is two-thirds

owned, and 154ha (380

acres) is cropped with 117ha

(290 acres) of grass and

12ha (30 acres) of maize.

Stocking is 150 Friesian

Holstein cows, 100 finished

beef, 80 replacements and

330 ewe lambs

DRYING off autumn calving cows has begun this week and we have decided to treat all cows with antibiotics, even though it may go against our cost-cutting principles.

If we cannot produce clean milk we will lose the extra milk income from being in the top bands for cell counts and bactoscans, and through mastitis. If our current low incidence of mastitis, both clinical and sub-clinical, rises it will add to production costs.

The cows we didnt treat with antibiotics last year were 20% more likely to have cell counts over 200 within a 305-day lactation, than if we treated them.

At this time of year, we usually sit down to discuss what went well and pin-point areas that didnt and could be improved on. Dry cow management springs to mind as a problem area.

Last year the autumn group calved outside on grass. This was an improvement on calving indoors with fewer calving problems and less metabolic disorders. I thought it would mean less labour, but in fact it used just as much.

The time saved in bedding up and feeding housed cattle, equalled the time spent chasing calves around paddocks. I must admit the herdsmen, Peter and Brett, adopted some interesting tactics to ensure capture.

Every time I mention calving outside again the conversation always comes back to a quad-bike and trailer. However, this stopped when I located a very old three-wheeled tipper in the back of a shed. They dont seem very keen on it.

Cows have gone on milking well, but condition on spring calvers is dropping. I think this is due to two reasons – most are in-calf and are partitioning energy to the foetus and variation in grass dry matter over the last six weeks.

When dry matter changes from 18% to 14% it equates to a reduction of 20% plus in dry matter intake a day. Two years ago we measured dry matter of fresh grass as cows entered each paddock, the variation was from 14% up to 26% thoughout the season.

If we could analyse grass DM as cows enter a paddock, we could alter concentrate or forage to compensate for wetter grass. &#42

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Mark Osman

20 November 1998

Mark Osman

Mark Osman is herd

manager for the 300ha (750-

acre) Berks farm owned by

Zeneca. It is two-thirds

owned, and 154ha (380

acres) is cropped with 17ha

(290 acres) of grass and

12ha (30 acres) of maize.

Stocking is 150 Friesian

Holstein cows, 100 finished

beef, 80 replacements, 10

sucklers and 330 ewe lambs

THE end of October saw the finish of calving and on the whole it has been better than 1996 and 1997, with calf mortality 4% down from a high in 1996 of 10%.

We think that this is due to letting most cows and heifers calve outside in one of the few fields not overlooked by the research buildings. In past years if a cow had started to calve we would receive a number of phone calls within minutes from worried chemists, and others, expressing views from "I thought I would just let you know" to "I think that she needs urgent assistance."

We found that it was easier to calve indoors, but the cows didnt find it so easy coping with a change of diet, being housed in hot sheds and then being moved into calving boxes.

Other benefits of outdoor calving have been zero navel infections and fewer retained cleansings, just 4%.

There were no twins out of 104 calvings in September and October compared with 20% in the 40 February and March calvers. This high percentage of twins is not a benefit as some would consider it to be. We have seen cows lose a condition score pre-calving when carrying twins which has had a major impact on subsequent conception rates of these cows and heifers.

The 24% empty from the spring group this year consisted almost entirely of cows which had had twins; a figure we are far from happy about but I am not sure how to overcome the flushing effect of spring grass.

Housing occurred at night on Oct 14 for the fresh calvers, earlier than expected and due not to ground conditions but a shortfall in grass. By housing at night it should allow us to graze days until the third week of November at 6-9kg DM a cow.

On a different note, the parlour is running to expectations; throughput is 80 cows an hour with average Bactoscans of two and three, and the cell count has dropped to below 60. But we are not complacent and Axient are due to test the plant during November.

&#42

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