Mike Lemmey - Farmers Weekly

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Mike Lemmey

29 March 1996

Mike Lemmey

I AM dictating this as I drive back from Bristol airport on a cold, damp and miserable morning when spring seems as far away as ever – and my cows are back inside again.

I am quite envious of my son Robert who has just caught a plane to Majorca. However, as he will be cycling up to 100 miles a day while he is there as part of a training programme, rather him than me.

The cows went out on Mar 1 onto 6ha (15 acres) of intended grazing. We shut up the field in late September and planned to graze it in the spring. The field is alongside our concrete track. We took them right up to the top and gave them 0.4ha each day.

Letting them out up hill is quite important. They dont run and gallop so much and they put their heads down to graze straight away.

The grass was old and some of it yellow and I was worried about rejection. However, the cows thought it was wonderful especially as they had an edge on their appetite – their silage feeders were empty at midnight the night before.

There is no water at the top of the field so after two hours on the first day we brought them back in. To my surprise they walked straight past the water tanks and round to the feeders. They had heard the tractor going and knew what to expect. So, although we had planned to use a water bowser, we found it unnecessary.

There is an electric fence all the way up the track so we were able to let them in and out a different gateway every day.

This worked fairly well, although on my bad days I look at the pasture drainage and think I will have to set in motion the contingency plan. That is plough up, sow stubble turnips followed by a reseed in August.

On my good days I look at the drainage and think I can repair it by rolling and then using my new toy – a Grass Master pasture aerator. We are hoping to do some trials with this in conjunction with Kingshay Farming Trust to see if we can measure any increase in silage yield.

Because of our quota situation we used the early bite to cut back the silage and concentrates and kept yields constant. It now looks as if we shall have enough silage to last the winter and we had seven glorious days when the cows were happy and routine work went with a swing. &#42

Mike Lemmey is hoping his new toy, a Grass Master pasture aerator, will improve drainage and productivity of grass swards and boost silage yield.

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Mike Lemmey

1 March 1996

Mike Lemmey

FOLLOWING on from the principles of grazing discussed last month, I am going to try and describe a simple inexpensive system which we have developed. It is flexible enough to cope with adverse weather conditions – droughts or downpour!

The key word is "flexible". Of course we make plans but we also make contingency or what if plans and we try not to do anything too permanent.

The planning bit consists of estimating how many cows and heifers we are going to have in the different groups throughout the grazing season.

The first group are the milking cows. The second group are cows early in their dry period plus one to two year old bulling and in-calf heifers.

With a peak calving period in June, July and August, this second group can be large early in the grazing season. They can be stocked tightly to get grass down to 3-4cm to encourage tillering and mid-season growth. They are also useful to sort out any undergrazing mistakes with the milking herd.

The third group consists of cows and heifers from four weeks pre calving through to calving. They are stocked tightly, (2.5-3cm,) fed hay or straw to appetite and 1kg/cow/day of Easy Calver dry cow rolls.

The fourth group consists of the youngest batch of heifer calves. These are dosed against lungworm and have pulse release boluses so they can graze anywhere that is convenient.

To assess how many acres to allocate to each group at the start of the grazing season we convert each group to livestock units by multiplying by the normal factors. We then allow 0.16ha (0.4 acre)/grazing livestock unit to work out the total acreage required for grazing and the acreage required for each group.

This figure will vary from farm to farm with some grazing at 0.1ha (0.25 acre)/LSU depending on type of grass and turnout date.

The flexible bit is the actual grazing system which is difficult to describe.

It is set stocking in that the idea is to keep the milking cows grass height at 6-8cm, the dry cows and heifers at 4.5cm and the calving cows at 2.5-3cm. On the other hand, the cows have different day and night fields and the grass is often rested for a few days between grazings.

We also make sure that part of the milking cows grazing acreage consists of a large field divided along its longest length with an electric fence. One side is allocated for grazing and the other for silage. Then if we have misjudged the area required for grazing we can rectify our mistake by moving the fence one way or the other. &#42

Mike Lemmey explains his flexible grazing system that is designed to cope with drought or downpour.

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Mike Lemmey

8 December 1995

Mike Lemmey

AT last the cubicles are finished and the cows are in at night. It was a bit touch and go. The forcaster spoke of a lot of rain so we finished off the cubicles as the cows were being milked and kept them in that night. It was worth the effort because the weather men were right and we had three inches of rain in the next few days.

The "bitmac" for the cubicle beds went in well and didnt cost as much as we expected.

We had eight tonnes of bitmac tipped outside which we covered with a plastic sheet to keep the heat in. We then picked it up with a foreloader bucket, brought it to the cubicle entrance and tipped it into wheelbarrows.

We had a "brazier" going to keep the tools hot; it was going so well we could even warm the loader bucket. Unfortunately we did manage to burn Rodneys shovel as well! He was quite fond of it and claimed his father had it before him.

We tipped the barrows into the cubicles and levelled the bitmac with an old garden rake that Robert had welded a metal handle on – so we could keep it hot. We compacted it with a hired vibrating plate.

The whole job took four men three hours, and cost under £6 a cubicle.

The worst part of the job was trying to find somewhere to put the one tonne we had left over. We repaired the farm entrance and a bit of the track and this took nearly as long again as we were unprepared and we had to keep the bitmac and the tools hot.

The advantage of using bitmac is that, besides being much more comfortable than concrete, the cows were actually using the cubicles the next day.

All we had to do after the beds was fix the rope "rail". To do this we drilled a hole through the upright and used a 9.5mm eyebolt with two nuts. We then twisted the 12mm rope allowing the eyebolt to turn as we did so and then locked it with the two nuts one each side of the upright.

Robert thought this was an improvement on using a bit of string as we did last year. I am not so sure. You need spanners to tighten nuts whereas my pockets are always full of string!

The cows appear to be more comfortable and are getting up and down more easily. But they are lying about six inches too far into the cubicle despite the fact that we set the concrete ramp at the front 5ft6in back from the heelstone – two inches less that John Hughes recommends for big Holsteins. &#42

At last Mike Lemmey has updated his old cubicles (pictured). The cows appear to be more comfortable and are getting up and down more easily.

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Mike Lemmey

26 May 1995

Mike Lemmey

NOW is the time to start thinking about dry cow management, which I believe can profoundly affect the health and profitability of the dairy herd.

Dennis Yousey, owner of one of the highest yielding herds in the USA, believes the dry period is the most important time in the cows lactation cycle. Whereas I have been trying desperately to persuade farmers to have two dry cow groups, he advocates four – fat cows, thin cows, OK cows, and close to calving cows.

The system I advocate is very simple, but it does need thinking about in advance. Feed for condition rather than yield in the latter part of lactation.

After drying off, cows should be maintained in condition 2.5 to 3 right through to calving. In the first part of the dry period the cows need careful monitoring as it is easy for them to get too fat on ad-lib grass or silage. This is often unnoticed by the regular stockman and it helps to get an outsider in to measure cow condition.

Then 3-4 weeks before anticipated calving date cows should be stocked very tightly to reduce grass intake and fed palatable roughage, hay, straw, or silage, to stimulate the rumen – together with 1kg a cow a day of the special dry cow roll.

Thats all you have to do at this time of year while the cows are at grass.

Benefits of using this simple system on my farm have been enormous:

&#8226 Easy calving(97% of cows and heifers calve on their own).

&#8226 Reduced milk fever. No serious cases in the past 1500 calvings.

&#8226 Live, healthy calves; 3% total calf mortality through to weaning.

&#8226 No check after calving. Less acidosis and acetonaemia.

&#8226 Better fertility; 69% of cows back in calf to first service.

&#8226 Increased milk proteins. Experimental results show an increase of £60 a cow in milk value.

&#8226 Better cow welfare and longer cow life. Involuntary culling down to 12-13%, which means fewer heifer replacements needed and more selected culling.

&#8226 These benefits and many more combine to have a large effect on the bottom line – the problem is that if everyone follows the system the price of quota will go through the roof again!

&#8226 For more on dry cow management see our special focus on p 50.

First lesson in dry cow management from Mike Lemmey is to condition score cows half way through lactation and adjust feeding, so they are dried off in the correct condition. A simple system, but it requires planning.

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