18 January 2002

Poor fertility still a cause for concern

POOR fertility and a 33% replacement rate continue to cause concern in Gelli Aurs high margin/litre herd, says John Owen, who fears this years heifer crop will help little.

Mr Owens decision to introduce hybrid vigour using Jersey bulls stalled when the first 70 cows served produced only 16 usable heifer calves. These will be served in May to calve at two years old.

All 120 cows in the herd, which will start calving again from February, are now carrying Jersey cross calves and Mr Owen has his fingers crossed that at least half will be heifers. He has high hopes that these crossbreds will improve fertility.

"I saw some terrific crossbred herds during a recent visit to New Zealand and remain convinced that crossing is beneficial. We must improve cow fertility, as it can make the difference between profit and loss on this low input system."

He returned from his five-week trip to discover much less grass growth than expected on the paddocks needed for early turn-out in February. There should, however, be enough grass if growing conditions improve.

Cows are currently wintering on ad-lib good quality grass silage. As they are turned out onto high moisture grass they will be switched to some drier silage.

They may also receive some bright, clean barley straw to slow the passage of material through their digestive systems. Small qualities of a sugar beet and cereal mix will also be fed from calving to service to boost conception rates.

"It is difficult to find a balance between feeding enough to get cows in calf and avoiding forcing them to produce more milk and lose condition."

The aim is still to produce 14,000 litres of milk/ha (5670 litres/acre), probably at a stocking rate of 2.8 cows/ha (1.1 cows/acre). In November, rolling average yield was 5408 litres/cow, with costings showing 4530 litres from forage. Concentrate use was 123kg/cow down on the year before and the rolling all purchased feed cost was 1.04p/litre, or 0.3p/litre down.

At £933/cow, margin over purchased feed was up £127/cow and margin/litre was 3.06p up at 17.24p. Mr Owen is confident that the herd will achieve a 17.84p/litre rolling margin over purchased feed by March. &#42