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REPORTS FROM THE SHARP END…

1 February 2002

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

Carmarthen, Co Durham,

Leics and Sussex

Charles Munn farms 162ha

(400 acres) in the Medway

Valley, East Sussex, in a

family partnership. The

family currently runs 165

autumn-calving cows with a

rolling average of nearly

6000 litres, alongside a

small arable enterprise and

grows 28ha (70 acres) of

maize. Their aim is to return

back to profitability

ID LIKE to start by expressing my thanks to George Holmes, the previous occupant of this space. First a big one for opening his farm to us, sharing his difficulties as well as his successes. Secondly, a small one for suggesting me as his successor.

We have a family partnership farming some 162ha (400 acres) near the top of the Medway Valley in north Sussex. We are fortunate to own most, but rent 61ha (150 acres) from three different landowners under three different types of arrangement.

The main activity is an autumn-calving dairy herd, which supports a small arable enterprise, two full-time men, one part-time and myself. We are also lucky to have a range of converted farm buildings let out as offices.

Like many, we have been reduced to the status of hobby farmers for the last year or two, but are resolved to return to making a living for our efforts.

A detailed knowledge of where the money goes is a start, and we are involved in setting up a discussion group to compare systems and costs of production with other like minded local farmers. We have also been trying to increase our sales to head us in the right direction.

There seems little hope of influencing the price of milk on my own, but there is lots I can do to improve profitability. The first task is to tackle the unacceptable level of mastitis, levels have crept up this autumn. Its not much consolation that the vet says its bad everywhere, we start pre-dipping teats this week.

Hunting has started again and first out of the traps has been the Dairy Hygiene Inspector. However, we all need keeping up to the mark and diplomacy prevents me from being too direct.

Lets hope for more smiles all round when the second leg is played, so we can get more ticks in the right boxes. Like taking the dog out, no matter how fast I cycle, hes always in front. &#42

Where does the money go?Charles Munn has been reviewing his production costs to improve profitability.

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REPORTS FROM THE SHARP END…

7 December 2001

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 Carmarthen,

Co Durham, Leics

and Sussex

John Stanley

John Stanley farms 336ha

(830 acres) in Leics,

including 90ha (220 acres)

of grass and 24ha

(60 acres) of maize.

Home-grown wheat is also

fed. His 140-cow herd has

a rolling average yield of

11,000 litres on

three-times-a-day milking

AFTER several years of pain, the milk price has now recovered from disastrous levels. But the predicted shortage of milk this autumn, due to foot-and-mouth, appears not to have materialised. Therefore, it looks as if the milk price has peaked and is under increased downward pressure again.

I believe the British Dairy industry is now at a crossroads. Many dairy businesses have to decide whether to sell up, while there is a healthy market for whole herds, or look towards the future and make the business more efficient with lower costs of milk production. In fact, sell up or expand.

In our case, we must milk more cows and raise cow yields to reduce unit costs of milk production. But I dont have the confidence at the moment to build new buildings to house the extra cows. Currently, we have sufficient replacement heifers in the system to increase cow numbers by 30 over the next 12 months.

One solution is to contract out heifer rearing and free up existing buildings to house the extra cows, ideally an outgoing milk producer could take this on. Another option would be to install cubicles into my loose-bedded yards, enabling us to house 25% more cows.

Moving to cubicles would reduce the need for large quantities of expensive straw and bedding cows on sand could reduce mastitis levels. The cost of this option would pay for itself within four years, but again the lack of confidence to invest in buildings forces me to look seriously at the contract heifer rearing option.

Talking of heifers, I cannot remember youngstock ever being out so late in the year. There is still grass to cut and with 2kg of a soya and wheat mix being fed, heifers are still growing in late November. &#42

Kevin Green

Kevin Green farms 128ha

(320 acres) near Carmarthen

in west Wales, in partnership

with his wife Lynwen. They

currently run 300 spring

calving cows and followers.

Their aim is to maximise

output from grazing

AFTER attending a business investment course which taught us how to value our time, we have learnt to prioritise more on things in our lives that are important to us. Lynwen has, therefore, made an early New Years resolution by vowing not to regularly milk cows next year.

I mentioned last month that my time management was poor. This has led us to a firm decision to employ a herdsperson or developing manager.

What a fantastic month Nov was for grazing, cows are happy to be out by day and housed at night with swards being cleaned out without any damage. The Grazing Dragons visited us on Nov 7 and following their advice, we went to once-a-day milking which has really freed up time to spend with the kids.

The farm office in the house has now become too small, as our businesses are developing, the old bulk milk tank room offers an ideal solution. A double-glazed door and window has been fitted for £800 with little additional cost to be incurred apart from a coat of paint, some shelving and a desk.

Next time the bank manager pays us a visit, there will be a mission statement on the wall together with all our awards. I wonder whether it will lead to more favourable bank rates?

Im always going on about looking outside the farm gate and have recently acted on this view by buying a few thousand pounds worth of shares in Express Dairies. With Lord Haskins no longer being its chairman, Im confident the company will recover from the doldrums.

Express Dairies does not fit within the criteria for successful investment as outlined on the business course, but Im willing to act on gut feeling and have a go.

This month Megan the cow says: "To learn without taking action, is to plough without sowing." &#42

George Holmes

George Holmes farms 158ha

(390 acres) in mid-Sussex

having recently taken on an

extra 32ha (80 acres).

He has expanded the dairy

herd to 190 autumn calving

cows and 100 replacements.

His objective is to decrease

costs by increasing use

of grazed grass

THIS is my last contribution to Dairy Update after a three and a half year period through some of the most difficult times dairy farming has faced in this country. It is good to end on a high.

What a great autumn it has been. We have clamped the rest of the maize, and cows were out grazing day and night until early Oct and days only until Nov 8, with a break in late Oct.

Bulling heifers were housed on Nov 12, to settle them before service and the last of the dry cow mob are still outside. Cows are milking very well, forcing us to go back to daily collection for the first time since our 10,000litre tank was installed seven years ago.

Currently, we are producing 1000 litres/day more than last year, which is great news together with a better milk price and lower quota cost. The first of my home-bred New Zealand Friesian sired heifers have calved and were yielding 23.5 litres/day, which is excellent when compared with a herd average of 28 litres/day.

My financial year ends in Sep and looks to have been one of the best years at Withypitts. Continued investment in expanding cow numbers and saving labour seems to be paying off. Six years ago we needed more than 10,000 hours of labour for less than 140 cows, now we have nearly 200 cows and use less than 7000 hours of labour.

Im sure this can be further improved with a larger herd, moving to spring calving or adopting self-feed silage. The problem I now face is investing for the future without the backing of my landlords as they are only offering an annual FBT.

I am told that they still want me to farm at Withypitts Farm and I can take on as much of the neighbouring farm as I want. They tell me that they appreciate what I am doing, but it does not give me any great feeling of security. &#42

Steve Brown

Steve Brown farms 200ha

(500 acres) in Co Durham, in

partnership with his parents.

The familys 125-cow herd is

run at Hopper House, with a

200-ewe flock and

replacements on grass at a

separate unit and the

remaining land as arable crops

LAST month I visited a European city for a romantic break. The venue was Belfast, and my partner – my wife, but we cant have everything. A wedding celebration was the real reason for the trip, the groom is a dentist and proof that pulling teeth is financially more rewarding than pulling teats.

A 20-minute traffic delay on route to the reception was caused by some sexually frustrated cattle persistently crossing a road to seek the company of a bull in the field opposite.

Animals on the run reminded me of home, and funnily enough, that same night, 11 of my young dairy heifers broke out. No doubt aware of movement restrictions, they spent the night in the garden and yard, after a brief sortie on the road.

In my absence, a third cut of grass silage was clamped, which was good news and two tups arrived to join the hill sheep, which was not so good. This is because three separate enquiries for calves had to be turned away due to the 21-day movement ban. This was particularly bad timing as 10 heifers have recently calved, increasing pressure on numbers.

A few calf losses have incurred, which hurts the pride more than the bank balance. But as you might expect, its the heifer calf that drops dead, while the black-and-white bull survives to be sold at a price equating to the cost of the original straw of semen.

Other health problems have included a few wobbly cows and heifers after a difficult calving and its time spent with these animals that upsets the routine.

Milking cows were fully housed from mid-November, as it was getting a little wet under foot. Housing is later than usual and although grass cover was ample, energy levels were on the wane. Furthermore, none of the neighbours cows had been seen for about a month and with the dark nights I was having trouble seeing mine as I collected them for milking. &#42

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REPORTS FROM THE SHARP END…

5 October 2001

Steve Brown

Steve Brown farms 200ha

(500 acres) in Co Durham, in

partnership with his parents.

The familys 125-cow herd is

run at Hopper House; with a

200-ewe flock and

replacements on grass at a

separate unit and the

remaining land as arable crops

THE Simmental Bull finally joined 22 heifers after movement restrictions between our two farms were eased. I hope he is now making up for lost time.

This year we have sold 11 young beef bulls, qualifying for subsidy, to a neighbouring farm, but a licence to move some younger beef calves was refused as the potential buyer lived in an at risk area, whereas we are currently an infected area. However, another buyer was found locally for them, so our sheds are now full, rather than overflowing.

Valuing these animals was harder than usual with no market price to compare with, but a fair amount of haggling led to a reasonable compromise. The other hassle was to plan licences to coincide with the routine vets visit, as I wasnt going to pay for a special vet inspection now regular fertility visits have resumed.

On the fertility side, I am paying particular attention to getting cows in calf, to ensure I am as competent as any Genus technician following their recent claims that DIY inseminators get poorer results. Also, being largely on my own I am responsible for any successes or failures, with no-one else to blame, so theres perhaps a greater incentive to get things right.

Cell counts seem reasonable after some ringleaders were culled but, although milk yields are satisfactory, fat has dropped to 3.5% which has put our price somewhat lower than the standard litre.

I have finally been able to claim something back from my bank charges, via a day trip to the Dairy Event courtesy of Barclays, with hospitality included.

It is always good to bump into some of my former university colleagues who have made great strides in the dairy industry, while I am still stuck at first base. I was also keen to track down fellow Farmer Focus writer Kevin Green to inquire how he gets away from his farm so often. &#42

Selling some young beef bulls means sheds are now full, rather than overflowing, says Steve Brown.

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 Carmarthen,

Co Durham, Leics

and Sussex

REPORTS FROM THE SHARP END…

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REPORTS FROM THE SHARP END…

8 June 2001

FARMERFOCUS

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 Carmarthen,

Co Durham, Leics

and Sussex

John Stanley

John Stanley farms 336ha

(830 acres) in Leics,

including 90ha (220 acres)

of grass and 24ha

(60 acres) of maize.

Home-grown wheat is also

fed. His 140-cow herd has

a rolling average yield of

11,000 litres on three-times-

a-day milking. Off the farm,

he is involved with the RASE

and the Royal Vet College

WE DRILLED 40ha (100 acres) of maize by May 11, twice the planned area due to failed cereal crops. Seedbeds were remarkably good considering the appalling conditions two weeks ago.

At least I am confident we will have ample forage for the next 12 months. The ration of one third maize to two thirds grass will be reversed to two thirds maize and one third grass. I hope this change will be reflected in higher yields.

I have no plans to cut grass early to ensure leafy, high ME silage. After last years experience it appears that dry, stalky, fluffy grass silage makes an ideal rumen filler to help digestion.

Wet, heavy, silage does not help to produce high yields. Physical nature of the ration is equally as important as chemical analysis. First cut will be attempted in early June and a good weather window is essential. Wet grass silage is not an option.

The concentrate portion of the ration includes home-grown wheat, maize meal, soya and maize gluten, Golden Flake fat and minerals.

Guaranteed quality purchased feeds are essential to a successful ration. Whenever we have purchased potatoes, inevitably a box of foil is tipped into the load. With bread, plastic bags can be a problem and brewers grains are sometimes very wet. Cheap alternative feeds tend to be variable – soil and plastic do not make milk.

Current yield of 10,900 litres a lactation is produced using 3.6t of concentrate a cow or 0.34 kg/litre. I hope that with more maize silage next year we can improve yields and reduce concentrate use. Time will tell.

Fortunately, over the past two years, all inseminations have been to Holstein and we have 20 surplus heifers available this year. Whether we sell or milk them is the question. If we avoid F&M, could the future be looking brighter? &#42

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REPORTS FROM THE SHARP END…

2 June 2000

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,

Co Durham, Stafford

and Sussex

Stephen Brandon

Stephen Brandon farms

100ha (250 acres) at New

Buildings Farm, Stafford,

with another 30ha (73

acres) of grazing taken

annually. He has 170

pedigree Holstein Friesians

and 110 replacements.

Recently he took on a

contract farming agreement

involving a further 160 cows

on 80ha (200 acres)

DESPITE Aprils horrendous weather, cows successfully grazed every day without resorting to silage feeding.

But on a number of occasions they grazed for 4-5 hours and then stood on the yard, with access to cubicles, until going out to grass again after the next milking.

We cut 16ha (40 acres) of silage in mid-May on the contract unit, filling the smaller of two self-feed clamps. In some exceptionally hot May weather the grass was cut and wilted for 24 hours, without tedding, before being chopped. The DM should be somewhere between 25% and 30%. The remaining first cut silage will probably be cut at the end of May on both farms.

Back at home, most of the silage ground has been grazed twice before being shut up. The number of paddocks for silage is constantly increasing with exceptional growth over the first half of May. Growth rates of 92 and 115kg DM/ha a day have been recorded over the first two weeks.

Serving has just gone past three weeks with 83% of the 200 cows already served. Hopefully, remaining cows will be served in the next few weeks, although I have only just calved the last one. The submission rate isnt as high as I would like but we will see how many more come on heat naturally before we bring in the vet. Calving must be more compact in future and so the target is to serve for a maximum of 12 weeks.

This spring we purchased 245 straws of New Zealand Friesian semen, all should be used up after four weeks serving, then it is Angus AI or a stock bull. We chose Angus for ease of calving and its shorter gestation length.

Recently, I have been looking at the new parlour and our routine to fine tune milking. Advice from other farmers, with similar systems, has been useful.

The latest advice has been to involve a mastitis and parlour consultant from across the Irish Sea. She has picked up on some more points, the main one being stray voltage – which could explain some cows fidgeting. &#42

Hot May weather brought welcome relief from horrendous April conditions for Stephen Brandon and his spring calved milking cows.

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REPORTS FROM THE SHARP END…

7 April 2000

PROCESSORPOWER ON TOP

Milk processors seem to have got exactly what they wanted following the break-up of the MMB – cheaper milk.

But it is worth questioning how they have achieved prices as low as producers will receive for this months milk when last years UK price was already more than 1p/litre lower than most of the EU.

The power of processors started with Milk Marque plus contracts, tempting producers away from co-op strength. And with good bonuses how could anyone blame them for being tempted.

Then the strong £ came into effect, giving processors and retailers a reason to bring down milk prices.

With producer power now well quashed, there has been no way to stop processors.

In this Update we review the state of the milk market, find out the expectations for Milk Marques three successors and how other better-established co-ops are faring.

We also look at what is happening on farm, as the average producer is set to continue losing money this year. Quota leasing prices should come down, but with many keen to survive there may still be good demand.

For some producers it is time to think about business structure: When the sums wont add up on a unit, it could be worth starting a joint venture with a neighbour.

According to one report in this Update, partnerships could be worth a valuable 1.5p/litre in cost savings. Another report discovers how a partnership between neighbours in Denmark is working.

But whether making major business changes or not, there is little margin for error. That means top quality management, whether grazing or drilling maize, and this Update provides essential advice to help achieve that.

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 Berks,

Co Durham, Staffs

and Sussex

Steve Brown

Steve Brown farms 200ha

(500 acres) in Co Durham, in

partnership with his parents.

The familys 125-cow herd is

run at Hopper House; with a

200 ewe flock and

replacements on grass at a

separate unit and the

remaining land as arable crops

IF IM following in the footsteps of high-flying John Round let me get in first before you pass judgement – its a case of the Lord Mayors parade being followed by the muck cart. If he is Manchester United, welcome to Hartlepool United.

However, if – with all due respect – reading the farming press sometimes leaves you feeling depressed with features about efficient producers who leave you trailing far behind then fear not, your days of feeling inferior are finally over.

Our herd averages a moderate 6500 litres at present, heading towards 7000 in the near future, though chasing yield at the expense of profit is not high on our agenda. Beyond this, in the current economic climate, quota would be a constraint for careful consideration; similarly buildings limit a large increase in cow numbers.

Perhaps when our yields finally reach a level to shout about, the dairy industry will be brighter. Lets hope these situations arise sooner rather than later. For now we aim to simply stay in business, until the time when investment and expansion are more viable propositions.

Over the years, our dairy herd has gone through the Jersey/Friesian/Holstein transition, and it still has an assortment of all sorts in between. But weve recently graded up, so most cows and followers have certificates to prove their dubious ancestry.

For puritans among you, Ill admit that this herd is more like the United Nations congress than the peas in the pod depicted in glossy adverts and brochures. Our prefix could have been the Beer-Goggles herd, after those imaginary optical aids through which ugly women become attractive to men whove had too much to drink: Such spectacles would certainly be handy here.

Despite this, there are exceptions; we recently had a good looking Rudolph heifer calve. She was out of a bought in heifer herself, I hasten to add – we dont spend that much on semen. Im glad our consultant made the effort to see her at his last visit, as she was on route to the local Hunt kennels a few days later; her sad demise the result of a twisted intestine. &#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 2.8ha (7 acres) of

maize. Stocking is 150

Friesian Holstein cows,

80 replacements and

330 ewe lambs

HAVING recently moved into a 15th century farmhouse with over an acre of garden, my wife has increased my life insurance. She did this after watching me trying to mow the lawn with my little push mower.

I am not mean by nature, but I would not like to see her too well off, so I bought a ride on mower to ensure my health does not suffer.

When riding on the mower one Sunday, I suddenly learned the meaning of leisure time, which my friends talk about with such enthusiasm. The only problem is that I ended up wondering why, when the soil temperature is above 10C, we are not drilling maize.

At that point I abandoned my mowing and went and turned ewe lambs out, which pleased them, on to some catch crop grass which we sprayed with magnesium supplement a week before.

As we struggle to increase the number of red-and-whites in the herd above six, the most recent red heifer calf is showing signs of being incredibly daft, as it refuses to drink in the company of other calves and only drinks milk when a human is present. This could seriously hamper our chances of increasing red cow numbers to seven.

All cows are out at grass by day consuming 6-8 kg DM/day, which has tied in well with finishing red clover and first cut grass silage. We now have the opportunity to upgrade silo floors.

Our worst silo was resurfaced three years ago using hot rolled asphalt – which is still like new after heavy use. Quotes I have received for the same operation now are frightening and would add £1/t of silage stored for the next five years. But if it is not done soon, we will have a greater job justifying new silos at £15,000 apiece.

Recently I have been forage box feeding cows at weekends. It has not been lost on me that after three weekends I now receive a detailed written work plan from the herdsman. I think I will stick to mowing my lawn in future and leave forage box feeding to the professionals. &#42

George Holmes

George Holmes farms with

his brother David, on two

rented units totalling 144ha

(360 acres) in Sussex. They

are stocked with 145

autumn calving dairy cows

and 100 followers. His

objective is to decrease

costs, by increasing use

of grazed grass

COWS went out days on 6 Mar to eat grass left on fields from autumn. Over the following week grass growth was amazing for the time of year, at almost 50kg DM/day, so we put cows out full time on 14 Mar. This was a week earlier than the last two years and our earliest yet.

We have stopped all silage and concentrate feeding and production has held steady at more than 24 litres of milk/cow. Its great to be free of yard scraping, feeding and bedding. By my calculation, each day we are saving £15 on straw, £40 concentrates, £30 silage and £20 labour, which totals £105/day.

To optimise efficiency, we are trying to graze fields earmarked for grazing first, followed by first cut silage fields. We will then graze Italian ryegrass which was under-sown with maize before returning to grazing paddocks.

My previous experience is that if we graze fields intended for first cut before 1 Apr the yield does not suffer much. Having said that I expect fast early growth this spring will mean lower than normal growth later on. In other words high growth rates now makes it less likely that we will get such high growth rates as normal in early May.

We are currently sowing 10.5ha (26 acres) of spring wheat, which we have under-sown with a long-term grass ley. This should be ready for late summer grazing. We need more grazing area because heifers are back home this year due to us giving up my fathers 20ha (50 acre) farm when he sold it. In any case linseed which wheat is replacing certainly looks less attractive this year.

I am really pleased to see that Milk Link, our new milk marketer, is off to a good start. The sign up has been tremendous and considering the £s strength the starting price for our milk is better than expected. I hope the extra demand identified continues. &#42

Stephen Brandon

Stephen Brandon farms

100ha (250 acres) at New

Buildings Farm, Stafford,

with another 30ha (73

acres) of grazing taken

annually. He has 170

pedigree Holstein Friesians

and 110 replacements.

Recently he took on a

contract farming agreement

involving a further 160 cows

on 80ha (200 acres)

GLORIOUS weather and fantastic grazing have made an irresistible start to spring here. Milking cows have grazed day and night since 7 Mar without a single hitch and two weeks later, almost all stock were out grazing full time.

Our plate meter and grass budget are invaluable: Without them I would never have had the confidence to stop feeding silage so soon. Concentrates are being fed at a flat rate of 4kg a cow, down 2kg since full time grazing started, for an average production of 31 litres/day.

Dry cows are tidying up one or two paddocks that milkers didnt graze too well in wet conditions during February, and yearling heifers are grazing well and looking fit after a short winter on silage and 1kg of maize gluten/day.

Half of this years February born heifers now have access to grass, the others are waiting for modifications to the shed to allow them to run in and out. We continue to feed them milk and will wean them as they start to graze.

By mid March, the dry second cut silage made last year was beginning to heat in the clamp so I made the decision to seal it. But I expect the weather will have changed by the time you read this and we may be forced into feeding silage again. This winter cows only ate half the silage available, giving us the opportunity to sell some surplus silage bales.

Changing the parlour for the second time in five and a half years has been worthwhile; although cow throughput isnt as high as I expected, litres/hour are up by more than 50% at 1500 litres. All we need to do now is to cull slow milkers.

The dramatic drop in milk price for the next quota year has pushed us to question certain fixed and variable costs more than ever. As we have surplus silage, extra grazing acres we normally take each year will not be needed, reducing rent. Milk recording and pedigree registration are also difficult to justify in our drive to reduce production costs, so they have also been dropped. &#42

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REPORTS FROM THE SHARP END…

3 September 1999

FARMERFOCUS

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

WHAT a difference two weeks can make. Unfortunately, I have never measured rainfall, so I cant tell you how much we have had in the first half of August.

However, on Aug 1 our 10.5ha (26 acres) of wheat was 15% moisture and contained a few soft green grains, so I decided to let the forecast showers pass before combining, but suffice to say over two weeks later the wheat crop has yet to be combined.

Although the outlook for a quick, easy harvest is now very slim, grass growth rates have quadrupled in the same two weeks. Growth rates fell to a low of 18kg DM/ha but are now 79kg/ha, and in the same time we have gone from a period of near shortage to one of surplus and the frustration that there may be some more grass silage to be made.

We are now beginning to plan our autumn grazing rotation with a view to extending the season for cows at the end of their lactation: Keeping them on a grass only diet. At the same time as planning grazing for the next three months we are also setting grazing up for an early turnout next spring.

We shall continue to spread some nitrogen this autumn as paddocks are grazed, but from early September it will be small doses of urea instead of ammonium nitrate.

Following winter barley, we have 5ha (12 acres) of grass seed to be sown. Over the last three years, I have been trying various seed mixtures of my own concoction to try and come up with the ideal grass ley.

Last year the mixture was based on all late perennial ryegrasses, but a mixture of tetraploids and diploids. This year the tetraploids have been dropped as an experiment to see if the quantity of grass that goes to seed in mid season can be reduced. This may help to maintain mid season grass quality.

Three years ago we changed the clover varieties used in reseeds and doubled the seed rate. This has been a big success and some fields now have a good clover content. &#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

THANKS to rain in early August, I have written to the Minister of Agriculture, Prime Minister and our local MP expressing my anger and disgust at the plight of dairy bull calves. My letter also pleaded for a reopening of calf exports to Holland and France.

I dont know whether my letter will help, but I felt I was doing something positive, next Ill be dumping carcasses at local government offices or 10 Downing Street.

These are my reactions from recently delivering a calf to a local marketing group, and being paid nothing for it. Now bull calves are being shot and taken away for nothing by our local hunt, thus saving tagging, feeding and hauling costs. However, it still sickens me and contradicts everything I believe in as a farmer and producer of food.

At least our heifer calves are giving us something to smile about, with several PINs up around £100. Two notable calves are daughters of Wilpe Dennis, a young Genus bull whos a Celsius out of a Mascot: One has a PIN of £112, she is out of a 13,000 kg Tesk, the others dam is a Labelle daughter out of a VG Cleitus and her PIN is £116.

Although youngsters indexes are only predicted, several of our Celsius daughters have come out with higher actuals than their predictions. As we have several full sister calves to these, and pregnant cows as well as semen in the flask, I reckon weve taken much of the guesswork out of breeding.

As well as Celsius, we are still using Convincer, Winchester and Manfred, who are still in the US top 10 TPI listing.

Although some heifers have exciting indexes, some older animals have impressive production records. A fifth calved F16 daughter has just completed a 305-day lactation of 15,000kg, even though it was semi-skimmed milk. The highest heifer, so far this year, has given 12,500kg in 305 days, and surprise, surprise shes a Celsius out of a Sunny Boy.

With these yields in mind, I now have some benchmarks set for the next five years, if these two animals can produce these yields then why cant they become the average of the herd? &#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

WITH the autumn calving group just completing 12 months physical results since changing calving pattern from July/August to September/October, it has surprised me that the technical performance of the herd is very similar to a year ago.

I expected milk produced to fall nearer 6000 litres a cow as we reduced reliance on conserved feed and concentrated on grazed grass. But it has stayed at 6400 litres, with 2950 litres coming from grazing, 2050 litres from conserved forages and 1400 litres from feeding 650kg of concentrate a cow.

The financial results from our dairy costings have seen margin a litre drop below 20p. It now stands at 19.62p, from an average milk price of 20.74 p. Therefore, we spent just 1.12p a litre on concentrates and minerals, including magnesium supplements.

Cow condition is generally good with half a dozen exceptions as usual. One cow 409, seems to defy logic. She always seems to be the first to sit down and last to get up when any form of food is offered, be it grazing or a forage box mix.

She has consistently produced over 8000 litres in each of her four completed lactations, within 305 days. I dont wish to create the impression that she is a show cow, and I am quite relieved that she remains lying down when we have visitors. You may think because of her apparent lack of interest in food that she is a bovine supermodel and that every rib is protruding, but fortunately we have had to rewrite the condition scoring chart, as she remains at condition score four to five throughout the year.

Add the facts that she receives a pedicure every three months, due to having the worst shaped feet in the herd, and although she has four teats, when you look in the normal place for them they are not there – the two front ones are found nearer her head than her tail. She can only be termed as a character, and not a cull as our herdman, Peter, would prefer. &#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

SINCE it is only three weeks since I last wrote, and during that time I have spent two weeks on holiday, I havent got a whole lot to tell you about our farm.

Instead I will tell you about the small bit of my holiday relevant to my fellow milk producers. We went to visit some of my wifes family in Switzerland and were fortunate enough to be lent a small apartment at Ovronnaz in the Alps. While close to Basel, I was able to visit a small organic dairy farmer with 12 cows, he also had 700 organic hens. His main problems were milk quotas which were fairly recently imposed, new welfare regulations and a recent price reduction of 25%, so I soon started to feel at home.

The standard milk price is 32p a litre and he received a 6p a litre premium for organic milk. The bit that really surprised me was that my wifes relations were buying organic milk, delivered to the door, for 67p litre or 39p a pint. I also found that although milk in supermarkets cost more than in the UK, the supermarket and processors margin was definitely less.

In addition, when we travelled through France, and also visited Germany for a day, I found that pasteurised full-fat milk retails for 35p a litre or 20p a pint in supermarkets. In other words, less than in the UK despite a higher producer price.

So while I have to agree with the MMC that the consumer is being ripped off, I dont think you will be surprised to know that I totally disagree with the MMCs view of who is doing the ripping off.

While in the mountains, we visited a couple of fromageries where cheese and butter are made by the farmer from cows grazing on alpine pasture. One we visited was at 1800m (6000ft) and had just over 100 cows. Cows were milked in two 6:6 herringbone parlours, side by side, and seeing the herd being driven down the mountain, each cows bell ringing violently, by three herdsmen was quite a sight. There seemed to be six staff to milk cows, make cheese and butter and feed pigs the whey/skin. &#42

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REPORTS FROM THE SHARP END…

26 March 1999

FARMERFOCUS

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

BEING a member of the BGS Plate Meter Group for the past two years has been great for discussing issues with other producers.

One thing that has come over, strong and clear, is that if we are to keep our fixed costs under control, particularly those associated with machinery and equipment, we need to have little as possible and keep to the basics.

Four-and-a-half years ago I put in a new, all-singing, all-dancing, 20/20 milking parlour including auto-identification and milk meters all linked up to a computer in the dairy office. The parlour has proved very expensive to run, even routine servicing is costly and last week the auto-ID failed for a second time in six months. The first time I had a repair bill for £1084, and just to rub salt into the wound the manufacturer isnt carrying any spares.

I can only suggest that if you are contemplating a new parlour for the future, keep it simple and beware of fancy electronics.

The move towards block calving and a cut in the labour force – we have decided not to employ a student this year – has concentrated our minds on improving our calf rearing system. We need a method of feeding milk large groups of calves quickly and easily with little labour.

Last week I bought 16 New Zealand made calf teats, drilled holes for the teats around the top of a 45gal plastic barrel and fitted pipes from the teats to the bottom of the barrel. Hey presto! We have a superb, quick way of feeding 16 calves. This was an idea seen at one of last years discussions group meetings and the more cows that calve closer together, the bigger the group can be.

Grass has been growing well since mid-February. It looks a wonderful dark green colour since spreading fertiliser and with an average cover of over 2200 kg DM/ha there is plenty to graze.

As usual the weather is responsible for most things, we did not get the cows out in February and early March is getting wetter by the day. Most cows have now calved which means that the later we turnout the drier ground must be to carry the extra hooves. &#42

John Round believes that sensible cows would prefer life on UK concrete to New Zealand starvation.

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

I HAVE just returned from a couple of weeks holiday in Australia and New Zealand staying with friends, most of whom are dairy farmers.

Like us, they are not exactly enjoying the most prosperous time.

Although often critical of the Kiwi system, I felt a great deal of sympathy towards the actual farmers and even more to their cows. Their prices are continually being squeezed, almost to an unsustainable level, so reinvestment is impossible and survival the goal. This is probably the only parallel they have with the UK.

The milk price of under 10p/litre bears no relevance to ours, as their cost of living is about one-third of ours. They do not have to waste time filling in forms, no passports and the thought of assurance schemes is a distant nightmare. There is no capital cost of quota and little cost of plant and buildings. But over 90% of milk is produced for manufacture and export.

It is the distance producers feel that they are from the market that allows most cows tails to be docked. Perhaps the Free Range claim should be changed to Freedom From Food. With farm advisers so pre-occupied with maximising cows an acre and cows an hour through the parlour, they have overlooked the basics of cow feeding.

The high cost they have to pay for grain made no economic sense, but they enjoy a suitable climate for growing maize and the few farmers over there growing it enjoy huge benefits. One such farmers herd was averaging over 7000 litres, twice the national average, and in his words: "Most New Zealand cows are starved."

It should be the moral duty of their experts to advise the farms to cut stocking rates and conserve more forage to feed their cows 365 days a year. We have appreciated some of the advice received on grazing techniques from our Kiwi visitors. Now they should learn some basic stockmanship skills from us.

If fed properly there would be no need for the common practice of inducing up to one-third of a herd.

Not exactly happy dancing cows. If I were a cow, I would rather live on UK concrete. &#42

Grass intakes have been measured at 7kg of dry matter a cow in a three hour period, says Mark Osman.

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, 10

sucklers and 330 ewe lambs

JEALOTTS Hill has had its earliest turnout ever this spring, on Feb 14. This meant cows only spent 99 days fully housed.

Looking back to 1991, when I started here, the housed period lasted from mid September to mid-April – thats over 200 days.

Grass intakes have been measured at 7kg of dry matter a cow/day taken in a three hour period, usually straight after morning milking. This has meant a reduction in grass silage usage of 1960kg a day – a saving of 30t during the month. At a value of £11.50/t fresh weight well save £345, or £25 a day.

Calving is nearly finished with only three left to calve out of a batch of 50. Suckler cow milking finished after only two weeks, not because herdsmen Peter and Brett lost interest, but due to the fact that the fight involved in getting 8 litres a cow wasnt worth the effort.

I will put this down to experience, but it will not put a damper on me continuing to try something different in the future.

I have fortunately been able to attend a number of farming conferences recently all of which were professionally staged and directed at topical areas. The most interesting and informative in my opinion was the Kingshay Profitable Dairying Conference.

Martin Hutchinson and the rest of the Kingshay team are certainly delivering the information, and now costings, that can help progress of dairying at this farm and many others.

Weve recently had our parlour dynamically tested. It disappoints me that a test that we have waited for since mid-November proved to be of so little use to us. The report begins by stating that the parlour is working to all current ISO standards and that the cows are quiet and appear contented, which we already knew.

It then leaps into areas of improvement. The estimated costs of its recommendations would be over £2000. I believe in the saying "dont fix it, when its not broken". If we use this service again, I would need evidence to convince me of any benefits to the cows, milkers or the people who maintain the parlour before changes are made. I believe we could end up paying for someones opinions and not for sound scientifically based advice. &#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

MY brother, David, has been away for six weeks in New Zealand and Australia.

Officially, his main aim was a family holiday, but he has stayed with a number of farmers and visited a few farms.

This is payback for the time I spent on my Nuffield Scholarship two years ago. Mind you, we had a couple of extra bodies working on the farm then. I am beginning to wonder what they did because we seem to do as much without them.

Fortunately, the weather has so far worked in my favour to keep us ahead. We spread about half the contents of the weeping wall slurry store in January, but the level has quickly risen again. Cows seem to be producing extra slurry this year which more than matches the extra milk produced.

We managed to get dung from straw yards spread on the fields destined for maize and linseed during February. This included both the dung from the latest monthly clean-out, plus the heap accumulated from the previous clean-outs.

By the end of February, we had ploughed over half of this ground. This will allow it to weather and we will be able to work it down with one power harrow pass.

I am itching to let the cows out. We have just about enough grass, but it started to chuck it down with rain again, just as conditions had got dry enough.

The cows have held on to their milk well in the past couple of months. They have averaged 24 litres a head right through January and February, which will put us 5% over quota for the year.

I have decided to do a back-to-back quota deal, at a cost of 3p/litre, on just over 2% of the excess. Despite it being unlikely that the UK will be over quota, an insurance of £600 to avoid paying £5000 seems worthwhile.

It is now nearly 18 months since we bought a two-bedroom house in a nearby town, which we let. It is interesting to compare the return on capital to farming. In 18 months we have made a 28% return on investment, after tax. That is as good as leasing out milk quota and certainly better than leasing it in and milking cows. &#42

Despite his brothers absence from the farm, George Holmes had managed to keep ahead on muck spreading and ploughing for maize and linseed.

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  • News

REPORTS FROM THE SHARP END…

26 February 1999

FARMERFOCUS

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

George Holmes

George Holmes farms with

his brother David, on two

rented units totalling 144ha

(360 acres) in Sussex. They

are currently stocked with

115 dairy cows, block

calved in the autumn and

100 followers. His objective

is to decrease costs,

particularly by increasing

use of grazed grass

WE are nearing the end of the breeding period for our herd.

I have inseminated the herd to New Zealand Friesian for the first three weeks and then used easy calving Belgium Blue semen for another month.

We have now put a Sussex bull in to finish the job; 85% of eligible cows were submitted in the first three weeks rising to 90% by the end of the fourth week. Of the other 15 cows, nine were served by week six, and only six cows were treated by the vet.

We only start heat observation at the start of service, any earlier seems a waste of time. So far, the non-return for the first three-week period is just below 80%, so either we are on for our best conception rate ever or we are not spotting returns.

We have employed a mastitis consultant to help us in our ongoing fight with the dreaded strep uberis. Her advice has mainly been to make small changes.

The main change has been to stop pre-dipping the cows before milking and to instead concentrate on keeping the cows udders cleaner, so we only need to dry wipe. This has cut down over-milking, as we have no ACRs, and made the milking quicker and more pleasant.

We have also removed the ridge on the section of the cow housing which was not already open.

Our cell count is now down to just under 100, whereas it was hovering around 250 a few months ago. We are still having a few new mastitis cases, but just one a week as opposed to almost one a day in October.

At last, we have had some dry weather allowing us to spread fertiliser on pasture. We applied 100kg/ha of mon-ammonium phosphate and 125kg/ha of urea.

When I visited Australia and New Zealand, I was suprised how much phosphate they used, targeting an index equivalent to the top end of three. This increases early grass growth as well as total production. I doubt we will ever reach a phosphate index of three, but we now apply some each spring. &#42

George Holmes has cut down on over-milking and mastitis with help from his mastitis consultant on stopping pre-dipping cows before milking.

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, 10

sucklers and 330 ewe lambs

EVERYTHING is now housed, so the full winter feeding programme is underway. The conversion of the old cattle unit from cattle slats to sheep floors has been completed and the ewe lambs moved in.

The conversion has allowed below ground tanks to be used for extra dairy slurry capacity while housing 300 ewe lambs.

With two different sheep breeds, its interesting to see their different abilities, both physical and mental. The Scotch Half-breeds, although well fleeced, have the ability to escape from any design of feed front, whereas the Suffolk x Mules are now competing with Jonathan Edwards by jumping anything at any distance.

Our herdsman, Peter, is about half way through calving the spring group of 50 cows. This includes the suckler cows which, after much discussion, he is milking through the parlour.

Each morning there are comments, which include: "They should settle down soon and well need to replace the dump bucket cluster again."

I look on it as a challenge, whereas Peter looks on it as a crusade to get Simmental milk in the tank. The reason for milking these is that we have lost a number of cows that have gone down after calving and never stood up again.

The pessimist in me believes this is due to having bought a cow lifting hoist, but my optimistic side thinks it was a clever piece of management following the use it has seen.

In January, it was our turn to host the BGS plate meter discussion group at Jealotts Hill Farm. These are a group of like-minded farmers and managers who get straight to the bone; in our case the true profit a litre.

I can only liken it to going to the dentist, you know its going to hurt but it will do you good in the long run. The general consensus was that we were over complicating the running of the dairy, with which I agree. My only defence was that in a medium-sized unit of 150 cows, the only way we achieve a 10.4p a litre profit is from attention to every detail. &#42

Milking some of the spring calvers is proving to be a challenge for the herdsman, says Mark Osman.

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

IN NOVEMBER we made the decision not to serve autumn calvers until this spring and then in 12-months time the whole herd would be calving in February and March. Hence, this is our last winter with some cows at peak yield. If all goes to plan the whole herd should be dry next January.

We changed our compound feed supplier in early December, and the type of ration fed, because of high milk urea levels and many cows seemed tender on their feet. The balance of rumen degradable and bypass protein in the compound has been changed to match our base ration of grass silage and 1.5 kg of maize gluten.

The results are; feet and locomotion has improved, high levels of ammonia in the cubicle shed have gone and after six weeks the milk urea levels are down by 33%, all with no loss in yield. Hopefully, the girls will be feeling healthier and conception rates may also improve a little.

Grass grew at 6kg DM/ha a day over Christmas, but that growth didnt last long and the average cover has gone backwards during January. Grass growth started me thinking about a grass budget and planning a possible date for turnout.

A mid-February turnout looked feasible, but at the moment it doesnt know when to stop raining and more recently its been snowing.

Weather permitting we may snatch the odd few days of grazing by the end of February. Cows will graze over all the grass acres initially and only when growth exceeds the cows requirement will we start to think about making silage.

The first application of fertiliser, two bags/acre of 26:13:0, was spread by a contractor with a low ground pressure quad-bike on all the grassland at home during the first week of February.

Calving started again in late January with 75 due by the end of February and the rest by early April. We should then be milking 200 cows in the next quota year. &#42

Changing compound feed has improved cow locomotion and lowered milk urea levels without causing yields to fall, says Stephen Brandon.

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

AS WE approach the end of another milk year, Im pleased to report weve reached the yield targets which we set, even though at the time I thought them quite ambitious.

Milk yields have improved by over 500 litres a cow, now rolling at 10,066 with 3.36% protein and fat a little high at 3.68%. The Dairy Crest milk contract we are currently on requires a minimum 3.5% fat, ideally the level we would be at in order to extend our quota.

However, over the last three months butterfats have averaged 3.6%, by just feeding a low-fibre diet and pushing the cows for as much milk as possible. This is without the need for fish oil or other products that seem to be priced at break-even point against the cost of quota.

On the downside – to maintain the high milk, low fat yield – the ration fed is keeping cows on a knife edge. A slight change can tip them over that edge, even a change in maize variety as the Ag-bag progresses. The most serious problem is that weve had a few displaced abomasums over the last six weeks.

Half of these have been corrected by rolling the cow, thus allowing the abomasum to float under her and back to the right side where it belongs. When this has failed the vet is called and a surgical operation is needed to correct the problem.

These problems ensure my job does not become too monotonous.

The other minor problem resulting from production increase is the return to daily milk collection. The maximum vat capacity was discovered when milk was siphoned out via the wash sprinkler, this was some 7% more than the nominated capacity. &#42

John Round is succesfully keeping milk fats low, but not without some concern over cow health.

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REPORTS FROM THE SHARP END…

20 November 1998

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

George Holmes farms with

his brother David, on two

rented units totalling 144ha

(360 acres) in Sussex. They

are currently stocked with

115 dairy cows, block

calved in the autumn and

100 followers. His objective

is to decrease costs,

particularly by increasing

use of grazed grass

WE STARTED feeding silage on October 17 – not because of lack of grass, rather due to the poor grazing conditions in wet weather. The cows immediately decided that grass was totally disgusting and it was very difficult to persuade them to eat any grass whatsoever. Anyway, they soon won the argument, and conditions were so bad that by October 23 they came in full time. If the ground dries up we will try putting them out for a few hours each day.

We plan to start inseminating the cows from November 25. Over the last 10 years we have used high index Holstein bulls and the herd £PIN has risen to 56, putting us in the top 100 herds in the UK. But over that period our cows seem to have become much more prone to disease, especially mastitis.

This year we bought in 13 cows that are mainly Friesian bloodlines and these definitely seem less prone to disease. In addition, local farmers have noticed a drop in herd fertility as Holstein blood has increased in their herds. We have moved our calving date from June to September over the last few years so the extra number of days open may have hidden the fertility problem in our herd.

We have therefore decided to use New Zealand Friesian semen this year. I am particularly keen because New Zealand data provides breeding values for survivability, which tends to be negative for Holsteins and positive for Friesians.

The other benefit is that New Zealand tested bulls are proven on a grass diet. Although groups of bulls tested on a variety of diets will have the same average index, evidence from New Zealand suggests the ranking order can vary considerably. In fact I am so keen that I have got myself the job of selling Livestock Improvement (as the New Zealand Dairy Boards breeding company is called) semen in the local area.

To stay profitable we need to make tough decisions for the future. Continuing to lease quota at current prices seems daft. Real options include: reducing cow numbers from the 160 we will have this autumn; postponing the start of breeding by moving the herd to spring calving; producing less milk a cow and feeding grass without concentrate.

The first choice does not grow the business and the second may not work well in our dry corner of the country. Time to do some number crunching. &#42

Cows immediately decided grass was disgusting once theyd been offered silage says George Holmes.

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  • News

REPORTS FROM THE SHARP END…

7 August 1998

FARMER FOCUS

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

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

ONE of the benefits of working at Jealotts Hills is the opportunity to put ideas in to practice – at this point the rest of my colleagues should stop reading.

In the very near future we will be drying off over 80 cows which have milked for an average of 365 days, because we are moving calving back eight weeks. Condition scores range from 2.5 to 4.5, with only half a dozen falling into either end of this range. The in-calf heifers are more consistent, with only one at condition score 2.5 – who is probably carrying twins – and one at condition score 4.5, probably carrying nothing but its passport to the beef unit.

The fact that 85% of all cows and heifers calved by mid-August in the past has meant an incidence of only one case of summer mastitis a year. But with 105 cows and heifers due to calve in a seven-week block, starting September 1, it has made me think that summer mastitis can only increase, unless we change our dry cow management.

It may seem over the top, but this is our plan:

*Cows will be dried off abruptly 56 days pre calving.

*Milked PM only for two days.

*Tubed with Cepravin DC.

*Teat dipped with P3, a teat coating product, twice over a 24-hour period.

*Foot trimmed by farm staff if necessary – usually approximately 50%.

*Fly tagged and treated with a pour-on insecticide.

*Wormed with drench.

Finally, the cows will run through a footbath on their way out to the new type of grazing. Its what most people call standing hay. It has a D-value of 65 and falling, and will be an excellent stomach filler for the first month.

The first batch of 41 cows and heifers have already been through this new regime and they dont seem to mind – but Im not sure how long our herdsmen, Peter and Brett, will last.

My only observation as I looked in the paddock this morning was that the flies probably wont be able to find the cows, as the grass is now chest high. I just hope that nothing calves early because there will be no chance of finding it. &#42

Many of the cows at Jealotts Hill are about to start a new dry cow regime, says Mark Osman.

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 9500 litres on

twice-a-day milking. Maize

and cereals are also grown

SO much for global warming. After suffering the coldest and wettest April for a century weve just had one of the coldest, wettest and dullest Junes I can remember.

Just as well we dont make any hay. But weve got plenty of grass. Its just a pity our cows dont want to eat it.

This years policy of restricting the grass fed to high yielders has reaped benefits. Milk yields have held up longer, and peaks are up to 10 litres higher than last summer, when more grass was fed.

Fertility has also improved with most cows in the high yielding group holding to first and second services. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the low yielders.

The lows are milking well, and taking more off grass than the highs, but are still fed 7-8kg DM buffer, plenty for 28-30 litres one would trust. However, of six cows recently scanned only one was pregnant. According to our Genus scanner, this is not unusual this summer. He suspected he was finding more empty than pregnant cows, and most empty cows were rather thin.

Perhaps theres more energy in New Zealand grass. A Kiwi dairy farmer friend was staying for a while in June, on his way home after six weeks in Africa – times are hard in NZ. After discussing his touring exploits, the rugby results and Cheltenhams night life, we moved onto the more mundane subject of dry cows.

I was surprised that he was feeding anionic salts and maize silage to his pre-calvers, on his all-grass system, and how he had achieved better fertility and less milk fever.

As a poor second to acquiring tickets to the World Cup, I spent a couple of days at Utrecht for the All-Holland dairy show.

It was refreshing to see hard working, high quality dairy cows in the showring, from predominantly Dutch and American sires. On the second day the progeny groups were judged, with the Sunny Boys just beating the Blackstars – my preferred choice.

Also catching my eye were the Bellwood, Jabot and Celsius daughters. Of the test daughter groups the Southland Markers stood out, having tremendous scope and capacity, with superb udders.

After a spot of culture on Saturday night in Amsterdam I flew home to find Id missed the hottest two days of June – and the best opportunity for second cut. &#42

Feeding a buffer since turnout has helped John Rounds high and low yielders maintain useful production.

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

way. He has 170 pedigree

Holstein Friesians and 110

dairy replacements. About

28ha (70 acres) of cereals

are grown each year

THE last few weeks have been spent in preparation for the BGS Summer Meeting. We were the third farm to be visited on the first day of the meeting by about 140 delegates.

I hope all those that visited Staffordshire found the meeting, which visited eight different farms, interesting and enjoyable. Farms varied from dairy to deer and the production of haylage for horses.

Preparation had been frustrating, we were due to take second cut on June 16, but with the unseasonal weather, mowing didnt start until June 30. Consequently the grass was very mature, with eight weeks since first cut, and mowing was difficult with the grass lying flat on the ground.

I only hope the new clover varieties sown last year will survive being smothered. We cut 69 acres, which included 17 acres of previously grazed paddocks that had grown ahead of the milkers. All but the grazed paddocks were tedded twice before being rowed up.

Although we have another 19 acres of silage to pick up, there is plenty of silage in the clamp already. After that the clamps will be as full as last year. This spring we had about 600 tonnes left from last year. With ample silage in stock and September calvers being dried off now, fertiliser applications are being reduced. We dont need a third cut of silage and it would be expensive to make.

Average grass cover over all the grassland at home is 2300kg DM/ha and rising. The average growth rate over the last week has averaged 72kg DM/ha/day and the growth required for the cows in milk and hectares available is only 50kg. With reduced fertiliser and maybe some drier weather I hope grass cover should stay about right.

The cows are continuing to milk well on no concentrates. The February calved cows have produced 4300 litres in 145 days and should reach 7000 litres by the end of lactation. They had 575kg of cake up to the end of May, a feed rate of 0.08/litre.

In preparation for the farm walk the parlour and dairy have been redecorated, calf pens and yards have been steam cleaned and white-washed. The calf pens will benefit from a good clean and rest before they are used again in September. &#42

Stephen Brandon told the BGS tour that his Feb calvers had only received 575kg of concentrates and were on target to average 7000 litres.

George Holmes

George Holmes farms with

his brother David, on two

rented units totalling 144ha

(360 acres) in Sussex. They

are currently stocked with

115 dairy cows, block

calved in the autumn and

100 followers. His objective

is to decrease costs,

particularly by increasing

use of grazed grass

WHEN you read this, the cows will all be dry and I will be on two weeks of well-earned holiday.

Back home David is currently getting ready for the start of calving in the last few days of August. We will feed the cows a diet containing anionic salts in the 2-3 weeks before calving.

Despite the claims of a local salesman, who seems to be misusing my name as an advert, we do not use a certain overpriced proprietary product containing bypass protein and anionic salts any longer. Last year we used a combination of calcium sulphate and magnesium sulphate mixed with soya, in addition to magnesium chloride in the drinking water.

We will continue to put magnesium chloride in the water, this year, but will only use calcium sulphate in the feed. We buy calcium sulphate in the form of fine ground white gypsum for £180/t to feed at 200g/cow/day. We will mix this with a little soya and molasses along with a low soda mineral.

The cost of my mix is a quarter of the proprietary product and the cows eat it up. I can check that we are feeding the correct amount of anionic salts by testing the cows urine pH, which should be 6-6.5. If you are wondering how I get a sample of urine, I dont. I just stand in the paddock until one pees and walk over and test the puddle.

The benefit is no milk fever and the cows have much better muscle tone, so calving is much quicker and easier. We also have the confidence to feed grass rather than silage and straw to the close-up group.

This year our number one priority is mastitis control. We have had severe mastitis problems in the last year. The predominant bacteria involved appears to be strep uberis, with the majority of the cases occurring just after calving.

Clean calving paddocks and the strongest dry cow therapy have little effect on the bug and we had a number of cows with incurable infections that had to be culled.

We are going to try a number of things this year to help keep mastitis under control, including putting cows on straw and water for 24 hours after drying off, teat dipping the close-up group daily, and giving extra Vitamin E and selenium. But we would welcome advice from any dairy farmer who has succeeded in controlling this type of mastitis outbreak. &#42

Dry cows will receive magnesium chloride in drinking water this year, says George Holmes.

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REPORTS FROM THE SHARP END…

3 July 1998

FARMER FOCUS

REPORTS FROM THE SHARP END…

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

way. He has 170 pedigree

Holstein Friesians and 110

dairy replacements. About

28ha (70 acres) of cereals

are grown each year

OUR main block of first cut, 34ha, was picked up on May 6. Chopping started at 1pm and it was all clamped by 9pm.

The yield was not very high, but regrowth was very fast and cows were grazing some of the paddocks again 12 days later, bringing more high quality grass into the rotation. Average grass cover remains high at over 3000kg DM/ha.

On May 23-24, we cut a further 10ha of first cut – mostly this was away from home where the young stock are grazing, plus two paddocks that needed a tight trimming.

All the silage area received 72kg/ha of N and 48kg/ha of K straight after cutting. Grazed paddocks continue to receive 62kg/ha of N after each grazing.

Fertiliser will be reduced later in the season after second cut, although stocking rates are a lot tighter this year. The annual grazing area has been reduced by 16ha and we have the added inconvenience of British Gas laying a large gas main diagonally across 11 paddocks taking out 4-5ha.

At last we have run out of concentrates for the cows! Another target achieved. We had been feeding 60kg/day, in total, to the better cows.

Three days after concentrates finished the milk was going up, with the herd averaging 24 litres, and the two best cows giving over 40 litres. Maybe if we had used our current system ten or 15 years ago and fed less cake, BSE may not have caused us so many problems.

The BGS Plate Meter Discussion Group met at Jerry and Jon Riders farm in Wiltshire in early May. A stimulating discussion on farm was followed by a comparison of group members accounts. These group meetings with like-minded farmers have convinced me that a grass-based system is right for our farm.

Now that we have confidence in the ability of grass to produce milk and if we can keep our system simple, production costs will be reduced.

In April 97 we changed our milk buyer, moving to a liquid contract, expecting fat and protein percentages to drop as grazed grass became the main stay of the diet. However, fat per cent has remained fairly static and protein per cent is rising, with a recent test of 3.70%. &#42

Grass regrowth after silage has been very fast, says Stephen Brandon.

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