26 February 1999

RESPONSIBILITY, FLORIDA STYLE

Cow longevity is a challenge

for UK and US producers as

Jessica Buss found at the

British Cattle Breeders

Club conference

MANAGING a 3700-cow herd producing an average of 10,200kg must focus on educating and motivating the workforce, followed by cow comfort.

Don Bennink, North Florida Holsteins, Bell, Florida, told the conference that the biggest difference between managing a small and large herd was carrying out tasks yourself or getting someone else to do it.

"One individual should be responsible for every task, so you know who to give credit to or who to straighten things out with. When five or six people are made responsible all will blame each other.

"Its our belief that no one individual should have more than five people reporting to him or her. Otherwise they dont take care of each others problems well."

Sticking to his beliefs, Mr Bennink has only five people who report to him. When seven people are involved in a sector, such as feeding, one can be made responsible for two of the workers in that sector, he explained.

The next most important factor in managing his herd is cow comfort. Genetic selection cannot overcome a poor environment. "When the environment destroys every foot how can we measure the foots quality?" he said

Cows are provided with straw beds or cubicles. Cubicles have side rails which spring back when cows lean on them and a chain as a head rail to help improve acceptance.

The hot, humid Florida climate makes heat stress a concern. Cows go through a water pond before each milking to cool them, with running water to prevent the water becoming stagnant. They are provided with similar free-access cooling ponds in paddocks. These pools cut heat stress and result in an extra 2-3 litres of milk a day.

"After staff and cow comfort, the factor which most affects our profit is the number of tanker loads of milk we sell each day." He aims to sell five tanker loads/day.

Achieving that on three-times-a-day milking, with three half-hour breaks a day for cleaning, means parlour throughput is vital. This means milking 400 cows an hour or changing over every side of the parlour each 12mins or faster.

When each side of the parlour took an average of 13mins to milk, then 500 cows wouldnt be milked. "Then we would have to keep 500 fewer cows and would sell one less tanker of milk a day, costing us $3m (£1.8m) a year."

To ensure fast milking times cows need good legs and feet to walk into the parlour briskly, and a good udder to make pre-dipping, wiping and putting on clusters quick and easy. "Our milkers put all four teat cups on at once," he added. Slow milking cows are sorted into one group and cows requiring individual treatment are diverted to a treatment area.

LARGE HERDS

&#8226 Staff management critical.

&#8226 Cow comfort a priority.

&#8226 Parlour throughput vital.