17 August 2001

Small herds advice looks SHIP shape

AFTERthe success of the £1000 for a 1000 cows initiative, the MDC has launched the Small Herds Implementation Project (SHIP) which aims to allow small dairy producers to benefit from financial and advisory support.

SHIP will run alongside the original scheme, providing producer groups with £1000 to pay for short-term consultancy advice on implementing MDC research.

More than 400 producers, in 50 groups, have so far enrolled in the £1000 for 1000 cows scheme. Although foot-and-mouth held up group discussion, MDC communications assistant Matthew Williams is expecting scheme uptake to rise.

"Issues covered so far include improving winter housing management, reducing cow infertility and controlling overhead costs. Producer groups can reapply to fund new projects."

Average herd size on this scheme has been 160 cows. But Mr Williams adds: "We are keen to ensure that the benefits of MDC research are available to small producers. Coming from a farm with 50 milking cows myself, I recognise that there are different issues and problems facing smaller herd owners, such as not being able to afford the time to attend discussion groups."

SHIP requires a group of at least seven producers to apply. There is no minimum herd size requirement.

"Those who have lost herds due to F&M can be included in a group application, particularly producers who are looking at ways to restructure and implement management changes," says Mr Williams.

One advantage of SHIP is that of short-term commitment to the project.

"There is no need to be involved in further discussion groups after one specific area of research has been implemented. Although time limits are flexible, 3-4 months is a reasonable time for objectives to be reached."

About 25% of dairy producers use business consultants, mostly those with herds of 120-125 cows. In response to this fact, small producers do not have to employ business consultants as advisers and can use vets or university researchers instead.

Application packs are available from MDC (01285-646515). &#42