15 August 1997

Sussex herd could save £19,000 with better record use

In the run up to the European Dairy Farming Event, FW is running a four-part series on coping with lower milk prices.

This will be the focus of a display and competition in the Spotlight on Profit exhibit at the event on Sept 17 and 18. Sponsored by Midland Bank, the Milk Development Council, Dairy Research and Consultancy and FW, the exhibit is one every dairy producer should visit.

In the coming weeks we will ask key industry specialists to advise on how best to increase profits, either by maximising forage use efficiency, increasing milk price or balancing overhead costs.

This week Jessica Buss examines what savings could be made by improving cow health and fertility.

BETTER use of cow health and fertility records could save you thousands of £ that you never knew youd missed.

West Sussex producers Shirley and Richard Westron are well aware that optimum herd health could have saved them £19,000 last year.

That is despite excellent conception rates, a tight calving interval and a very low incidence of mastitis and lameness for their 125-cow herd, at North Choller Farm, Walberton.

According to the Westrons vet, Roger Scott of Animed, Wickham, Hants, herds such as theirs, which are using his practices DAISY recording service, could make typical savings of £150 a cow through more effective use of records. DAISY shows loses incurred through poor health and fertility in £s, comparing each herds performance in these areas with optimum figures.

"These figures allow producers to work with the vet and they will find vet costs come down and milk production efficiency will improve," says Mr Scott. "There is a large variation between vet costs for different herds – some pay four times as much a cow as others."

Mrs Westron started using health and fertility records six years ago and uses them in preference to production records. Alongside fortnightly vet visits, they allow management to focus on health and fertility rather than individual yields, she explains.

Cows in the mixed and cross-bred Jersey and Holstein herd are not fed for high yields. Concen-trates, averaging 1t a cow, are parlour-fed according to condition.

The Westrons biggest financial losses last year were due to a high culling rate, cows not seen bulling, and milk fever. The high culling rate was partly attributed to reducing herd size by about 15 cows and culling high cell count animals because plenty of replacements were available.

"Culling for fertility reasons was respectable, with only 15% of served cows failing to conceive. While this is acceptable on a national scale, it is costing an extra £5000 compared with a target of just 8% achieved by some herds in this area," says Mr Scott.

However, 22% of cows were culled for reasons other than fertility, costing £11,000 for those culls above DAISYs 8.9% target, adds Mr Scott.

"Culling this heavily will have some long-term benefits because culling was based on clinical mastitis and yield, temperament and conformation." Lameness is very rare on the farm, possibly because of Channel Island genetics in crossbred animals in the herd.

Mr Scott expresses concern at culling to reduce cell counts without individual cell count testing. The Westrons used a California mastitis test kit to determine cell counts, but Mr Scott warns that without regular use throughout a lactation, or an absolute minimum of three tests, it was impossible to judge individual cell counts fairly.

Having identified the high cost of excessive culling, the number of replacements has been reduced.

"In the past we kept calves because they had little value at market and older crossbred heifers were not popular either. We also hoped that a larger farm would become available so kept extra stock," says Mr Westron. DAISY, by highlighting the cost of keeping too many replacements with a high rearing cost, had made him focus on what he should do. In future fewer cows would be served with dairy AI sires.

DAISY has, Mr Scott says, allowed the Westrons to tighten the herds calving interval and increase production so that herd size has needed reducing.

Submission rates, non-bullers going too long without service and needing vet treatment, and heat detection rates had also been poor last season, despite excellent conception rates and a calving interval of 361 days. Submission rates and heat detection rates had fallen while Mrs Westron studied for an A-level and because cows suckled calves to save quota leasing.

But Mr Scott warned that the low calving interval could result from a high culling rate. Culling older cows left younger, potentially more fertile animals in the herd.

Milk fever was also too high in older cows in the herd. Although levels had reduced, Mr Scott felt that selective vitamin D injections before calving could help reduce incidence further.

The Westrons work closely with vet Roger Scott to maximise cow health and fertility performance.

POTENTIAL SAVINGS

&#8226 Culling for infertility £53 a cow.

&#8226 Culling (non-fertility reasons) £101 a cow.

&#8226 Milk fever – direct costs £3a cow, plus indirect loss of yield and fertility.

&#8226 Other direct health costs £23 a cow.

&#8226 Predicted gain from excellent fertility £27 a cow.

(Figures based on DAISY indexes for health and fertility that use optimum targets for incidence)