4 August 1995

WINNING HERD THROUGH LONG TERM POLICY

Long-term breeding management has brought competition success to one Worcestershire farming family. Jessica Buss reports

BREEDING cows for fertility, long life and ease of management has brought competition success to one Worcestershire dairy herd.

The 9200-litre yielding Bishampton herd is milked three times a day, but the only concentrate fed to the 92-cow herd is in the parlour.

Robert and Linda Tarver from Bishampton, Pershore, are the South Wales and West Midlands regional winners in the production and inspection class of the national dairy herd championship. The competition is organised by National Milk Records and the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers.

Mr Tarver puts the herds success down to their long-term breeding policy. Bulls are chosen on functional type particularly legs, feet and udders before production.

Holstein blood lines were first introduced 12 years ago. Sires of the herd now include Matchmaker, Turbo, Victor, Charles and Tesk.

Mr Tarver chooses the cows he breeds from carefully. Only the best cows for production, type, temperament and calving interval are selected for breeding.

He considers it important for the cows to have at least six lactations, thus enabling the replacement rate to be kept at 20%, despite selling some milking cows from the herd as well.

"A 365-day calving interval ensures the cow has more yield peaks and a maximum rolling yield," he claims.

As the Tarvers do most of their own milking, they know which cows have the temperament and conformation from which to breed.

Belgian Blue semen is used on cows not selected for breeding replacements.

To increase genetic progress from the top cows, four have been flushed. The resulting 35 embryos have been implanted in lower genetic merit cows and heifers. Mr Tarver aims to replace 25% of the herd with heifers from these four cows.

Those flushed include Janice, classified Ex 93, who yielded 12,000 litres, at 4.00% fat and 3.30% protein, in the first 305 days of her current lactation.

"She was chosen to produce embryos, because for generations her family have got back in calf quickly," he says.

Mr Tarver believes cows can be kept up to two years longer when housed in straw yards. A yard for 20 cows is available.

"Straw is also good for animal welfare, and cows which begin to go lame, recover more quickly in the yard than cubicles," he says.

The main herd is housed in cubicles lined with soft rubber mats, and bedded with chopped straw. Passages are scraped automatically five times a day.

Three-times-a-day milking was started many years ago to boost concentrate intakes without complicating cow feeding.

"For this feeding system to work, cows must always be full of forage," he says.

In summer, when grass becomes short, cows are offered big bales of first-cut silage made in early May.

In winter the ration is half maize and half grass silage, with up to 8kg/cow a day of brewers grains (as a forage replacement). The ration is fed out twice a day with a forage box, into an undercover feed yard.

Concentrates are fed to yield in the parlour, up to a maximum of 11kg a cow a day.

Because the Tarvers provide most of the labour on the farm, machinery and feeding needs to be simple. "If the system becomes more complicated a full-time employee would be needed, costing an extra £10,000 a year," says Mr Tarver.

According to Mrs Tarver, one advantage of milking three times a day is that it suits their family life.

"The daytime milkings are finished when the children come home from school and casual labour is used for evening milkings. Other farm jobs are more flexible, so can be done when the children are around," she says.

The Tarvers seek fast milking times given that the cows are milked three times a day. Originally the parlour was a 5:10 herringbone, but another 5:10 was purchased to make a 10:20. Milking takes an hour and a half, including washing down.

National winners of the Dairy Herd Championships will be announced at the European Dairy Farming Event in September.