Award winner reveals his success at dairy farming

High milk yields, the Holstein breed and longevity are three words not often used together. But for dairy farmer Chris Simmons, breeding and managing cows for efficiency and longevity is a reality.

Milking 260 cows, three times a day, with an average yield of 11,500 litres and a culling rate of about 14% will have people champing at the bit for the key to such success. And when delving into last year’s winner of the Chris May Memorial Award, his herd’s lifetime daily yield tells a story; one of efficiency and simplicity.

NMR’s Life Time Daily Yield (LDY) identifies cows achieving a milk production potential efficiency across a number of lactations, and is increasingly being used by commercial producers as a measure of efficiency, says NMR’s Jonathan Davies. For Mr Simmons, aiming to get cows calving by two years old and maintaining fertility is necessary for a LDY of 19.3kg a day.

But many factors contribute to lifetime production and Mr Simmons says individual cow attention, good staff, genetics and cow environment form the base of an efficient herd.

“Right from calves, we assess what they are fed and how they are progressing, and when there are any problems, we nip them in the bud, so all heifers can be included in the herd from two years old.”

A classic example of the attention to detail is the care given to cows post-calving, which Mr Simmons reckons is essential in getting cows back in calf.

“Keeping freshly-calved cows housed separately allows us to monitor them post-calving. Temperatures are taken daily until they return to normal and only then are they returned to the herd. Feed and water intake is also monitored. I admit I am stickler for routine and, particularly, getting things right at calving can have a huge effect on health, fertility and milk yield.”

Aggressive mastitis control and maintaining low somatic cell counts also contribute to the high yields. “Milking three times means we spend more time with cows and notice any problems. I also believe stripping out the udder more often is good for udder health and is essential for cow well-being.”

In any mastitis cases, a sample is taken and frozen and when it recurs in the same cow another sample will be taken and investigated on farm to identify the cause. Milk test results indicating SCC are sent to all the staff and when it is above 150,000 clusters will be dipped between cows and a Californian Milk Test carried out.

But for a herd that is milked three times a day, it’s remarkable to hear cows are only away from the feed for a total of 1.5 hours a day. “Because cows are grouped into high and low yielders and because our staff are thorough and efficient, they are not standing about for great lengths. So there is less pressure on legs and they can be back to the feed trough in a short period,” says Mr Simmons.

The extended team at Folly Farm also have a large part to play in the herd’s success, consisting of Polish and Latvian milkers, as well his vet, nutritionist and consultant, and this helps the farm stay on track, he says.

Promar adviser Andy Simmons, visits Folly farm once a month, and he says the constant improvements being made have a big impact on herd health.

“We are always chipping away and making improvements. Currently, we are improving the fresh cow group by putting in separate cubicles, reducing stocking densities and making access to feed and water easier. This will also make it easier for staff to assess the fresh cows.”

Mr Thompson also acts as another pair of eyes on the farm. “When observing cows I take condition scores, look at dung and cell counts as well as other figures. When I notice something is going off course, we look at the problem and solve it.

“The good use of genetics also has a big part to play in the herd’s productivity. Chris doesn’t just breed for milk, he breeds for udders and feet as well. The genetics have been consistent and this consistency also applies to the ration being fed as well.”

Chris May Memorial Award

  • This year’s winner of the Chris May Memorial Award will be selected from herds meeting the NMR/RABDF Gold Cup Criteria.
  • The winner will be announced at the Dairy Event and Livestock show on 16 and 17 September, Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire.

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