Dairy on an even keel

SIX MONTHS ago we first walked into our new dairy building, writes Tim Green. At last things are beginning to settle down.

Cell counts, which have been relatively high since the cows were first out-wintered, have stabilised at under 150,000. That’s well within our top band of 250,000. Butyric contamination and total bacteria counts are also within premium bands, while clinical mastitis is a fraction of the levels in our old shed.

We always knew that our high level of clinical mastitis was caused mainly by loose housing and poor ventilation. But we have been amazed by the decrease in incidence levels to about a tenth of those seen in previous years.

One annoying problem in the past was the occurrence of mastitis within three or four days of calving. Although it usually cleared up quickly, it set the roots of infection for the entire lactation. Even more annoying was being told that the problem was caused by drying off, which was my responsibility, not that of our cowman Jacques.

Since using the new parlour and cubicles, we have not had a single case of post-calving mastitis. It’s not that we are less vigilant; we do our best to keep the cubicles as clear as possible and dress them every other day with a moisture absorbing powder and disinfectant.

When we built the cubicles, we were advised not to put a breast board on the floor so that the cows could stretch out with more comfort. That advice has not worked and our cows slide forward too far and end up struggling to get up. Bedding pushed in from the front is pushed back out and does not gravitate to the back step and passage. We are experimenting with the best option for a board with regards to height and shape.

Next year should see the farm increase in size because a 2ha (5-acre) field, belonging to our landlords, will become available after our neighbour’s retirement. We now have to go through the performance of getting permission to farm this land from the ministry, requiring form filling by both parties.

Support entitlement issues introduced with CAP reform has complicated land transfer and my neighbours are completely flummoxed. Their son is keeping most of the land and he also hopes to retain the modest quota allocated to the field. But when, and if, we get possession of the land, half the quota will be taken into the national reserve before it comes to Vimer.

The consequences of land transfer have become very important and the ministry appears to be sticking rigidly to the rule book to ensure there is no margin for error. Rightly or wrongly, we have just signed a contract for next year’s cattle feed at 17.50/t less than this year’s price. That puts a 20t load of GM-free protein balancer at just under 155/t. We have used the same feed for some time with good results. Our milk has a butterfat content of 4.58 and protein is 3.64.

The saving in feed cost should help compensate for the hike in nitrogen fertiliser prices, which have risen by 40/t this season. That, coupled with a 5p/litre rise in the cost of red diesel to 32.7p/litre will not help our cost control.

To help pay the bills, we sold some barren cows before prices slipped. The best price was 690 for a 401kg carcass. Sold the week before, she would have topped 700, but a wrongly replaced ear-tag delayed her departure.

Younger cows

Cattle must carry an ear-tag in each ear and missing ones must be replaced immediately. Our younger cows now have the same number on each ear-tag with the last four digits of the 10-figure number being the work number.

Older cows have the old system of one tag being the working number and the other tag bearing their 10-figure national number. We do not always pay enough attention to the ear-tags of older cattle and tend to automatically order the work number. Cattle with wrong or missing tags at the abattoir can be held until the right one is put in, or destroyed, resulting in no payment.

Our region has been plagued by a spate of sheep stealing. It’s something of an annual occurrence at this time of year. Fortunately, the culprit was caught by accident when he was stopped while transporting sheep in a trailer with faulty lighting at night.

Everyone was astonished to learn that he was one of most respected sheep breeders in the department who had even dined at farms before stealing their sheep. He has taken the blame alone, but more must have been involved to act as lookouts and distribute the stolen sheep.

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