FW Comment: Whatever size the herd, stockmanship is key

The Americans know how to “do it big” – be it super-size burgers or gigantic trucks, and dairying is no exception.

And although we may not want to bring all these ideas back to the UK, the British dairy industry can learn a lot from large-scale US units.

It is a complete contrast to systems like crofting but there are still lessons to be learned – particularly when applications for UK super dairies continue to come forward.

A recent visit to Idaho looking at herds of up to 13,500 cows highlighted that, although it is easy to be blinded by the scale of these operations, cow management principles remain the same, whatever the herd size.

With the shortage of skilled labour a significant problem in the UK, farmers should take heed from US dairies where most of the workforce is made up of unskilled Mexican immigrants.

These systems prove that high yields, low somatic cell counts and exceptional levels of animal welfare are achievable, whatever the background of your staff, as long as clear protocols are in place.

No one is in any doubt over how to deal with a specific problem – all staff know calves should be tubed with colostrum within two hours of birth. On top of that, time of birth, first and second colostrum feed and staff member responsible are also recorded to ensure regimes are followed.

When a fresh cow’s temperature is above 40C, treatment staff know to immediately administer a long-lasting antibiotic shot and give aspirin once a day for three days and glycol. There is no variation on treatment regime depending on who is on shift and regular training and compliance assessment ensure standards remain high.

All units in the UK can take something away from this: Putting in protocols at calving, so that everyone knows exactly how much colostrum to give calves or clearly summarising how to treat cases of metritis, mastitis or other common complaints will go a long way to getting cows and calves off to a good start.

Having set procedures in place may seem like putting cows on a conveyor belt. But, in practice, it not only helps improve cow health and welfare but also improves profitability and staff retention, something all dairy farmers can appreciate.

Aly Balsom Livestock reporter

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