Gold Cup winner praises teamwork

Running a successful farm is not just about using top genetics and having the best equipment, it’s also about having a team-based approach to management.

It’s this successful team that allows NMR Gold Cup Winner Nick Cobb to achieve an impressive production level of 10,800 litres sold a cow a year.

Despite these high yields, health performance is also top notch, with a calving index below 390 days, mastitis rates about 30 cases a cow a year and bulk tank somatic cell count under 150,000/ml.

So what is the secret to his success? Speaking at vet practice The Livestock Partnership’s first open meeting for dairy farmers, at Horley, Surrey, Mr Cobb said it was having specific jobs with trained people that was the answer to maximising health, welfare and production.

“My target is to sell more than 8m litres of milk, while maintaining milk quality and reducing culling rate. And the only way I can do this is by having a structured team focusing on specific areas.”

Mr Cobb’s team of 13 includes a group of six who focus on milking the 750-cow herd three times a day, with specific staff also looking after dry cows and youngstock.

Mr Cobbs nutritionist Mike Bray and vet Mark Burnell of Synergy Farm Health are also very much part of the set-up. “To have a successful team you need expertise in specific areas these people are at the crux of the day-to-day running of the farm,” said Mr Cobb.

Mr Burnell, who was also speaking at the meeting, said you needed whole-farm management to get results. “It’s a continuous cycle, feeding, disease control, stress and fertility and you need a whole-team approach.”

Visiting West Chaldon Farm routinely once a week Mr Burnell said the vet played a role in trying to get maximum milk into the tank.

“Having a vet coming on to the farm regularly, not just when an animal is ill, means there is another pair of eyes taking a look at things such as cow condition, rumen fill and even cows’ dung. You can find out a lot about the health and nutrition of a cow by looking at these features,” said Mr Burnell.


Creating centres of expertise in the management team is the key to success for Nick Cobb (third from left) and his team at West Chaldon Farm, Dorset

With fresh cows it was crucial they started eating as much as possible soon after calving, and being prepared to deal with problems was half the battle, said Mr Cobb. “By working through a fresh-cow programme with your vet, it means you can tackle problems as they happen.”

The fresh-cow programme consisted of taking cows temperatures throughout the 10-day period post-calving, monitoring appetite, rumen fill and yield as well as cow vigour. “Mark has helped develop these protocols, particularly with the choice and monitoring of treatment. Before, we would normally treat any cow with a slightly high temperature post-calving. But now we will only treat when they have a temperature above 39.4C,” said Mr Cobb.

You could make protocols as simple or as involved as you liked. But they helped avoid over-treating animals, directed you to check problematic cows and also allowed you to monitor the effectiveness of the programme, said Mr Burnell.

Without an intense fresh-cow and dry-cow programme fertility would probably suffer, he added. “For a pregnancy you need a normal non-pregnant uterus, a good follicle to ovulate at the correct time, viable sperm delivered at the right time and to the correct area, and also maintenance of a healthy embryo.

“This means nutrition must be right and cows must be maintained throughout the dry period and not forgotten about. The number of forced culls in the initial days after calving is a useful figure, as this will tell you a lot about the transition period.”

Youngstock management was also important. “In the youngstock protocol, aspects such as how much colostrum needs to be fed within the first six hours, dehorning, vaccination, weighing and treatment protocols are all included. Once a month I produce a youngstock report and, normally, if there is a dip in weight you will be able to pinpoint it to something,” said Mr Burnell.

“Keeping on top of health right from the start, bodes well for a successful herd in the future and getting your team used to following protocols is a good start.”