Farmer Focus: New feeders revolutionise cow flow

August and early September saw fantastic growing conditions, with plenty of moisture and sunshine delivering grass growth nearly matching the spring.

In hindsight, I probably could have been more aggressive in skipping paddocks for silage. I’ve been out with the mower tidying up the odd rougher area of grass the cows left behind where they went into paddocks that I’d have been better off mowing and putting in the pit.

Last week saw the completion of our in-parlour feeding system, replacing our previous out-of-parlour feeders. While the old system was still serviceable, it was difficult to ensure our cows stopped at them on their way to fresh paddocks.

We struggled to have the same control over feeding levels that would have been possible in a more intensive, housed operation. Their removal has also freed up space for additional cubicles, providing options to overwinter more cows, although it is now proving surprisingly difficult to recognise individual cows without their distinctive collars.

The new feeders have revolutionised cow flow during milking, with our once placid herd now steamrolling into the parlour as soon as they hear the feed dropping.

Hopefully they will settle once they get more used to the changes, but it has been quite a learning curve for all involved.

While the feeding system was being changed over, the feed silo was allowed to run empty in order to allow it to be relocated. It was interesting to note that while milk production predictably fell in the period where the cows went without any concentrate, the loss in output was effectively cancelled out by the savings in imported feed. That said, for us the real value in feeding supplement at this time of year will come from enabling us to build covers of pasture for the autumn, hopefully allowing the herd to stay out grazing for longer.

A pregnancy scanning date for the cows has now been pencilled in the diary and it already feels as if the countdown to the results day is on.

It would be tempting fate to say that there don’t appear to have been too many cows seen on heat since the bulls came out, but no doubt I’ll be in for a sleepless night in the run-up to the big day.

George Brown was crowned as Farmers Apprentice in 2012. After a stint working on dairy farms in New Zealand, he has returned to the UK and is now managing the 330-cow dairy herd at Cairnhead Farm on behalf of Robert Craig.

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