FARMER FOCUS: Work begins on new hutches

As we write our first article for Dairy Update, we are definitely feeling the pressure. Hopefully, we can be as interesting as the writers before us, write Ben and Sam Foote.

A few weeks of dry weather has allowed us to start ground work on our long overdue calf-rearing unit. To our frustration, 30 individual hutches have been neatly stored since the day they were unloaded in October. Until now, calves have been started in small hutches and moved into groups at three-four weeks. Pneumonia has always been challenging in this later stage of rearing, yet almost non-existent in the hutch environment and hence the decision to invest in this critical early growth period seemed obvious. Let’s hope it pays off with better-grown heifers calving earlier, two years from now.

Our 100-day group appears to be a success after a two-month initial period. The idea is these animals receive the best environment to boost peak yield and therefore increase lactation persistency. We seem to have cracked our “calving in” issues that have been bugging our third and over calvers for some time.

Using only a small number of cows to collect samples and analyse data made it difficult to draw any conclusive evidence. By separating a few high-risk cows 48 hours pre-calving, we accidentally stumbled upon a new route as these cows cleanse and go on to produce a lot better than anticipated. Isolating the older cows has proved to be a short-term fix, but we must incorporate this principle into a long-term, labour-effective solution.

Our dry-cow issues are a classic example of how mind-boggling achieving the correct dry cow environment can be and how getting it wrong can be detrimental to the bottom line. This reiterates how vital it is to keep up to date with research, and to share our different experiences.

Brothers Ben and Sam Foote farm 150 dairy cows plus followers on 125ha with their parents in Hampshire. Production stands at 9,000kg, but this is expected to increase alongside the total of number of head

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