Focus on fertility and forage lifts dairy cow performance

Young farmer James Evans has turned his family dairy business around by driving a vision based on focus, fertility and forage.

In the past five years, through focusing on the three “Fs”, the team at Priddbwll Mawr farm, in Oswestry, has been able to increase milk yields from 8,990 to 11,600 litres a cow a year, decrease the calving interval by 40 days and reduce the age at first calving by more than four months.

This has all been achieved while expanding the herd from 308 to 580 cows.

See also: What is the ideal DM-to-milk solids ratio?

Mr Evans said: “Back in 2012, we were pretty middle of the road, to be honest. We would sort of graze cows four or five months of the year and then we would feed them really hard in the winter. We couldn’t get them in calf because we were grazing too hard.” 

“They’d arrive in poor body condition and it was just a cycle. We would get to 9,500 litres and then it would come crashing back down.”

Mr Evans says that, as with many other aspects of the family business, the attention to detail was missing from the dairy side, which is what the family team has changed.

“I want cows performing – giving milk, getting back in calf,” said Mr Evans.


How they have improved performance

Fertility changes

  • Employed a nutritionist to review feeding
  • Feeding a high feed rate for the first six to eight months to improve cows’ body condition
  • Improved body condition resulted in heat detection rate increasing from 39% to 60%m with current insemination rate of 72.5%
  • Vet protocols put in place and routine vet visit now take place weekly, not fortnightly
  • Cows dried off on the same day every week to increase attention to detail
  • Cows seen three weeks after calving to check if they’re clean, 45 days in milk if no heat has been observed and 60 days in milk if they haven’t been served
  • Sexed semen used to aid growth of the herd, shifting from a 50:50 heifers born:bulls born ratio in 2012 to a 59:41 heifer:bull ratio in 2017

Focus changes

  • Getting the whole team on board with the vision so everyone is working towards same goals
  • Creating routine so tasks are done consistently every day
  • Milking and feeding “bang on time” at the same time every day
  • Increasing cow comfort with a new slatted shed, rubber matting in feed areas and fibreglass finish on feed zones to increase dry matter intake
  • Installing a new rapid-exit parlour for the three-times-a-day milking and feeding in parlour
  • Getting involved in discussion groups, learning from others and applying those learnings at home
  • Using data and technology to monitor herd key performance indicators. Mr Evans now uses data to back up all decision-making to ensure progress is optimum
  • Genomic profiling the herd – This revealed a difference in profitable lifetime index (PLI) of £524 between the lowest and highest scores. Using this information, Mr Evans has put heifers scoring in the bottom 10% to a beef bull

Forage changes

  • Switched to multi-cut (six-cut) system in April 2017
  • Aiming to make drier and higher-protein silage and cut bought-in feed costs
  • This has allowed better use of slurry and reduction of fertiliser use, with no fertiliser applied between fourth and sixth cuts
  • Growing more home-grown crops – currently at 65% – to free up cash