FARMER FOCUS: Change to autumn block-calving working well

July is usually a quiet time of year for us and this year has been even quieter. A good number of cows have been dried off in preparation for our autumn block-calving, so milking is taking half the time. Considering all I’ve written about so far is spring-calved cows, I had better explain about the autumn-calved ones, too.

It was a Sunday morning sometime in the summer of 2010. I wanted to be in bed with a cup of tea and nursing my hangover, not milking bloody cows. Added to this, I could see Mum was feeding the calves. I also had a couple of cows to AI, another one was calving in a pen nearby, dry cows were in with the milkers, bulling heifers had got out and I also had to check the in-calf heifers and other heifers. I finished milking, went inside for my breakfast and sulked. It’s at this point I decided that farming in this way was mental and it wasn’t how I wanted to do it. Don’t get me wrong, I love dairying and I love the cows. The system just wasn’t working.

By chance I came across an article by a vet called Neil Howie. In it he discussed the merits of employing a split block-calving system and it appealed to me. After that I spoke with everyone I felt was a key part of our business to get their views. I was patient and did not push for answers, as this was a big change, but we all agreed about it. We’re halfway through our five-year plan and while it hasn’t always been easy and I’m still learning, the advantages can be seen already.

Setting targets, being disciplined and determining which are our new favourite cows have forced us to focus on how our business works and to not just look at how much milk is in the tank. While we always wanted to improve our business before, we now have set objectives we have to meet. We might not meet them – we all know circumstances can change out of our control. But at least we have something to aim for. It’s a new start for us and we’re very optimistic about our future.

Ross Symons farms 200 dairy cows, including his own small herd of pedigree Holsteins, with his parents near Truro, Cornwall. They are converting their year-round calving herd to autumn block-calving

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