Farmer Focus: Early housing and catchy silage after rain

We are now well into breeding the autumn calvers. The autumn mob were housed fully by mid-October, some 10 days earlier than normal. Wet fresh grass was limiting dry matter intakes.

We’re happy with how things have gone this season, considering we started with a relatively inexperienced team.

Calving outside with moist ground conditions made things more challenging.

See also: How to reduce mastitis ahead of spring calving

About the author

Jonathan Hughes
Livestock Farmer Focus writer
Jonathan Hughes and family run a 650-head organic autumn block-calving dairy herd with followers on 435ha (1,075 acres) in Leicestershire, selling milk to Arla. Livestock are intensively grazed throughout the growing season, with all forage crops grown in-house.
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Nutritionally, the herd transitioned well, with 1.7% milk fever and 3.2% retained foetal membranes, which will hopefully put us on the front foot for a better breeding season.

There has been the added complication of milking 100 additional spring cows this year, on the back of poor fertility in the autumn herd two seasons ago.

This has meant, at peak, there were 750 cows milking in October, which put a little more pressure on the system.

To make things simpler, these have now been sold, with more calvings budgeted for next autumn.

We started breeding the heifers (R2s) a week earlier than the cows.

This year, we have invested in the Cow Manager tag system for their heat detection, after buying it for the cows last year.

The objective of this was to reduce the demand of skill for manual heat detection on night checks, and benefit from the improved accuracy of serving sexed semen at the correct time.

Three-week submission rate for the cows was 89%, and all but one heifer was served in the first three weeks.

The saturated conditions have made all late forage operations difficult.

However, it has certainly been a year to rebuild forage stocks and carry a surplus over to next year, which is what we required.

Both the maize and the beet yields have exceeded expectations, but only half of the beet has been lifted, and 7ha of maize was combined and crimped rather than forage harvested. 

It was frustrating that we didn’t manage to get a fourth cut from the lucerne due to tender conditions underfoot.

However, in late November, we managed to take 100ha of grass silage on a rare windy, dry couple of days.

As expected, dry matter was low (about 25%), but at least it’s in the pit for a dry day.