Farmer Focus: Litre gains trump transition pains

I genuinely thought when I came home from Harper Adams University that what I perceived as problems on the farm could be tackled methodically, one by one. I would focus on each weakness in turn, until they’d all gone.

This is, to a point, what we all do. We have periods where we improve specific parts of life or work.

However, what I didn’t realise is these problems don’t stay fixed: they require constant attention to keep all the plates spinning.

About the author

Tom Stable
Tom Stable and family, Ulverston, Cumbria, milk 300 Holsteins twice a day, producing milk for Arla and ice cream for their Cumbrian Cow brand. The 215ha operation, of which half is rented, grows grass, maize, and winter wheat. Cows average 10,800 litres.
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In autumn 2018 we introduced maize into the rations, and the cows moved into the first sand shed. Milk yield jumped from an average of 28-30 litres a cow a day to a peak of 37 litres that winter.

See also: How a dairy farm is using a straw dryer to reduce waste

Ever since, we have struggled with transition. We saw much higher levels of ketosis, milk fever and displaced abomasums than we would have liked.

In spring, we finally got a handle on this, with young and old cows calving in with very few problems. It would appear subclinical milk fever was our downfall.

But over the same period, we lost some of the milk we had gained. Milk sold dropped from nearly 11,000kg to just under 10,500kg a cow a year, with slightly poorer components, too.

The focus will be to maintain the fresh cow health while regaining the lost milk. I suppose we’re aiming to have our cake and eat it.

Last autumn, for the first time, we planted rape into the wheat stubble for the wintering sheep. Overall it has proved a success.

When you consider the time, diesel, seed and so on, it’s not a hugely profitable exercise. However, the ground looks in great shape, ready for the maize to go in.

The dry weather at the end of January was a welcome surprise and has allowed us to get out onto the land with muck and slurry.

We took delivery of a new tanker at the back end of last year to allow us to make better use of slurry on land further away from home. This has worked very well, but operator overconfidence has seen it stuck this week, typically, right in front of my house.