Monitoring key to transition success for Neil Baker

The spring/early summer period has been a real challenge here, but we have finally got our fresh cow programme back on track. As always, these issues come down to forage dry matter and mineral content.

As the combines start to roll once more, I feel one of the most important things for the health of our cows during the next year is to secure a single source of straw. I don’t actually think straw quality is crucial, as long as it’s dry and we’ve got enough of it. The crucial thing is for it not to ever change – this is why our rations went out of kilter this year.

We started changing things weekly without waiting for the response and got ourselves in a right muddle. As it turns out, the correct ration was the exact one we had been feeding before we starting changing things. This does enforce my belief that early dry period feeding is the most important part of the dry period – the problem is you cannot see those changes until those far-off cows get themselves into the fresh pen.

Although I now think we have it pretty much right, my desire to improve in this area of the farm is turning to the social aspects of the maternity pen. A few management and facility changes I have planned out should improve this area, which I believe is the most important part of the business. We are now using a monitoring system here that gives us a very good handle on how we are doing with transitioning our cows. It is currently a very manual system, but could easily be automated. The idea is to get a monthly percentage of cows that get to 30 days without issues. Although it does take a couple hours to do it, I’m sure it’s crucial.

Neil Baker manages his family’s dairy farm and cheesemaking business at Haselbury Plucknett, Somerset. His 1,050-cow herd yields 10,200 litres a cow a year, with one-third of milk made into vintage cheddar on farm. Neil was the 2010 Farmers Weekly Dairy Farmer of the Year.

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