Neil Baker’s yields hit by poor weather

Well, there is no let up in 2012 weather patterns, is there? The implications of this weather on crop quality and quantity is clear for us all to see – we are currently two to three litres back on yield a cow, and everyone I talk to in the industry tells a similar tale.

As we’ve introduced 2012 forages to the ration every time we’ve added one it’s made the situation slightly worse. I’ve got a feeling there may be an unseen factor holding things back, as most of the forages have analysed pretty well. Is it just the fact the crops were grown with very little sunshine? Or is there an unusually high challenge from mycotoxins?

Perhaps all that is really going on (as I think I may have mentioned before) is just a dry matter issue, which we make worse by tipping our forages on the feedpad the day before use? We basically end up with a 34% DM maize when it’s cut out of the clamp, actually being 28% DM the next morning and then fed with no adjustment. Therefore we overfeed concentrate every time it rains, then the next day we feed a different ration because it doesn’t rain.

We realised a few years ago the way we harvested crops with varying fields and dry matters going into the same clamp was affecting intakes, so we’ve made a really concerted effort to deal with that. But as we’ve expanded and a higher proportion of forage gets shipped in the day before use, we are unsurprisingly seeing similar symptoms in our cows again.

Moan over. What can we do to sort it out? First, we’re building more silage storage at the dairy. This should allow us to store 75-80% on site, with an ambition to make that 100% very soon. Second, I think we need to extend our feed store so we can tip transported forages inside to maintain consistency.

So, a bit more building needed, but with winter approaching and bought-in feed predicted to be at record price levels, wasting our home-grown feed and diet upsets can’t be allowed to happen. I must get on and order some concrete.

Neil Baker manages his family’s dairy farm and cheese-making 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 is the 2010 Farmers Weekly Dairy Farmer of the Year.

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