8 August 1997


Total commitment to cows has helped secure one Cumbrian herd the second highest yield in the UK. Jeremy Hunt reports

CUMBRIAN producer John Dennison likes to see his cows either eating or lying comfortably in the cubicles and cudding. Contented cows, run on a welfare conscious system are priorities on this family farm where top Canadian breeding and finely tuned feeding have taken the herd into sixth place nationally on total production.

The Denmire herd is run on 73ha (180 acres) of coastal grazings at Aldingham, near Ulverston in south-west Cumbria. In the year to Sept 1996 the herd increased its milk yield from 9,992 litres to 11,325 litres at 3.91% fat and 3.12% protein and boosted its yield of fat and protein by over 100kg to 796kg.

On milk yield alone the herd is now the second highest in the UK after three consecutive years of increasing its average by almost 1000kg.

The ethos of this family farm, run by John Dennison and his wife Margaret along with sons Andrew, Stephen and Michael, is total commitment to cows.

"We like to be on top of the job," says Mr Dennison, who believes that the switch to three-times-a-day milking three years ago has enabled them to maintain high standards of management by spending more time with the herd.

There are 105 milkers and around 180 head of youngstock. A long standing tradition of selling newly calved heifers both privately and at the regular club sales at Lancaster necessitates a year-round calving pattern. All heifers calve at two years old.

One of the herds best cows is Denmire Gay Lass 29th which gave 19,465kg at 1235kg fat and protein in her fourth and most recent lactation. This Tab daughter has classified Excellent-93 twice and by early in her fourth lactation had produced 50t of milk. The herds heifer average is around 10,000kg.

"We have had some tremendous heifers coming into the herd, particularly Prelude daughters, but to get the best performance we aim to pay close attention to detail in day-to-day management and feeding."

The herd is rationed on a part complete diet system. There are diets both for high and low yielders based on silage, brewers grains and a 21% protein blend which is fed once a day.

But the ration is constantly being reformulated to take account of the changing silage quality throughout the winter. The intention is for high yielders – at around 60 litres – to achieve a daily intake of 30kg of dry matter. In late March the ration for the high yielders – some peaking at 80 litres – was based on 40kg of silage, 4kg brewers grains and 8kg of concentrate. The silage being used at that time had a 38% dry matter.

The policy is to achieve 40 litres from the feeder-wagon mix for the high yielders and 30 litres from the low yielders. A maximum of 9kg of concentrates a day is fed through the parlour. The herd has access to the silage mixture all year round; in summer cows stay inside after the evening milking and can feed from the barrier until milking and turnout the next morning.

"With high yielding cows I dont feel you can rely on grazed grass. The quality is too variable from day to day, even in summer," says Mr Dennison.

Dry cow management has also been changed. After drying off, cows are fed a maximum of 15kg of silage a day and straw to appetite with the intention of keeping them leaner and with no increase in condition score before calving.

The calm atmosphere within the cubicle house is a striking feature of the herd. Cows are totally relaxed and contented.

"I like to see cows either eating at the barrier or lying down and cudding. I dont want to see cows standing on concrete hunched and uncomfortable," says Mr Dennison.

Cubicles have now been extended to 2.4m by 1.2m (8ft x 4ft) and the concrete beds have been dug out and replaced with box-muck. They are bedded each day with straw and sawdust. The 230 soft-bed cubicles include those provided for youngstock.

"We have dry, wide, comfortable beds that have become moulded to allow cows to completely relax when they are lying down. Mobility has greatly improved and bad hocks are a thing of the past," says Mr Dennison who is sceptical about the rough surface of many rubber matting products.

The Dennisons moved to Scale Park Farm four years ago and have continued their policy of using top Canadian bulls. Breeding is considered a major part of the herds success.

Lindy, Astro Jet, Tab and Prelude figure prominently in the herd and youngstock coming through by Mason, Lieutenant and Rudolph are impressive. There are 80 heifers to calve this year.

Although the heifer average of 10,000 litres – including the best heifers, which are giving up to 11,000 litres – is exceptional, the Dennisons are not concerned that such high yields are detrimental to wearability and long-term productivity. There are 14 Excellent cows in the herd and 50 classified VG.

"Type is very important to us. We feel confident with Canadian proofs and are looking for big, capacious cattle, well balanced and with good legs, feet and udders. High lifetime performance can be sustained providing you never lose sight of the functional traits needed to ensure wearability and longevity." &#42

The extra space and soft beds in the adapted cubicles ensure the herd is kept as comfortable as possible.


&#8226 Cow comfort.

&#8226 Commitment.

&#8226 Sound type.

John, Stephen and Andrew Dennison (L to R)… breeding and finely tuned feeding have taken their herd into sixth place nationally on production.

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