1 March 2002


A milk producer with a 10,000kg herd average

never takes his eye off the ball when it comes to

feeding his cows, as Jeremy Hunt finds out

CONSTANT monitoring of cow diets to optimise yield and maintain herd health can mean making subtle changes as often as every two weeks for David Tomlinson.

His 120-cow pedigree Bilsrow Holstein herd is in the breeds top 1% on PLI and is fed on a regime that isnt planned months in advance based on silage analyses.

In fact, although rationing is overseen by an independent nutritionist, no silage analyses are factored into diet formulation until each grass or maize silage clamp is opened.

"Our nutritionist doesnt even let us take a core sample out of the clamp. We know how it was made and once its clamped and sheeted we leave it alone.

"Everyone has to work with the silage theyve made, so we let our cows tell us how its feeding and then we tweak their ration accordingly. We also buy straights feeds as and when we need them.

"Cows tell us more than an analysis can," says Mr Tomlinson, who runs Bilsborrow Hall Farm, near Preston, with his wife Sheila.

But Mr Tomlinsons adviser doesnt begin his regular ration evaluation by studying the herds milking performance. Instead, he walks among the cows.

"Hes looking for all sorts of tell-tale signs that will indicate herd health, which has a direct bearing on the ration. He looks at coat condition, checks for any redness or soreness on the feet or hint of brown casts around the eyes or behind the shoulders, which might suggest a copper imbalance.

"Then, hell look at the ration were currently using, examine the clamps in winter and grass in summer. Only then do we sit down and assess how the herd is milking and decide what straights we need to buy or how to change the diet."

Subtle changes

It isnt unusual for Mr Tomlinson to make subtle changes to the diet every two weeks at certain times of the year. "When cows are in full-time in September, we can tweak the diet every two weeks. Its a critical time and its essential that protein and energy levels are right.

"And we like to see cows cudding as a good indicator that all is well, instead of just lying down and taking things easy. These modern Holstein cows really do need a diet to ruminate on and maize silage has undoubtedly been the single biggest benefit to our feeding."

The approach to feeding has now moved away from forward ordering large quantities of straights in summer. "Its no good setting a course on cow diets for several months ahead. If you want the best out of the modern Holstein you must be flexible and make changes on a regular basis."

The herd is fed all year round and summer buffer feeding is considered essential. Cows are held in a loafing paddock overnight until after morning milking and also have access to feed troughs inside the cubicle building.

"Our summer mix is 100% maize with a balancer and it gives us a degree of control on cow nutrition. The only way you could achieve total control over your cows diet is to house them all year round.

"Its wise never to forget that the time cows spend grazing is the time you lose control over what theyre eating. We try to do all we can to make up for that by buffer feeding."

The herd, which has a long reputation for selling top quality calved heifers through the monthly Holstein sales at Lancaster, calves all year round.

"We prefer not to manage the herd in groups to keep the system as simple as possible. But we have to top-up with concentrate in the parlour. In winter, we reckon we get about maintenance plus 27 litres off the ration."

The 2002 winter diet is based on 40% grass silage and 60% maize silage dry matter, plus a high energy breakfast cereal mix of rape, sugar-beet and soya meal, providing an 18% protein ration. Daily intakes are about 60kg freshweight diet mix a head. The ration is freshly mixed before each of the days two feeds.

"The Holstein is milk and more milk and to get the best out of her requires close and regular attention to what shes eating. Although some may think its tedious to keep changing the diet, it actually involves little effort. The essence of our system is simple and straightforward. Core management of the herd remains constant, but feeding is critical."

With some of the best cows giving more than 13,000 litres, Mr Tomlinson believes the modern Holstein type should not be criticised on the issue of longevity.

"The size aspect – aiming for tall cows – is not a priority for us, but the cleaner the bone the better they milk.

"On wearability, these cows give much more milk over a shorter lifespan, so are more profitable. What we may be losing in years, we are we are gaining in lifetime production. And a more rapid turnover of cows means our herd is making rapid genetic progress." &#42

&#8226 Frequent ration tweaking.

&#8226 Monitor health closely.

&#8226 Buffer fed all summer.

David Tomlinson believes frequent tweaking of his 10,000 litre herds diet is essential to maintain performance.

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