Focus on milking cows helps to simplify effort
In the second of our series
on Profitable Dairying –
which way forward?
Jessica Buss visits a unit
where simplicity avoids
dilution of management
effort and profitability
CONCENTRATING on milking cows, and buying in all herd replacements instead of home-rearing, allows one Leics producer to focus on efficiency and avoid over spending on variable and fixed costs.
Eric Parkes of Church Farm, Hickling, Melton Mowbray, runs 85 cows with just part-time help from his son, who is a relief milker elsewhere.
The 38ha (95-acre) unit grows grass 8ha (20 acres) of maize and 7.7ha (19 acre) of wheat for whole-crop. Stocking rate is good for this dry area at 2.31 cows a ha (0.93/acre). The herd averages 8012 litres from 2t of concentrate, with a margin over purchased feed of 18.5p a litre and £1485 a cow.
Focusing on the cows alone, with no distractions of a youngstock enterprise, allows time to attend to the cows needs, resulting in low vet and replacement costs, according to Oliver Maxie, Mr Parkess Axient consultant.
There is time to treat lame cows and check on fertility, and other jobs dont get missed. Because Mr Parkes doesnt have to rush around, the parlour is kept tidy, cows are bedded every day and cubicles limed three times a week. He also has time to ensure feed is kept in front of the cows and waste removed before fresh feed is put in troughs.
Because Mr Parkes is not rearing his own herd replacements and is using a Simmental Bull to serve all the cows, vet bills are kept low, adds Mr Maxie.
Culling rates are not high, at between 20 and 25% depending on the year, with just one or two cows culled for infertility, and calving interval is below 365 days.
All services by the bull are recorded, so that Mr Parkes knows calving dates. Only when he is unsure about whether a cow has been served or not is she pregnancy diagnosed by the vet.
The biggest health concern on the farm is lameness. As on most other units we have had some digital dermatitis, adds Mr Parkes.
He believes that buying in freshly-calved heifers does not predispose his herd to more health concerns than most herds. Thats because he buys cows from reputable sources, either at markets or from local farmers or dealers.
"I try and buy cows of good conformation that look like they will perform well, although actual size is not important. I check an animals genetic background and dont buy the cheapest."
Mr Maxie adds that although the cost of buying cows seems similar to rearing your own, there are no labour or fixed costs associated with feeding and muck spreading, nor is there mortality to consider, as when heifers are home reared.
And Mr Parkes, who farms a limited acreage, would need to purchased all feed for any heifers, making it an expensive enterprise.
He also saves on semen costs which is a large investment when you consider that three or four straws are needed to produce each heifer, he points out. It would also tie up more capital in both stock and buildings. The farm currently has no buildings for heifer rearing.
Buying in replacements, rather than breeding them, also means Mr Parkes can also save on the cost of milk recording. Cows are not fed to yield – they receive a total mixed ration outside – so he has no need to know individual cow yields, he says.
"There is no need for me to milk record. I can pick out which cows milk and which dont, especially since feeding a TMR. I can also identify the cows which get fat and are idle and dont suit my system," says Mr Parkes.
Buying in replacements allows Eric Parkes to use a Simmental bull across his entire dairy herd, so simplifying management.
• Low vet costs.
• Milk recording unnecessary.
• No second enterprise to manage.
Rearing heifers would mean having to buy in extra feed, says Oliver Maxie.