1 March 2002


A programme which encourages producers to assess herd

management has helped improve profitability on the farm

where it was initially developed, as Wendy Owen finds out

A DAIRY herd management protocol which encourages producers to take a fresh look at how they run their business has shown worthwhile benefits on Mark Chippendales farm near Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria.

Mr Chippendale has seen production and profits rise since he implemented Dugdale Nutri-tions prototype M3 Manag-ement for More Than Milk protocol three years ago, with the help of the companys technical manager Bryn Davies.

Mr Chippendale reports a 2600kg yield increase and a rise of £269/cow in margin over all purchased feed in the three years (see table). However, he is keen to point out it has not worked miracles or made him better than any of his neighbours.

"This programme is all about looking at five main issues: Health, nutrition, fertility, housing and welfare. Then making decisions based on the limitations of the farm and the amount of capital available," says Mr Chippendale.

"It is also about raising awareness of what you are doing and the effect that has on cows. It is all too easy to plod along without really thinking or making sure you are getting the most out of the cows."

Three years ago, Mr Chippendales closed herd of 180-pedigree Holstein Friesians at Wharton Hall Farm was fed a simple ration and average yield was 6800kg. Despite cows grazing at 210m (700ft) above sea level and above, yields have increased to an average 9400kg. Costings show milk from forage has risen from 2800kg to 3700kg, while milk quality has stayed at 3.3% protein and 4% butterfat.

One of the main reasons for the performance improvement is a change in the diet. Previously, a simple mix based on grass silage and containing sugar beet pulp and soya was fed. Now, the herd is given a complete diet with a high percentage of whole-crop wheat, which had never been grown on the farm before, plus first cut grass silage, straw, wheat distillers grains, molasses and minerals.

In addition, a product which Dugdales makes for the farm is offered and this contains, among other ingredients, maize and prairie meal.

The aim is for a daily dry matter intake of 26kg/cow of the ration, which is supplemented by a 19% protein cake fed according to yield in the parlour.

"The new ration is more expensive, but cow profitability has gone up and the herd is healthier on this diet – in particular cows feet are in better condition and culling because of lameness has been reduced. Conception rates have stayed about the same despite the increase in yields," says Mr Chippendale.

Another major alteration was the building of a new cubicle house, with wider passages to give cows more room to feed. It also uses cow mattresses, instead of bedding, which have proved highly successful.

"The old housing was in desperate need of replacement, so I would have had to make a major investment whether I had been on the M3 programme or not. But using this system meant I paid more attention to cow comfort, which was a priority when I was designing the building."

Dry cow management has been another area which has been closely scrutinised.

"Previously, dry cows were fed on silage and minerals. Now I look more carefully at their diets to try and build each one into a milking machine," explains Mr Chippendale.

All animals are dried off eight weeks before calving and put on 15kg of silage and ad-lib straw. The intention is to keep intakes at a maximum without cows putting on flesh. "When the rumen is not kept full during the dry period, the change back to an ad-lib diet seems to bring on twisted stomachs, which is something cows suffered from in the past."

At three weeks before calving, cows are put on 10kg of the high yielders ration, with 2kg of a pre-calving concentrate pellet, ad-lib straw and silage.

But it is not just alterations to rationing which have improved production, adds Mr Chippendale. "I now try harder to keep on top of grazing swards in summer, so it is grazed at about 10cm. When it starts getting away I mow it, so cows are always getting grass when it is sweet and young. And I have started moving electric fences in the evening, so cows have access to fresh fields at night when research shows intakes are higher."

Mr Chippendale is also keen to praise his herd manager, David Gornall. "Having top class staff has been crucial to the improvements we have made," he adds.

Dugdale Nutritions Bryn Davies says the increased yields Mr Chippendale has seen are only part of the picture. He believes lower vet bills and a general improvement in profitability can also be achieved without huge capital investment.

"Producers are often too busy working to think about small changes they can make to improve profitability. This programme focuses effort to get the best results, mainly by making sure the basics are done properly. Something as minor as ensuring water troughs are clean and in good working order can improve results," says Mr Davies. &#42

After major housing renovations, cows are more comfortable in a new cubicle house, sleeping on mattresses.

&#8226 High-spec milking ration.

&#8226 Comfortable cow accommodation.

&#8226 Grazing younger grass.

Year Yield Milk price Feed Feed Margin over all

(p/litre) cost/cow purchased feeds

1999 6800kg 19 1.9t @ £115/t £209 £1082

2001 9400kg 19 2.72t @£160/t £435 £1351

Mark Chippendale and Bryn Davies believe that using a management programme to focus efforts have resulted in increased cow yields.

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