REPORTS FROM THE SHARP END…
The real world of dairy
farming is reflected in the
experiences of our
contributors. Heres the
latest news from our four
busy producers. Their
reports are from Berkshire,
Stephen Brandon farms
100ha (250 acres) at New
Buildings Farm, Stafford, in
a ring fence, with another
30ha (73 acres) of grazing
taken annually five miles
away. He has 170 pedigree
Holstein Friesians and 110
dairy replacements. About
28ha (70 acres) of cereals
are grown each year
BEING a member of the BGS Plate Meter Group for the past two years has been great for discussing issues with other producers.
One thing that has come over, strong and clear, is that if we are to keep our fixed costs under control, particularly those associated with machinery and equipment, we need to have little as possible and keep to the basics.
Four-and-a-half years ago I put in a new, all-singing, all-dancing, 20/20 milking parlour including auto-identification and milk meters all linked up to a computer in the dairy office. The parlour has proved very expensive to run, even routine servicing is costly and last week the auto-ID failed for a second time in six months. The first time I had a repair bill for £1084, and just to rub salt into the wound the manufacturer isnt carrying any spares.
I can only suggest that if you are contemplating a new parlour for the future, keep it simple and beware of fancy electronics.
The move towards block calving and a cut in the labour force – we have decided not to employ a student this year – has concentrated our minds on improving our calf rearing system. We need a method of feeding milk large groups of calves quickly and easily with little labour.
Last week I bought 16 New Zealand made calf teats, drilled holes for the teats around the top of a 45gal plastic barrel and fitted pipes from the teats to the bottom of the barrel. Hey presto! We have a superb, quick way of feeding 16 calves. This was an idea seen at one of last years discussions group meetings and the more cows that calve closer together, the bigger the group can be.
Grass has been growing well since mid-February. It looks a wonderful dark green colour since spreading fertiliser and with an average cover of over 2200 kg DM/ha there is plenty to graze.
As usual the weather is responsible for most things, we did not get the cows out in February and early March is getting wetter by the day. Most cows have now calved which means that the later we turnout the drier ground must be to carry the extra hooves. *
John Round believes that sensible cows would prefer life on UK concrete to New Zealand starvation.
John Round farms 134ha
(330 acres) in the
Gloucestershire Severn Vale.
It is home to his 180-cow
Roundelm herd of Holstein
Friesians and 180 followers.
Cows average 10,000 litres
on twice-a-day milking. Maize
and cereals are also grown
I HAVE just returned from a couple of weeks holiday in Australia and New Zealand staying with friends, most of whom are dairy farmers.
Like us, they are not exactly enjoying the most prosperous time.
Although often critical of the Kiwi system, I felt a great deal of sympathy towards the actual farmers and even more to their cows. Their prices are continually being squeezed, almost to an unsustainable level, so reinvestment is impossible and survival the goal. This is probably the only parallel they have with the UK.
The milk price of under 10p/litre bears no relevance to ours, as their cost of living is about one-third of ours. They do not have to waste time filling in forms, no passports and the thought of assurance schemes is a distant nightmare. There is no capital cost of quota and little cost of plant and buildings. But over 90% of milk is produced for manufacture and export.
It is the distance producers feel that they are from the market that allows most cows tails to be docked. Perhaps the Free Range claim should be changed to Freedom From Food. With farm advisers so pre-occupied with maximising cows an acre and cows an hour through the parlour, they have overlooked the basics of cow feeding.
The high cost they have to pay for grain made no economic sense, but they enjoy a suitable climate for growing maize and the few farmers over there growing it enjoy huge benefits. One such farmers herd was averaging over 7000 litres, twice the national average, and in his words: "Most New Zealand cows are starved."
It should be the moral duty of their experts to advise the farms to cut stocking rates and conserve more forage to feed their cows 365 days a year. We have appreciated some of the advice received on grazing techniques from our Kiwi visitors. Now they should learn some basic stockmanship skills from us.
If fed properly there would be no need for the common practice of inducing up to one-third of a herd.
Not exactly happy dancing cows. If I were a cow, I would rather live on UK concrete. *
Grass intakes have been measured at 7kg of dry matter a cow in a three hour period, says Mark Osman.
Mark Osman is herd
manager for the 300ha(750-
acre) Berks farm owned by
Zeneca. It is two-thirds
owned, and 154ha (380
acres) is cropped with 117ha
(290 acres) of grass and
12ha (30 acres) of maize.
Stocking is 150 Friesian
Holstein cows, 100 finished
beef, 80 replacements, 10
sucklers and 330 ewe lambs
JEALOTTS Hill has had its earliest turnout ever this spring, on Feb 14. This meant cows only spent 99 days fully housed.
Looking back to 1991, when I started here, the housed period lasted from mid September to mid-April – thats over 200 days.
Grass intakes have been measured at 7kg of dry matter a cow/day taken in a three hour period, usually straight after morning milking. This has meant a reduction in grass silage usage of 1960kg a day – a saving of 30t during the month. At a value of £11.50/t fresh weight well save £345, or £25 a day.
Calving is nearly finished with only three left to calve out of a batch of 50. Suckler cow milking finished after only two weeks, not because herdsmen Peter and Brett lost interest, but due to the fact that the fight involved in getting 8 litres a cow wasnt worth the effort.
I will put this down to experience, but it will not put a damper on me continuing to try something different in the future.
I have fortunately been able to attend a number of farming conferences recently all of which were professionally staged and directed at topical areas. The most interesting and informative in my opinion was the Kingshay Profitable Dairying Conference.
Martin Hutchinson and the rest of the Kingshay team are certainly delivering the information, and now costings, that can help progress of dairying at this farm and many others.
Weve recently had our parlour dynamically tested. It disappoints me that a test that we have waited for since mid-November proved to be of so little use to us. The report begins by stating that the parlour is working to all current ISO standards and that the cows are quiet and appear contented, which we already knew.
It then leaps into areas of improvement. The estimated costs of its recommendations would be over £2000. I believe in the saying "dont fix it, when its not broken". If we use this service again, I would need evidence to convince me of any benefits to the cows, milkers or the people who maintain the parlour before changes are made. I believe we could end up paying for someones opinions and not for sound scientifically based advice. *
George Holmes farms with
his brother David, on two
rented units totalling 144ha
(360 acres) in Sussex. They
are currently stocked with
145 dairy cows, block
calved in the autumn and
100 followers. His objective
is to decrease costs,
particularly by increasing
use of grazed grass
MY brother, David, has been away for six weeks in New Zealand and Australia.
Officially, his main aim was a family holiday, but he has stayed with a number of farmers and visited a few farms.
This is payback for the time I spent on my Nuffield Scholarship two years ago. Mind you, we had a couple of extra bodies working on the farm then. I am beginning to wonder what they did because we seem to do as much without them.
Fortunately, the weather has so far worked in my favour to keep us ahead. We spread about half the contents of the weeping wall slurry store in January, but the level has quickly risen again. Cows seem to be producing extra slurry this year which more than matches the extra milk produced.
We managed to get dung from straw yards spread on the fields destined for maize and linseed during February. This included both the dung from the latest monthly clean-out, plus the heap accumulated from the previous clean-outs.
By the end of February, we had ploughed over half of this ground. This will allow it to weather and we will be able to work it down with one power harrow pass.
I am itching to let the cows out. We have just about enough grass, but it started to chuck it down with rain again, just as conditions had got dry enough.
The cows have held on to their milk well in the past couple of months. They have averaged 24 litres a head right through January and February, which will put us 5% over quota for the year.
I have decided to do a back-to-back quota deal, at a cost of 3p/litre, on just over 2% of the excess. Despite it being unlikely that the UK will be over quota, an insurance of £600 to avoid paying £5000 seems worthwhile.
It is now nearly 18 months since we bought a two-bedroom house in a nearby town, which we let. It is interesting to compare the return on capital to farming. In 18 months we have made a 28% return on investment, after tax. That is as good as leasing out milk quota and certainly better than leasing it in and milking cows. *
Despite his brothers absence from the farm, George Holmes had managed to keep ahead on muck spreading and ploughing for maize and linseed.