‘The cow is the customer’, believes farmer Stephen Cope, of Bawhill Farm at Adderley, Shropshire. This philosophy is what has led Stephen Cope to take a holistic, integrated and data-driven approach to running his herd.
He points out that ultimately everyone involved with the farm – him, his staff, advisers and the dairy he supplies – are dependent for their living on the cows.
As far as transition is concerned, it has led him to develop a separate dry cow facility away from the main farm.
The approach has reduced stress on the cows, led to better health, needs less close management and is paying dividends across the whole herd.
He is now planning to move his far-off cows to a facility on the same site.
Mr Cope moved to the current site in 2005 and the first cow was milked there in 2006.
He says: “We had around 220 cows and were operating a very traditional system.
Then we had the opportunity to move to this site.
We felt that the future lay in doing things on a much larger scale.
My father had seen housed cows run on an intensive system in Italy and we were going to increase to 400 cows on our old site, but this opportunity came up.
“It’s a completely different approach and we have had to do a lot of learning as we have gone along.
When we came here we had 650 cows and, with an emphasis on cow comfort, we put mattresses and sawdust in.
Then we went to the States and saw evidence that showed cull rates went down when the cows were on sand, so we went over to sand.
It’s hassle but it’s well worth it.
“We then moved the far-off dry cows onto another unit.
We had a limited calving space on-site, cows in cubicles and a 15-cow space straw pack that we were moving animals into on a daily basis.
We had social turmoil in the herd, lots of stress and consequent problems.
“I had been working with John Cook for some years and he kept telling me that we were missing production targets and we needed animals back in transition for longer.
That said, the business was still doing well and we added another shed and a further 250 cows to bring the herd up to 900 milking cows.
Obviously that put further pressure on the system and we could see that transition was the big bottleneck.” During this time the farm had joined Premier Nutrition’s Transition Management System (TMS).
Under the system an independent assessor visits the farm once-a-month to assess cows during the transition period and provide data for informed management decisions.
Bawhill Farm won ‘Newcomer of the Year’ in 2019 and has since been short-listed for a number of other awards.
Mr Cope readily admits he needs to make even greater use of the data which he has available.
However, the information coming out of TMS and his herd management software – BoviSync – helped to drive his decision-making.
“I had been to a series of seminars looking at the new life of the calf and better colostrum management within a better transition system.
Then I heard a nearby farm had been put on the market and I decided to buy it.
I went to the bank and said I wanted to buy it to move my transition cows there.
It wasn’t an easy sell because we weren’t talking about putting more productive cows in, but all the information I was getting indicated that we needed to do transition better.
“I said that it would make more money than building another 200-cow cubicle shed on the existing site.
By changing the system I believed we could get another two litres a cow across the whole herd.
“The vet was also saying that we were getting too many first infections on animals coming through the dry period.
By moving the cows to a socially stable, separate dry cow unit mastitis has dropped to virtually nothing.” For Mr Cope bringing together the various areas of information from the TMS system demonstrates that there are a variety of factors which contribute to achieving better results.
He says: “TMS shows if you get the comfort level and cleanliness right and reduce stress, it helps to reduce the risks and drive up performance levels.
The higher you can get the peaking, the more you are going to see persistency through the whole lactation and the greater yields will be.
In addition by removing the health risks such as mastitis, you are reducing the chances of the cow being culled.
“We have seen reproduction performance increase and as a result we are reducing the chances of the cow being removed from the herd for a non-reproductive reason.
This makes it much easier to select the animals that you want to take out, as opposed to those that you have to take out.”
Mr Cope took a very deliberate decision to place the new dry cow facility on another farm and away from the main milking herd.
“It’s quiet and peaceful and there’s a lot less stress on the cows,” he says.
“Other dairy farmers are surprised.
They think I should have it up on the main unit because they think we should have people around the calving cows all the time.
Actually having it there would mean there’s too much noise and too much happening and it stops them from calving.
Isolated from the rest of herd, they are much more relaxed and will get on with calving by themselves.” Other benefits from the new dry cow unit include lower rates of stillbirths, reduced levels of assisted calvings and lower incidences of metritis.
Mr Cope and adviser Andrew Pine, of Premier Nutrition, can also clearly see the new unit is allowing cows to have a longer period in the close-up group, encouraging any nutrition and management changes to have a significant impact.
Prior to opening the unit, the farm was averaging only 12 days in the close-up group, which was not enough.
By targeting 28 days in the new unit, they are now achieving the recommended 21 days.
For Mr Cope the reason more farmers do not invest in transition is simply the lack of data.
“If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage,” he says.
“By looking at the data I could see the problem with transition.
There’s no point in having the data if you don’t make changes as a result of it.
Moving the dry cows away from the farm was a big move and we were apprehensive but it has worked really well.” Both Mr Cope and Dr Pine agree that often the focus in the industry has been on milk production rather than transition.
However, by moving the focus and investing in transition, Bawhill Farm has seen improvements in performance across the board which is paying back the investment in terms of higher peaks, better persistency and more milk in the tank.
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