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Cowmen Comment: Rosemary Collingborn and her husband Joe

Rosemary and her husband Joe farm a closed herd of 100 pedigree Friesian type cows, 60 youngstock and breed bulls for sale. She has served on the MDC Council, Veterinary Products Committee, the RSPCA Council and was WFU dairy chairwoman. 

Our new cubicles are now in operation, but the wet autumn and contractor delays meant they were not ready on time. As a result, our cows were out much longer than we would have wanted and had to wade in and out through the mud.

 

They suffered lameness, mastitis, ovarian cysts (probably due to stress) and we incurred the subsequent high vet bills. The first time the cubicle doors were opened, the cows took 19 seconds to lie down as they appreciated the dry lying.

 

The new cubicle layout for 140 cows is also giving us an opportunity to take the dry cows out of the barn and into the far end of the cubicles. This area can be gated off according to the number of dry cows, without making the milkers short of space.

Although having new cubicles to replace the 1974 Challow ones is certainly something to celebrate, we have been left with a problem; 10 cubicles have had to be roped off due to water ingress. This had been a problem with the old cubicles, but we had put this down to the roof leaking. The problem has not been solved, so it can’t have been the roof, and in spite of our best efforts, we cannot work out where the water is coming from.

 

What a difference a year makes. This time last year our cows were out at grass, then only back in for a week in February when it snowed. The water table is still extremely high as I write, and I know we are not alone.

 

Excess water has bothered all producers this winter, leaving many arable farmers scratching their heads and wondering what to plant this spring. This could mean cereals could be short this year, as well as straw. We had a good stack of straw bought at a reasonable price, but it was stacked outside and was not improved by the excessive rain. We bed our cows on straw, even in the cubicles, and a straw shortage would affect us badly.

 

A real casualty this winter has been our farm track, which is nearly a mile long, with puddles so deep that some low slung vehicles are unwilling to come down it. It is fairly easy to stabilise the track over summer by adjusting the camber and adding new scalpings, but winter rain soon displaces them.

 

It is nice to be off the beaten track, but it is not so enjoyable negotiating the many potholes. Road planings are difficult to get now and scalpings really only offer a temporary solution, but concreting or tarmacking such a length would be horrendously expensive. Any ideas?


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The new cubicle layout for 140 cows is giving an opportunity to separate out the dry cows.
The new cubicle layout for 140 cows is giving an opportunity to separate out the dry cows.

Occurrences

 

One of the most remarkable occurrences this winter has been the exceedingly high milk quality, with three weekly NML results of more than 5% in December, and individual cows reaching 7.8%. Who needs Jerseys?

 

Another positive move this winter has been extending our CCTV system, which has been extended to the various tablets and mobile phones for everybody on-farm. This should mean we can still see what is going on if we are on holiday. Just need to fit in a holiday to test this theory.

 

Communication is key to offset the many media attacks on our industry, many of which we consider quite unjustified.

 

Why should dairy be demonised when it is such a healthy, nutrient dense drink, full of the essential vitamins we need? We need to educate consumers urgently. This could be seen as the job of the Dairy Council, AHDB Dairy and the NFU, but many farmers would like to do their bit, and would be willing to welcome organised groups onto their farms.

 

Carbon footprint

 

They just need good factual pointers, not least how our farming’s carbon footprint is mitigated by hedgerows and grasslands, together with the methane cycle. A good point to start is with a class of school children.

 

Talking of which, our annual school visit took place recently and this ties in with reception class’ annual project: ‘Do cows drink milk?’

 

I find this title unusual and it must puzzle children too. Last year we let some cows out, so they could see how cows graze. However, the school bus driver hates mud, so this year they looked at cows in the yard instead and the cows were very happy to come over and sniff them, to the alarm of one or two.

 

When asked what they liked best this year, nearly every one of them said ‘cows’, whereas last year it was ‘calves’. We started off with a warm cup of chocolate with marshmallows in the top. This went down well except for one little boy who said he didn’t like hot chocolate. His mother said afterwards we should have called it ‘chocomilk’ which he loves. Sometimes it’s all in a name. We have also offered to have some of the older classes visit, as then we could hopefully enhance their knowledge of dairying and how milk is produced.

 

One of our favourite moments this time was when one little lad was asked what would he like to do when he grows up? He replied without hesitation, ‘I want to be a dog and round up the sheep’.

Farm facts

  • Farm: Family run 185 acres dairy farm in North Wiltshire
  • Herd: Closed herd of 100 Friesian type pedigree cows
  • Yield: 7874 litres
  • Soil type: Heavy on Oxford clay
  • Rainfall: 749mm
  • Milk buyer: First Milk
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