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Cowmen comment: 'Winter has gone really well, with cows milking better than likely'

Cornish dairy farmer Christopher Murley keeps us up to date with his 300+ cow herd.

This winter has gone really well, with cows milking better than likely despite the fact they have only had third and fourth cut silage to eat since the end of November.

 

All first and second cut was eaten back in the summer heatwave which wasn’t ideal but, like a lot of farms, we had to keep the cows well fed to hold condition and milk.

 

So we wouldn’t have been surprised if milk yields had dropped after Christmas but they have stayed pretty steady at more than 16 litres.

 


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Cows were out by day until December 12 when the weather finally turned too wet, but this extended autumn helped stretch our limited silage stocks.

 

The milkers have been fed clamp and bale silage through the wagon with 1.5kg of straw and a few more nuts in the parlour to help eke out the forage.

 

Youngstock have been out-wintered again on Hungry Gap kale from the middle of January, having been on grass until then. We didn’t make any haylage last summer so the youngstock and dry cows at Levant have had a mix of some bought in haylage, fifth cut bales and 3kg straw.

 

This has been more expensive and time-consuming than feeding just haylage, but at least they have been growing well and we have used all of the less palatable bales without waste.

 

Now we only have 20 bales of fourth cut left so could do with a good season to build up stocks and try to avoid buying in silage again.

 

We’ve been lucky that we bought some haylage bales three miles away which we could use as needed and ended up having 200, which makes you realise how valuable your own stock is.

The autumn calvers at Bojewyan went out to grass by day on February 11, but did not go out by night until March 25, due to the weather conditions and grass growth. For all but the last few days of March there was an almost daily gale blowing from the north which is the worst direction for us as it is straight off the sea with no shelter.

 

Cows at Levant started calving mid-February with few problems. Then, in early March, we had a few weeks with a lot of milk fevers which was a real nuisance and very time-consuming at the busiest time. We increased the magnesium chloride being fed, which pretty much stopped the problem which was more than likely caused by the higher potassium in the fifth cut which we would not normally feed to dry cows.

 

The cold damp weather was quite hard on the fresh calvers out at grass but, thankfully, the weather turned at the end of March and cows mostly went on all right. We still had a colostrum group that were in by night and included a few cows that were struggling.

 

Heifer calves also found it difficult, with the first batch all having the scour for a week. Some dung samples were taken and showed rotovirus was to blame and all we could do was to keep them hydrated with electrolyte, with the worst ones having some antibiotic and anti-inflammatory.

 

Now, they have gone on well but we had another 37 calves still at Levant which had not had rotovirus and we did not want to bring them back on to the milk machine and them get poorly, so we have carried on feeding them on powder twice a day with milk bars, which has worked well but is more time consuming.

 

At the end of February, we had a digger in to do some work on our cow track. The part closest to the yard was ripped up and relaid with a big camber both sides, then pressed down with the digger. Luckily it stayed dry long enough for it to pack hard and now we are glad to have a very smooth surface which will protect their feet.

 

Over the last two years, we have done first and second cut in round bales as a trial as we felt it was better for the cows, as bales have a higher pH and are also cheaper to feed in winter. We also found it easier to make top quality silage in smaller lots working around the weather.

 

Now we have bitten the bullet with our Claas 800 forager up for sale and we have bought our own combined baler and wrapper so we can be in control and make the most of any good weather windows we get.

 

As of March 30, I think we are the only dairy farmers left in the parish, as our next door neighbour sells up and moves on after his family has been there nearly 100 years.

 

We wish them all the best for the future and will miss the banter, but I am sure they have done what is right for them and they can enjoy life after cows. As for us, we will keep on going. The Arla price is holding at a decent level into April which is positive.

 

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