Running a contracting business alongside a dairy farm means life is extremely hectic for the Truman family of Hill Top Farm, Leicestershire. Despite the many challenges, attention to detail is never compromised and the excellent performance figures are testament to this. Chloe Palmer finds out more.
The herd of 208 Holstein Friesians at Hill Top Farm, Leicestershire, averages a milk yield of 41 litres per cow per day and fertility rates are currently 2.5 services per conception.
Nevertheless, they are always looking at ways to improve and so signed up for the Alltech® NavigateTM service.
Ian Leach, retail programme manager for Alltech visited Hill Top Farm in April.
Mr Truman says: “Ian arrived with a boot full of equipment so he could test our silage."
“He took density and temperature measurements and visually assessed the silage.
“I was interested to see what he would find because our first cut silage is always very soft and we find the shear grab cannot cut it properly at the face.”
"The visit was much more detailed than I expected"
Mr Truman farms just over 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of which, more than 900ha (2,225 acres) is arable, but grass silage still forms the most important element of the partial mixed ration.
A silage cut is taken once a month and this year due to an early season, the first cut was taken on April 20.
“Normally we would take a first cut on May 5, but this year the grass was ready so we mowed and the bulk was similar to our usual first cut.
The grass came into the clamp very fast so even though we compact it carefully, it may not be entirely consistent across the whole clamp,” Mr Truman says.
Mr Leach’s assessment of the clamp revealed some losses, particularly at the top of the clamp and he made several suggestions during the visit which were reiterated in Mr Truman’s detailed NavigateTM report.
The main recommendation was to improve density down the silage clamp wall side, especially on the left-hand side. This could be achieved by using another tractor to compact throughout the process of clamp filling.
Ensuring the layers of grass are no thicker than 15cm will also help to improve consolidation, Mr Leach adds: “Mr Truman should endeavour to sheet the clamp overnight wherever possible and should use side sheets down to one metre in from wall on floor with end to end gravel bags down the sides and back.
“A tighter, quicker seal will reduce aerobic activity and improve quality.”
Mr Truman acknowledges these measures will potentially reduce losses and he is keen to adopt what he has learned from the Navigate process to improve the quality of the silage made both on his own farm and for his clients.
Mr Truman has robots, so he is able to assess a wide range of indicators demonstrating how the cows are performing on the ration.
"Cows visit the robots on average between three and 3.5 times a day and the robots record how many times they are ruminating"
At the moment, the figure for the herd is about 425 times whereas the optimum we are aiming for is 475-500 times per day.
“This shows there is room for improvement in rumen function and the Alltech visit pointed to the lack of scratch factor in our ration.
This is because our first cut silage and last year’s straw is very soft meaning the cows are not getting enough fibre in their diet,” Mr Truman says.
“Ian suggested we discuss the protein balance in the ration with our nutritionist. He has advised that we look to include more fibre in the cow’s diet.
This will hopefully improve rumen health and therefore cow health and yield.” The figures show fertility across the herd is no cause for concern but Mr Truman is keen to identify measures which could improve it further.
The Alltech® NavigateTM report pointed to the need to reassess total mineral balance and potentially reduce and replace the inorganics in the diet, directing Mr Truman to his nutritionist to discuss the issue in more detail.
As Mr Truman’s thoughts turn to the cereal harvest, he says the Navigate service has given him plenty of pointers to consider as he spends long hours in the combine and on a tractor.
“The visit was much more detailed than I had expected but it was very interesting and it has given me plenty to think about so I can make small changes moving forwards.”
"The visit was very interesting and it has given me plenty to think about so I can make small changes moving forwards"
Under-wilting can cause insufficient dry matter and excess effluent. Over-wilting results in excessive sugar and protein degradation
If temperature at 10cm is hotter than at 50cm behind the clamp face, silage is losing energy
Fibrous left overs indicates sorting which leads to poor rumen efficiency. A 0.1 drop in feed conversion efficiency is worth £11,200 for every 100 cows over a 200-day housing period when milk price is 28ppl
Every one hour less than the ideal 14-hour lying time target is one lost litre
The rumen should be converting 21kg of dry matter intake into a minimum of 31.5 litres of milk at 4 per cent fat and 3.2 per cent protein
Health incidences, such as metabolic disease, lameness, and udder health challenges, have a significant impact a cow’s performance in addition to the overall cost of production
Suboptimal cow fertility is commonly an under-estimated and hidden cost of production. Just a 1 percent improvement in pregnancy rate is worth £20/cow/annum.