‘Keep life simple’ is the motto for the Mitchell family and their Laram herd of pedigree Holsteins so they can concentrate on making the business profitable.
Perfecting the system to enable the cows to ‘eat, drink, lie down and make milk’ is the aim of Tony Mitchell and his son Will at St Kew Barton Farm in North Cornwall.
This modest aim belies the commitment to excellence and the attention to detail shown in every aspect of farm operations.
Ensuring feeding, animal health, genetics and fertility management are correct allows the Mitchells to focus on the development of their elite pedigree herd.
When Will returned home from completing his degree at Harper Adams University College, it signalled a change in direction for the farm business.
Tony says: “Will has a passion for the pedigree side of the business and he identified some of the internationally renowned cow families which he knew would help us achieve our goal.
“We have started buying into pedigree lines including Cosmopolitan, Bambi, Elegance, Dellia, Lila Z and Rachel to enable us to breed elite pedigree animals and reach these figures.”
Will adds: “These cow families go back several generations and have produced hundreds of descendants worldwide with exceptional classifications and production figures.”
In our business plan we aim to produce between 1.8 million and 2m litres of milk by year five
Now they have a number of heifers and first lactation cows which are of outstanding genetic merit, Will is using embryo transfer (ET) to build numbers.
He says: “We are flushing a few maiden heifers and some milking cows which have been served using sexed semen.
This acceleration in genetic gain is incredible and will help us to build the type of herd we are looking for.”
Ensuring the recipients hold a pregnancy is obviously critical to the success of this genetic advancement and the Mitchells believe feeding correctly underpins management.
Will says: “We tend to use heifers as recipients because they do not have any other stress to contend with so we see a better success rate with them.
Ensuring a stable diet throughout the early stages of the pregnancy is vital so we purchase all our feed from Harpers Feeds because the quality is consistently high and delivers results.”
The consistency of the diet is similarly critical for the calves and youngstock and Will has refined the ration with Paul Cholwill from the rumin- ant team at Harpers, so it delivers the required rate of live weight gain.
Mr Cholwill says: “The calves are given a Harpers 18 per cent calf rearing nut and 2kg of Deccox fed at a preventative level against Coccidiosis from birth until 10 months of age.
Over this period the calves are achieving growth rates of 0.9-1.0kg per day.”
Frequent monitoring and recording ensures they are meeting the required growth rates.
Tony says: “We invested in electronic weigh scales which are accurate to within 0.5kg.
So we weigh the youngstock regularly to make sure they are achieving the live weight gain we are looking for.
“At 10 months old we switch the heifers onto a blend which contains sugar beet, soya, wheat and molasses.
We have switched to barley straw for the youngstock because there is far less variation between bales compared to silage.
It also aids rumen development.
“We aim to achieve between 0.7-0.8kg live weight gain per day from 10 months.
We serve our heifers at between 12-14 months old and by this time they are 60 per cent of their anticipated adult weight.
During the embryo transfer stage, heifers are fed a bespoke diet,” adds Tony.
Heifers calve between 22-24 months old when they weigh 600kg and as soon as they calve, they are given a reviver product to rehydrate, boost energy levels and encourage their appetite.
Although Will has not set out to select genetics on the basis of production, the herd average 305-day yield currently stands at an impressive 9,995 litres, with 50 per cent of the herd comprising first and second lactation animals.
Will says: “We are hoping to break the 10,000-litre bar next month and over the next year we hope to add 500 litres to our herd average.
We supply Saputo Dairy UK on a constituent contract, so we are working closely with Harpers to ensure our butterfat and protein levels remain high throughout the year.
“In the parlour, the high yielders will receive 9kg split into two feeds of Harpers Buttermax which is 18 per cent protein with a high sugar beet content to maintain energy levels.
The cows are buffer fed with second cut silage and a blend in the shed during the day in summer.
“Over the autumn and winter, we feed a mix of grass silage, maize, home-grown wheat, a protein mix containing soya, maize, rape and distillers grains supplemented with UFAC Supa Cream, a mycotoxin binder, mineral and a rumen buffer.
“Our maize is harvested with a shredledge unit on the forager and this year it is the best we have ever made, analysing at 42 per cent DM, 39 per cent starch and 12.8 ME.
We add this to the ration during late autumn.
“Harpers analyse our silage on a regular basis to monitor and check the rations are balanced and effective,” Will says.
Cows are turned out after first cut silage, usually in the first week in May and are out day and night until July when cows are housed during the day, as daily temperatures rise.
Will says: “Eighteen months ago we invested in SenseTime technology.
As well as helping us with heat detection, it has enabled us to monitor rumination, which aids early diagnosis so we can isolate and treat cows appropriately.
“We have introduced strict milking protocols which include pre- and post-dipping.
We use selective dry cow therapy and now more than 90 per cent of the herd receive no antibiotics at drying off,” adds Will.
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