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Cowmen Comment: Christopher Murley "We had virtually no milk fever with cows calving and getting going very well"

Insights

Christopher Murley farms in partnership with his parents and two brothers at Higher Bojewyan Farm, Pendeen, on the extreme west tip of Cornwall, where they run 310 pedigree Jerseys and 140 youngstock.

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After a very busy 12 months of building and altering the yard and buildings at Levant Farm, the first of the cows were moved there on December 20 when they were dried off. These will be due to calve from the beginning of February.

 

As of mid-January, we have 70 cows and 19 heifers loose housed on deep straw with five inches of sea sand underneath for drainage and to keep them off concrete to start with at least. After lots of debate, we bought a used straw blower rather than a chopper so the straw stays long which seems to be working well so far. Cows certainly appear to be comfortable on deep straw and stay clean, although we are putting lime on each bale to try and control mastitis problems.

 

We still have more work to do before cows go out, but hopefully with reduced cow numbers at home we’ll have more time to finish cow tracks and fence the sides. But the biggest job to do is to rebuild the slurry store. The glass-lined steel tank was unusable with lots of holes in it, so back in summer we took down an identical store, in good condition, on a local farm to re-use at Levant. We are in the process of cleaning the sheets ready to rebuild.

 

The last cow calved at home on December 12 and earlier on, after much thought about dry cow feeding, we had them on a diet with a calcium binder instead of partial DCAB. Although the DCAB did seem to work in preventing milk fever, the DCAB diet was always on a knife edge to overcome our high DCAB grass silage.

 

Having calved all autumn calvers I have to say we had virtually no milk fever with cows calving and getting going very well.

Fat and protein

So far milk is down a little from previous years but the fat and protein is up at 6.24 and 4.3 respectively, and our Arla Milklink contract will more than make up for less volume. We have been fortunate to have made some excellent clamp and baled silage, with cows eating around 13kg DM and achieving close to 10 litres from forage which has made it possible to reduce concentrate to help margins.

 

After a kind autumn, youngstock started grazing kale on January 2. Up until then we managed to keep them on grass alone but, with the ground getting too wet, we decided to take them off and not damage the sward which would have reduced spring growth.

 

For the last five years we have run an Angus bull with the heifers, but in November we sold the last bull as he got too big. We have gone back to AI for this batch and after a busy spell all but two have been served and are hopefully in-calf.

 

To make it easier to get heifers in-calf next year we have reared two British Blue cross Jersey bulls from our own cows as most pure bulls are too big. We also plan to use them as sweeper bulls for both herds to keep the calving period to no more than 12 weeks. It will be interesting to see how they turn out and what their calves are like. After AI’ing the milkers, all but 15 cows from the autumn-calving portion of 180 cows have been served in two months.

 

Our autumn reseeds are looking well because of the good weather. Some fields at Levant were sown with long-term leys, without clover, to help with weed control. Later this year we will sow clover into the leys once they are clear of docks. August seems to be the best time for us as the ground is still warm, although the sun is not quite as strong, and there is usually enough moisture. Also we have quite heavy dews to keep the seedlings moist. We find if we broadcast clover mixed with fertiliser or prilled lime, and then grass harrow twice followed by a ring roller, then next year we have good clean leys with decent clover content.

 

Business wise, autumn started very well, with a drop in the feed and fuel price. Unfortunately, it is a great shame the milk price has nose dived too. If there is any silver lining inside the big black cloud, it is maybe that it will keep a lid on production across Europe even without quotas, and possibly the price will recover quicker than it might have done otherwise. But then again, who knows?

Farm facts

  • FARM SIZE: 140 ha (350 acres), mainly grass with 16 ha (40 acres) spring barley for alkalage
  • HERD SIZE: 310 pedigree Jerseys milking and 140 youngstock
  • YIELD: 5300 litres at 5.75% butterfat and 3.97% protein
  • MILK BUYER: Arla Milk Link
  • RAINFALL: 1400mm (55 inches)
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