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Cowmen Comment with John Cameron: "Looking at our costings the feed rate is going up"

John Cameron is farm manager at Wood Park Farm on the Wirral, part of the University of Liverpool Vet School, and is currently involved with animal husbandry trials in association with Tesco.

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I have often questioned the value of growing and feeding three forages. I accept it is good for crop rotation, but it makes the growing and harvesting season seem never ending and that’s before the problem of needing more clamps with three being open and in use all the time.

We ran out of maize early last September, leaving good – but not quite good enough – first cut silage and alkalage. It was time to test the thought process. Intakes only dropped slightly and milk dropped a litre or so, but cows calving in August and September peaked about 5 litres/day less.

Once maize was back in the ration, even freshly cut stuff with as much grain coming out of the back end as was being digested, then intakes increased again. Things were back on track by Christmas, although the cows with reduced peak yields will have less milk overall. At the moment cows look well and fertility is fine.

It seems three forages are maximising intakes for us and it does allow some leeway if one of them is not quite up to scratch. (See table). Looking at our costings, the feed rate is going up (to 0.39kg/litre) but also the milk from forage per hectare is also increasing (to 7000 litres).

It seems that now we have got maximum cow numbers on our land area we have increased overall milk production but at some cost to feed efficiency. For the last few years we have been looking at installing rubber matting in and around the parlour. The cost was a concern and the potential benefits uncertain. After being talked into a good deal we’ve had it fitted in the parlour, first bay of the collecting yard and on the exit.

But the lads soon told me that if it was good enough for the cows it needed to be fitted in the pit too. For the cows, the result is as soon as the collecting yard gates are open, half a dozen charge through to play like spring lambs with seeming disdain for their own safety, so clearly they approve.

They are also quicker into the parlour as they collect at the top of the yard, and even our slowest milker (me) can knock 15 minutes of milking. In addition, we seem to be having fewer white line problems too. Maybe next year we will do more areas where the cows have to walk any distance.

Baby calves have been housed in the old milking parlour and collecting yard for a number of years now. It is okay but ventilation is not great and it’s a big open space which can be very cold in winter. So we’ve been looking at group hutches hoping they will improve the calf’s lot.

A dilapidated barn on the old part of the farm has been demolished leaving decent base for the hutches, and, being a vet school, we’ve bought different types with a view to the students checking them out for insulation, ventilation and general suitability.

I’ve always thought a covered outside area in front of the hutches suits our environment better as it will keep the rain out. While such bits of kit are available they are expensive, so for about £550 we’ve designed and built something out of keyclamp scaffolding, tin sheets and gates (not quite finished the first one yet). It should all be up and running by mid- March.

Fingers crossed it works out! Been on a rough terrain loader course this week and picked up a few things. It all goes to show that an old dog can learn new tricks but it just takes longer. As the manager here I’m more used to giving instructions rather than taking them, so it’s been an uncomfortable few days but now I have the certificate and three years to learn that you shouldn’t be using the joystick and be moving at the same time!

Dairy herd ration


Ration fed (kg) Highs Lows Drys
Grass silage 16  21  9
Haylage 2.5  6
Maize silage  10  5
Alkalage   -
Home-grown wheat 3 - -
Blend 10.5 - -
Molasses  1 1 -
Water 3 - -
Mins  0.2  0.2  0.2
Straw  - - 5

Drys get 2kg dry cow nuts four weeks pre-calving

Farm facts

Farm size: 200 acres (80ha) plus 100 acres (40ha) rented

Herd size: Closed herd of 200 cows, all replacements bred and reared on-farm

Yield: 11,000 litres/cow sold per year.

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