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Dairy wisdom in uncertain times

Nick Barradale BVSc MRCVS

As I write this article, I am considering the uncertainty that currently grips the nation, not to mention the agricultural sector, regarding Brexit.

No matter if we leave or stay, wise investment is essential to future proofing dairy businesses. Key areas for improvement in the industry are; biosecurity, data and return on investment.

BIOSECURITY  

During a recent phone call, I was bemoaned by a Dutch farmer over the IBR status of an animal he had purchased but was unable to export to his farm. A second cautionary tale involved a farmer stranded without his purchased breeding heifers he wanted to export to Romania, again due to transit issues linked to their infectious disease status. BVD Stamp It Out has highlighted we are up to 28 years behind some European countries.  We must as an industry better acknowledge biosecurity and biocontainment as a priority to maintaining health and profitability. We have been labelled the “dirty country” and we can only start to shake this with a universal mindset change.

DATA & ROI

Data and targeted investment go hand in hand. If you don’t measure then how can you manage? Unused data is a waste of time but carefully managed it is invaluable.

Hatchlands Farm has steadily developed since we met in 2011. Recent developments have really moved the herd forward in productivity and potential.  These investments have been carefully managed and financially shrewd.

SMAXTEC

The business was lucky enough to receive a Pro Dairy Welfare EU grant for a heat and health detection system. SmaXtec was installed in September 2017; just over a year later the results are fantastic. Earlier in 2017 the farm invested in a new farm software package – Dairy Comp 305.  This has meant  better management of farm data and real time feedback on performance rates.

Pregnancy rate has jumped up from 20% to 24.6% rolling in the past year. This moves the farm from the top 25% into the top 5% of herds nationally, representing approximately £35/cow/year additional gross margin. Tighter fertility not only yields more milk but also reduces stale fat cow issues, improves staff moral and reduces unnecessary forced fertility culls with loss of valuable genetics.

SmaXtec has certainly performed very well for this and other units. Another good experience has been with the Genus Breeder Tag system which has an excellent feature of feed face monitoring; generating actual intake times. Invaluable when it comes to micro-managing high yielders around calving.

COW COMFORT 

The latest investment is somewhat larger; 120 cubicles with 390’ of new feed face; resulting in scope to increase population with at least 70cm feedspace per animal across the herd.

Following on from a very cost effective addition of a 3’ kerb rail and shallow sand beds on top of old mattresses last year the new shed installed deep sand cubicles. Wide alleyways and new plug trough drinkers finish off the new environment perfectly. On a recent visit, it was noted that there were 8 cows crowding round the fresh water supplied by the new trough versus 1 cow at a traditional large concrete trough not more than 60’ away.

The shed was carefully designed to minimise investment but retain potential to maximise return. The investment in comfort has, since opening the shed increased milk/cow/day by 1.2L with no changes to ration.

There have been other investments but a remarkably cost effective option is the foot bath. Some careful planning, a few £s of concrete and a day’s work and digital dermatitis 

is now history.

Paul Palmer of Hatchlands Farm explains: “Best low cost improvements that we have made in recent years. I’d have to say; cubicle beds and permanent concrete footbath.  We have always used sand in cubicles for udder health reasons; 3 times a week on top of mattresses.  We were not happy with hock sores however.  After visiting other units we decided to fit a 3′ angle iron to the kerb of the cubicle to transform them to shallow sand on top of the mattress. We now apply a light top up of sand daily; lying times, cow comfort and cleanliness have dramatically improved. The high kerb does not seem to worry the cows.

Our footbath was removed from the milking parlour exit and is now positioned far enough away from the milking parlour so as not to effect cow flow, its 4m long, has been plumbed into the volume washer and has a large drain.  It’s quick and easy to fill and we religiously use it daily.  Foot health increased and Digi is not the problem it used to be.”

Hatchlands Farm stats 2015-2018

Population: 350 -> 480

Yield:  22 -> 25L/cow/day

Pregnancy rate: 20 -> 25%

Investments: Cubicle adaptations, bespoke footbath, smaXtec heat & health monitor, farm software, new dairy shed- beds & feed space, calf shed, cow flow and management alley.

 

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