Monday 28 December 2009

Easy Simple Winter Feeding for Dairy Cows

It never ceases to amaze me how some farmers make every day tasks really simple while others flog themselves to the point of exhaustion trying to make expensive complicated systems work. It seems a fact of life that complicated systems are always expensive.
The simple systems always seem to work better.
It just takes us all a while to discover that truism.

Winter feeding of housed milking dairy cows is a classic example.
Sadly most dairy farmers spend hours every day feeding their cows (& at huge cost). This makes winter one hell of a drag. It also often means that feeding becomes a specialised task. Once this happens individuals are trapped in a vicious cycle of having to do it as no one else knows how or could be trusted to do it right???

In amongst the "Pasture to Profit" dairy farm Discussion Groups in the UK there are smart people with smart simple ideas & simple ways of doing things. Its a matter of searching out these simple ideas & spreading them thru the groups so we move everyone onto a new more efficient plane. Few of these ideas are truely new but they have been adapted & modified on each farm.

Chris & Richard from the Wyegraze Group in Herefordshire have a simple winter feeding system that uses a silage block cutter & self feed manual barriers that the cows move themselves. The 400+ autumn calvers are ONLY fed grass silage once every ten days (varies). The Silage block cutter (see photo) ensures that the blocks in the barriers maintain their feed quality & the silage clamp face is near perfect(not letting any air into the silage). The capital costs are minimal as the Irish made barriers are a once only cost & relatively cheap. It's a simple diet ideal for a low input autumn calving system.

Sussex is the home of self feed silage. The 'vertical paddock' is low cost & effective with either grass or maize silage. Wastage is absolutely minimal. Calculations for issues like the required eating space for each milking cow have been carefully worked out by farmer experience.....good old 'suck & see' methods.
The 'Spratt silage feeding system for dry cows is a variation on the silage blocks(or bales). A simple system for feeding dry cows on concrete yards at virtually no capital expense & very little labour as dry cows need only be fed once a week(depending on the number of blocks/bales fed & the herd size). The feeding rate can be adjusted by how quickly the wire is moved.....this also controls wastage.

Thursday 24 December 2009

So This is Christmas!

So This is Christmas.
Skype talks with my children & excited little grand daughter. Last minute dot com shopping (I am after all a male). I was greeted on Xmas eve by my cheery & friendly "Postie" as she walked through the snow to deliver those last Xmas presents. "Looks like a white one then!" she said
Christmas for me is all about that wonderful Christmas song that the late John Lennon wrote :-

So this is Christmas. And what have you done

Another year over. And a new one just begun

Ans so this is Christmas I hope you have fun

The near and the dear ones. The old and the young


A Very Merry Christmas. And a happy New Year

Let's hope it's a good one. Without any fear

May I wish everyone a Merry Christmas & a safe one on the roads. It seems I might experience my first white Christmas in England while my children in Australia look forward to a very hot sunny Christmas day.....the extreme difference could not be greater.
Xmas is all about families & friends.... the odd tipple & a few sloshes of Hooch in the pudding.
Before we tuck into turkey & Christmas pudding......I just want to report on a Cow Condition Monitoring Project.
I am monitoring three spring calving herds on a regular basis from drying off to calving. For the early February calvers we now only have 40 days left until calving.....that means we only have a few more days where liveweight gain is still possible (due to the stage of pregnancy). To put a NZ Condition score on requires about 35kgs LWT gain per dry cow. It is fair to assume that dry cows can put on about 1kg LWT gain per day.
In the three herds we are seeing similar patterns emerge:-
Dry cows put on greater LWT gain in the second month of being dry rather than the first month post drying off.
Cows outwintered have ALL put on liveweight (despite the weather conditions) however it is generally less than dry cows that are housed.
And lastly there seems to be huge benefits from monitoring the progress of dry cows as we can calculate the daily weight gain with some confidence. Cows that have difficulties can quickly be attended to and looked after better.....this is an important animal welfare issue.
Merry Christmas to all grass based dairy farmers & their advisers where ever you live in the world.

Friday 18 December 2009

An Open Letter to Sir Paul McCartney ...Please Get Your Facts Right!

Oh dear! Oh Dear! Sir Paul

Please get your facts right before you slam the livestock farmers over carbon emissions.

On the 3rd Dec Sir Paul McCartney addressed the European Parliament in Brussels urging a move to vegetarian diets & launching a European campaign called "Less Meat=Less Heat". In doing so he ignored science & misquoted the UN 2006 report "Livestock's Long Shadow".

Much of the confusion over the relative importance of livestock & global warming comes from a sentence that reads " The livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalents). This is a higher share than transport"

This is clear nonsense given that the UK FAO has clearly stated prior to Copenhagen that.....

"Agriculture (in total)is a key source of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for 14%. But the sector also has a high potential to reduce greenhouse gases by removing CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering it in soils and plants and by reducing its own emissions."

Sadly Sir Paul is not a lone misinformed can add "Meatless Monday", Foodforchange lobby group & even The Lancet where researchers want a reduction in livestock not only to save the world from global warming but to save our health too
This has led to UK government ministers making ridiculous suggestions too.....wanting cattle numbers reduced by 30% in the UK
(It's not only the articles that worry me on these websites it's the public comments!!)
Nor has the BBC's role been exactly unbiased. I actually think the BBC's reporting of Copenhagen has been very poor....thank goodness for the Guardian newspaper.
There are several issues of importance to UK grass based dairy farmers in this mad debate:- firstly, there is alot of misinformation being used by all sorts of lobby groups & even poorly informed ministers.....there then follows much internet chat by the public on newspaper sites & twitter....these are changing the public's perception of livestock industries & dairyfarmers.
Secondly the UK public in general are appallingly ignorant about Global Warming & the risks to Agriculture & Food security worldwide.
And lastly good science is being lost in the debate.
Grass based dairy farmers need to work hard to argue for good science in our community to promote a better understanding of agriculture.....not only do we have climate change issues to tackle but we may well be the centre of many of the solutions to global warming too eg. Carbon Sequestration under permanent pasture grazed by dairy cows.
Agriculture & farmers have access to & are custodians to the future environment of much of the world land mass.....most of which is in pasture.
Our focus needs to be on research & on farm management that:- Improves grassland management to optimise yields per hectare & to increase the organic carbon in the top soils.
Top soil & permanent pasture with efficient grazing systems are not marginal ideas but central to global warming solutions. This crisis will reinvigorate grass/clover based systems & the renaissance of low input grazing for dairy cows.
We should be excited about but want to see more action on Biochar. Carbon needs to be seen as an agricultural commodity = a farm comodity that should be traded.
Never has it been truer to say 'The Answer lies in the soil'
Where is DairyCo????? One of the items on the DairyCo Business Plan is protecting the image & PR of dairy farmers.......Sorry I haven't seen them nor am I getting excited in anticipation! Each individual dairy farmer must take responsibility for the good PR of our industry.
But lets champion the likes of Prince Charles, Lal Rattan(Ohio State Uni), Frank Mitloehner (Davis Uni), David Garwes(RASE) & others who are up for "Good Science" & see agriculture as a solution not only to climate change but food security

Tuesday 8 December 2009

12th December Agriculture Talks Start at Copenhagen

Saturday the 12th December is the start of Agricultural Talks at Copenhagen. As agriculture is now believed to contribute 14% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, these talks will be important to the future of grass based dairying in the UK. Livestock farming is sure to come under scrutiny but so too should pasture based farming where there are huge opportunities to store carbon in soil. Will there be taxes on livestock methane emissions for instance?

Pasture based dairy farming in UK & Europe can present the world with real opportunities as carbon is built up & stored in the top soil. Pasture based farming has a low carbon footprint. At last there is some acknowledgement of this science.

I wonder who is out there fighting our cause??? Who is in our corner????

Outwintering Pads
A group recently visited Paulo Dumont a young Chilian PhD student at Reading Uni. His outwintering pad experiental work is at North Wyke in Devon, UK. The trial is in its second winter....using beef animals on 4 different size wood chips....from large chips 7.5cm (SAC style) down to 2cm, 1cm & sawdust. The effluent is collected from each pad & analysed. As are the weight gains of each group of animals. Various measures of animal welfare are checked how dirty the animals are & how many are resting on the pad surface.
The essential outcome is that there is virtually no difference between the different pad woodchip materials & that the effluent is very similar to "dirty water"
These measurements include Total N, NH4N, NO3N & total Phosphorus. Dirty water is typically 850mg/l Total N (1cm chip pad was 750 Total N), 460 NH4N (1cm chip pad was 290NH4N) & dirty water is typically 52mg/l Phosphorus whereas 1cm chip pad was 38mg/l P.
So wood chip pads are achieving "dirty water" status.
In terms of animal comfort the sawdust & smaller particle pads seemed to be better than the large chip pads. The key issue is stocking rate on the pad & the rainfall during the pad use. The North Wyke trial has 2 stocking rates 12sqm/animal & 18sqm/animal.
These results are very similar to work at Trevarez in France & Moorepark in Ireland. At Trevarez they also found that straw was a very good surface material (see photo). Travarez had some difficulties trying to pad milking cows.
There was a workshop on winter housing including outwintering pads at Lille France earlier this year.
We really do need young scientists like Paulo Dumont working in areas of Dairy Research that directly affect low cost dairying in the UK. Even if they come from Chile.....well done Paulo.
We look forward to the outcome of the agriculture talks at Cophenhagen.
I think the foloowing Chinese proverb is worth quoting:-
"Most people sow rice for next years harvest.....some look further forward & plant trees for the next generation....but to look even further forward you need to educate the young".

Wednesday 2 December 2009

December a Crucial Month for Spring Calving Dairy Cows in UK

Dry cow feeding in December is really important. For February calvers December is make or break month. Young stock have target weights to achieve & most spring calving dairy cows need to gain condition.

Today at Stafford I saw a group of extremely well grown heifers outwintering on Swift forage crop. Not only were they well grown but they were in great condition as well. At last weighing these heifers were on target LWTs. Makes a huge difference when you actually know the weights. Too few farmer weigh the young stock.

NZ targets at 21months (630 days) are Friesian 475kgs, XBred 420kgs & Jersey 365kgs LWT. For 24month (730 days) targets add 60-110kgs. The 10 week calf target is 100kgs....these calves need at least 17MJ/day for maintenance alone.

So lets look at the feed requirements for heifers....a 212kg LWT heifer (10months of age) requires 30MJ/day for maintenance. A 440 kg LWT Heifer (22 months) requires 46MJ/day for maintenance. To acheive winter weight gains above 0.5 kgs/heifer/day the 22month heifer needs approx 9kgsDM/day...(2% of LWT).....whereas the younger heifer (10months) requires nearly 5kgsDM/day(2.2% LWT). This assumes top quality feed.

Dry Cows need very good feeding in December if they are to calve in good calving condition. A mature aged 500kg cow has a maintenance requirement of 54MJ-60MJ/day. To gain a Condition Score (NZ) in a month requires at least an additional 55MJ/day above maintenance. Remember in the last 30-40 days before calving you can't expect to put extra condition on a cow that is about to calve.

I am working with three keen Discussion Group members to both monitor Cow Condition & to develop a decision making tool that combines Cow Condition Score with Calving Date information.
To date there are some interesting findings.....most cows continue to lose condition in late lactation even with very good feeding (this maybe genetic??)...........Cows initially lose additional condition when they are dried off (possibly change of diet??).......Dry Cows need to be fed very well to put on 1kg LWT/day....its a tough target!......and finally maybe heifers need extra time compared to mature aged cows to gain condition.

Can dry cows gain the necessary condition when outwintered on forage crops......the jury is out!

Lastly some interesting Irish work showed that dry cows of high genetic merit could gain weight faster than 1kg LWT per day.......mind you they tended to lose it more easily in late lactation too.

Achieving good cow condition at calving is key to good milk production & better fertility results. A lot hinges on a good December.

Monday 23 November 2009

Proper Dairy Cow ID....small point but so important

Proper clear easily read Dairy Cow ID is so important.
Why in some herds can't you read any numbers when in other herds the numbers are clearly visible?
It is important especially during AI & mating time.
This last week I've been in East Sussex with a Grass based (Pasture to Profit network) Dairy Farmer Discussion Group from Dorset in the UK. On both of the autumn calving herds (both with NZ XBred cows too) we visited it was so obvious that both of the host farmers took care to clearly number the cows. How much easier is it to spot the right cow that is on heat!
Tony had his cows tailpainted using the new aerosol spray paint. It was so clear as to which cows had cycled already & been AI'ed (Blue), which were on heat that day (No.1875) & which were still to cycle in the first round of AI. The tails had been clipped & the cows were very clean.
In Jeremy & Daniel's herd they use a letter & a number system......again very easy to read from a distance. Both these herds had just started heat detection is full on at present.
I've also included a photo of a spring calving herd that we have been condition scoring.(Cow 33 & Cow 2). Again good ID is so important for our recording of each condition score to identify cows for drying off. Note the tape on the tail.....this is appplied at least 120 days before calving starts next year. Each colour denotes a calving group eg Two Yellow tapes is a cow that will calve in the second half of February.
By applying the colour tapes now it will be so much easier to draft cows into mobs or calving groups during the thinking now saves heaps of time later!
How good is the Cow ID in your herd? Is this the reason for poor results with AI....are cows being missed or just not correctly identified? Don't blame your staff.....sort & maintain good cow ID.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Appalling negative attitude to UK Food Production by Defra

Last week I wrote about the importance of research for pasture based dairy farmers.
I believe we must have vibrant Agricultural research teams in the UK to allow us to drive forward & compete on a world stage. I think we need to seriously back research teams with talent & imagination that understand low input pasture based dairy systems.
I'm not convinced we are getting value for money (DairyCo levies) but farmer members of the new industry research committee have written to me this week reassuring me they are trying to get a fair hearing & more research input into pasture based systems.....we wait with eager anticipation to see if they will be successful.
But is the Government really serious about food production & food security in the UK?

This week Defra have reportedly cautioned against self sufficiency in food!!!!!

They write of the risks of UK extreme climatic events which would put at risk a policy of "self sufficiency". For goodness sake who are these people??? UK surely has a very favourable climate & very good soils for food production. We have willing farmers!
We are in a world threatened by massive food shortages.......the UK has the potential to hugely increase food production yet our own department is anti.....depressingly negative & anti!.

Surely given the right incentives the UK should be planning to help feed the world......but no, the Defra people are warning against even attempting self sufficiency!!!!???!!?

If this is how the policy makers see agriculture & farmers what hope is there to get increases in research funding?
Dairy farmers in the UK should be appalled by this Government's attitude & negativity.

Lets be positive
Lets sort ourselves

Pasture based dairy farmers need to organise themselves to plan & manage a research portfolio that is totally under our control.

A really good model for doing this is the Birchip Cropping Group (BCG) in arable Australia.

Discussion Groups need to react & join together to seriously consider the "Birchip model" of 'participatory on farm research'.
C'mon! We've got lots of work to do in Carbon management, Soil Sequestration, Biochar, Climatic change impact on grass growth using the EA's predictive models (exactly how is climate change going to affect our ability to grow grass in the UK?), water management, removing water from slurry, On Farm Energy reduction, summer active pasture varieties & forage crops just to name a few research priorities. Groups need to talk about dairy research priorities.
GRASS GROWTH SLOWS DRAMATICALLY....Impact on Cow Condition Scores
Grass growth has slowed due mainly to colder soil temps as frosts & dull days indicate winter has arrived with a blast.
It concerns me on a number of farms where Cow Condition scores are being monitored that condition is being lost.......are you drying cows off quickly enough to achieve the best condition score at calving???? It appears that CS is still being lost even after drying off?? You need to build this into your wintering plans & allow time for each cow to achieve calving condition. After drying off cows need to be put onto a full milking ration to pick up liveweight.....with the use of 'good drying off practices' this should not affect udder infection rates. Time is limited.
Go & look at Cow Condition NOW
Pasture Covers & Current Pasture Growth Rates
Northern Ireland 2190 KGS DM Av. cover& growth of 16kgsDM per ha per day
Dumfries 2350 & 17
Cumbria 2050 & 20
Nth Wales 2103 & 30
Nth East Wales 2300 & 10
Shropshire 2280 & 26
Staffordshire 2285 & 21
Derbyshire 2179 & 11
South West Wales 2389 & 30
South East Wales 2480 & 42
Gloucestershire 2320 & 18
Gloucestershire 2320 & 27
Somerset 2070 & 14
Dorset 2014 & 12
Dorset 1982 & 25
Hampshire 2500 & 20
Cornwall 2100 & 33
Curtins Farm Teagasc 2154 & 22
Southern Ireland 2200 & 24
Average Covers 2215 & average growth of 23kgsDMper ha per day
Very good covers but growth has dropped dramatically.
Drying off decisions now crucial!
Last week before Nuffield applications are due. Lets get some pasture based dairy farm scholars off on travel studies around the world.

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Pasture Based Dairy Farmers Must Commit to Research

Last week I attended the UK Nuffield Farming Scholarship Conference in Chester. I was very impressed by the obvious learning & excitement that is the "Journey" that Nuffield takes young people in Agriculture. A "Nuffield" creates an opportunity to travel the world & enter into the wonderful experience of personal research in something agricultural.

Every 'Pasture to Profit Discussion' Group member should be aiming to win a Nuffield....its a journey that changes peoples lives & businesses forever.

Yet within the excitement of Nuffield there was also reason for deep concern. As each scholar spoke about their travels & research.........I got more troubled about where agriculture in the UK is going...what is the future? Why? Each Nuffield speaker spoke of the amazing advances in agricultural research, on farm innovation, the large scale of farming in some advanced countries like NZ, Australia, USA, Brazil, Canada & Argentina.

How are we going to compete???? In Europe agriculture is besieged by regulators, research is under funded (& in the UK almost wiped out completely) & farming innovation has been squashed by decades of debilitating subsidies. Sadly there is a culture within agriculture that does not include research as a focus for progress.
This very sad culture includes UK politicians who clearly don't respect nor value research. The inane politicians are more likely to be influenced by popular 'of the day' lobby groups (eg TB eradication & GM technology) rather than 'Good Science'.

'Pasture to Profit' grass based dairy farmers & their Discussion Groups need to totally embrace agricultural research. Our very future depends on it. Make no mistake without research & active on farm innovation there is NO future.

There are a number of different levels of research that we need to consider.
Dairy Research Funding in the UK
Recently Discussion groups financially contributed to fund young Irish researchers to travel to NZ. This is a great illustration of commitment to research.
However it begs the question about the value of DairyCo levies & the research return we get as grass based dairy farmers from DairyCo. I see little tangible evidence of research that is of value to grass based dairy farmers in the UK. Dairy research in the UK is in serious trouble in my view.
Participation in On Farm Research in the UK
At every opportunity we must get involved with & encourage on farm research projects in the UK. We can contribute, enhance the research & effectively back good science & top research teams. Being part of the projects also means we have quicker access to the results & can spread it amongst the groups. Good research will be taken up quickly.
We (members of Discussion Groups across the UK) are currently working with Dr Christina Marley's group from Aberystwyth measuring green house gases with dairy farmers who outwinter on saved pasture. A Dairy Cross Breeding research project headed by Gillian Butler from Newcastle University is about to start with another group of 'Pasture to Profit' dairy farmers. Several OMSCo grass based organic farmers are acting as Demo farms for research into energy use on dairy farms. This involvement must continue at a pace.
Access & Face to Face Contact with Top Researchers
Dairy farmers must get access to the very best Agricultural researchers & their work. We must establish a dialogue & create opportunities for direct Face to Face contact where ever possible. Many group members have benefitted by their conversations with the likes of Dr Padraig French from Moorepark, Valerie Brocard from Travarez in France or Dr Jock MacMillan from Melbourne University Australia or Dr John Roche from Ruakura NZ.
On Farm Innovation & Personal Research
Dairy farmers in grass based Discussion Groups must be at the forefront of new ideas & innovation. This involves personal research, accurate recording & bright ideas. We in the UK should 'walk tall'...........I think we lead the world in some areas eg Dairy Cow fertility & Outwintering techniques & are leaders in grass management & utilization in the Northern Hemishere.
Doing a Nuffield is an extension of this concept of 'do it yourself research'.
We in the UK are going to have to fight for our right to exist in a very competitive world. For this to be reality we must embrace research in all of its forms & spread good agricultural science & the results of the research to our Discussion Groups as fast as possible.
We are going to have to initiate change in the UK......compared to the rest of the world we are being left behind. So what are we going to do about it NOW.
"The foundation of every state is the education of its youth" quote Diogenes (Ancient Greek Philosopher 412BC-323BC)
I wonder what Diogenes would make of the state of dairy research in the UK???

Friday 23 October 2009

Critical 100 Days to February...Cow Condition Decisions

It's 100 days until many spring calving herds in the UK & Ireland start calving.
100 days is D Day for Cow Condition.
It's 100 days until February.
Colour Tail tag each cow according to her calving date NOW it makes winter dry cow management so much easier.

100 days from calving is an important day for any dairy cow that is Condition Score 2 (UK) or CS 3 (NZ or Australian Cow Condition scoring).
100 days is required to regain that lost condition before calving. EVERY COW NEEDS TO BE CS3(UK) or CS5(NZ,Aust) at calving.
100 days is important as the last 30 days before calving cows can not put on extra weight due to pregnancy. 100 days is important because one NZ CS (Condition Score) is equivalent to 35-40kgs of Liveweight. 100 days is critical for all breeds & sizes of cow even though a CS in liveweight terms is different depending on the size of cow. So to gain a NZ CS is going to take at least a month (35-40 days). That is assuming full feeding of good quality pasture or silage to gain 1 kg LWT per day.
You can only do this for a 500kg FJX cow if you feed an extra 55 Megajoules of good quality feed per day ABOVE daily dry cow maintenance which is 54MJ/day. Extra condition must go on early after drying off.
Look for Dr John Roche & Kevin MacDonald's "Condition Scoring Made Easy" at the website below
One extra Cow Condition Score (NZ,Aust) at calving produces an extra 200litres of milk, 10kgs milkfat & 6.5kgs protein. There is no advantage in exceeding CS5.5 for heifers or CS5 for mature dairy cows. In fact there are reproductive negatives of having over fat cows at calving.
Each extra cow condition score gained before calving reduces the interval between calving & first cycle by 5-6 days. Cow condition is vital to getting cows back incalf quickly. Check the InCalf website.
The target is to have all cows at ideal calving condition at calving at the very least a minimum of 85%. Never have more than 15% of cows below target at any time. The herd average is a useless figure & meaningless. 100 days out from calving is decision day!
Autumn Calving Herds
After calving the target is to not lose more than 1CS (NZ, Aust) or 0.5CS (UK). The second target is to be gaining condition score on all cows before AI starts.
Pasture Covers & Current Growth Rates
Current grazing conditions are as close to perfect as is possible on most farms in the UK. Many farms are very dry & it is the dryness rather than the soil temperatures (10-12 degrees C) that is limiting growth.
Northern Ireland 2300kgs DM/ha cover & 20kgsDM/ha/day growth.
Cumbria 2150 & 25
Cumbria 2300 & 16
Derbyshire 2312 & 42
Shropshire 2400 & 35
Staffordshire 2240 & 21
Staffordshire 2325 & 20
North Wales 2620 & 50
South West Wales 2630 & 45
South East Wales 2480 & 31
Gloucestershire 2460 & 44 soil temp 12.5 degrees C
Somerset 2350 & 25
Devon 2550 & 68