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

Monday, 19 October 2009

Farm Tractor Safety...Don't Risk Your Neck!

Recently Jason a member of the Hybrids Discussion Group had a VERY LUCKY ESCAPE. Jason is an experienced dairy farmer on a steep hill farm. He has years of experience in driving tractors on the hills. Fortunately he lived to tell the tale to the Discussion Group last week.
Lets set the scene:-
He was spreading dirty water/manure. It was a dry day on a dry soil/pasture. The steepest part of the paddock had already been completed. In fact the paddock where the accident happened was relatively flat. The paddock surface was smooth.
The tank suddenly rolled over taking the tractor with it. As it happened the tractor didn't actually roll.....but as you can see from the photos it ended up on it's nose! The tank was baffled to prevent too much movement of the fluid. The pressure on the lower slurry tank tyres was extreme. The lid on the tank was the only thing stopping a very serious accident.
Damage to Jason was a minor head cut (lots of blood!) & there was a minor dent in the slurry tank. Thank goodness!
So what went all happened in seconds!
The Discussion Group believe the Slurry tank was too big for the tractor & the centre of gravity of the tank was too high.
The rear wheels of the tractor could be wider to create greater stability. (Insurance is replacing the tank with one more suited to the hills...with a lower centre of gravity)
On Jason's farm it maybe better to look at gravity fed dirty water transport rather than with tractors & slurry tanks.
Farms are dangerous work places & safety is an absolute MUST. Tractor accidents happen all too often on farms. In my experience where a fatal accident happens on a farm it is rare for that family to continue farming.
It is a gruesome experience for any farmers & their families. Check the safety of all farm vehicles. Is there a safer better way of doing a job? Get rid of the 'It will never happen to me' attitude.
Organise tractor safety training for ALL staff including yourself.
Never let children on a tractor. Be alert & drive safely!
Let Jason's lucky day be a warning to everyone!

Monday, 12 October 2009

Opportunities to Save Electricity on UK Dairy Farms

Opportunities abound for real savings in electricity costs on most dairy farms. At a recent series of Pasture to Profit Discussion Group meetings in England it became obvious that the grass based dairy farmers are already trying innovative ways of making real savings in energy use.
We saw variable speed control units, heat recovery systems, effective night based ice banks & even wind turbines.
The variable speed control units (Varivac) on vacuum pumps & milk pumps have demonstrated savings on electricity useage. On most group members' dairy farms the current pay back period for this capital investment is less than 12 months......making this decision a bit of a 'No-Brainer!' (And no I don't have shares in Varivac) but it's a matter of simple maths.
There may well be other associated advantages lower BMCCs, less risk of stray electricity & even a higher milk price if there is less damage to milkfat (caused by the milk pump).
It also makes good sense to try to recover heat/energy from existing motors within the milking parlour. Ice banks run over night at the lower electricity tariff make alot of sense too.
A NZ development by Mahana Blue may offer even more possiblities in heat recovery technology.
What can wind turbines offer dairy farms? At first inspection not as much as the variable speed control & heat recovery units.....this is because a dairy farm has two peak demand periods during milking. Wind turbines can't normally meet this unusual requirement. However the wind turbine we did see will help offset the electricity being used on the dairy farm. It maybe more useful for powering water pumps like the good old days of farms having windmills. On current pricing wind turbines have a 8-10 year pay back period.....that's if you have sufficient wind....which you must check.
You need to concentrate on electricity saving devices that have a quick pay back period eg the variable speed control units.
The Rural Development Programme for England has recently made available the 'Agricultural Resource Management Capital Grant Scheme..........up to 40% of the capital cost of energy saving devices on dairy farms could be met by this new grant. Discussion Group members should move quickly to secure these grants in my view.
It seems highly predictable that UK electricity costs are going to rapidly increase. So dairy farmers need to move quickly to control costs & at the same time positively contribute to the environmental issues related to global warming & carbon emissions.
All good exciting stuff!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Chicory..Interesting Summer Forage Option.....& Is that RAIN I hear?

Chicory is an interesting summer forage option. It is a broadleafed perennial herb with a deep tap root. Pasture to Profit Discussion Group members in different parts of the UK are very pleased with Chicory both as a summer forage crop & as part of a perennial pasture seed mix.

Without crops of Chicory some farmers in SE England & the southern coast regions would have struggled for summer feed this year due to the very dry conditions. Rotational grazing on about a 21 day rotation & strip feeding for 2-3 hours a day (to avoid tainting milk) can provide high quality feed for milking cows or heifers. As Chicory doesnt fix N so it responses well to nitrogen fertilizer if there is some moisture.

NZ trials have recorded up to 18 Tonnes DM/ha.

Chicory is best sown in the spring at either 1-2kgs/ha in a pasture seed mix or at 5-6kgs/ha if targeting a summer forage crop. The summer crop option is best sown with a vigorous clover to provide the nitrogen. Feed responses appear to be similar to turnips as Chicory has good protein levels & ME levels of 13MJ/kgDM.

Why is Chicory interesting? Massey University (NZ) has found that it contains 'Condensed Tannins' & that these may act to protect animals from internal parasites.

Chicory has elevated levels of minerals & an interesting study in NZ found that there were higher populations of earthworms under Chicory compared to regular pasture over the summer months.

Chicory only has moderate persistance say 3-4years....dont graze it in winter nor poach the ground in wet conditions. Leave at least 1500kgsDM/ha residuals to prevent too many growing points/crowns being damaged.

In the groups it is either being grown for summer forage or as an internal parasite control option.

There is plenty of discussion on our facebook group about Chicory & its merits or problems.


The UK has been very dry in rain for 4-6 weeks in most areas. Today however the rain fell again.....we need more to encourage pasture growth & rescue newly sown crops/pasture.

Pasture growth rates are falling due to lack of rain however the Dry Matter of current pasture is very high off setting what appear to be falling average pasture covers over most of the UK. Many organic farms are out growing their conventional mates as the clover % is very high in well managed pasture swards. Organic pastures seem to consistently grow really well over summer & autumn.

Current Pasture Covers & Pasture Growth Rates

Cumbria 2650 kgsDM/ha & growth of 35kgsDM/ha/day

Cumbria 2350 & 30

Northern Ireland 2190 & 37

Nth Wales 2650 & 65

West Wales 2690 & 60
South East Wales 2610 & 24

Cheshire 2200 & 10

Gloucestershire 2455 & 34

Somerset Nth 2500 & 35

Somerset 2450 & 45

Somerset 2300 & 18

Dorset 1950 & 11

and in Cornwall (my recent French visitors discovered this is not part of England!)

Cornwall 2480 & 61

If you are using the 'Big Red Telephone' to "He or She (upstairs)...who controls rainfall over the UK" can I quietly suggest light warm gentle rain every second evening over the next 10 days ....please! No heavy falls.....oh & we'd like a dry winter too if that's not too much to ask for please! Thanks.