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.