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Milk watch

Farmers GuardianWhile the Milk Watch farmers have their hands full with calving, Boehringer takes a look at what to look out for when managing autumn calvers.

Fourth cut complete and calving underway

It has been a strange season on Huddlestone Farm, near Steyning, West Sussex, where Milk Watch farmer Tim Gue has just completed his fourth cut of silage.

This is two cuts more than is normally achieved in this relatively dry corner of south east England, and represents a sharp contrast to expectations little more than two months earlier. But since the prolonged dry spell finally came to an end in June, growing conditions have been ‘almost perfect’ and the quality of grass ensiled looks high.

Autumn calving is also now in full swing in the Huddlestone herd, where it tends to take a week or two for the farm to settle into the new routine. “We’ve had a couple of milk fevers and a couple of retained cleansings, but this is typical at the start,” says Mr Gue. “Dry cows are still at grass and while we like to get them on to the transition ration for three weeks in the run up to calving, it’s difficult to make up a group at the beginning and we inevitably have some in the group for two weeks or even less. “These have not been on the transition ration for as long as we would like and tend to be the ones that have the problems,” he says. “But luckily none of it has been serious, and a bottle of calcium has dealt with the milk fevers and the animals with retained placentas eventually cleansed alright.”

The key to calving success he says is scrupulous attention to hygiene and devising simple processes which are more likely to happen when they are made easy to do.

Big difference
“Simple things can make a big difference,” says Mr Gue, “like making sure the ropes and the calving jacks go in disinfectant every time, which we’ve made easy by designing calving pens with taps and disinfectant in the right place.”

Other simple processes include a calcium bolus as soon as possible after calving for all second calvers onwards, which is an important part of milk fever prevention. “We’ll check the cow’s ears after 12 hours and if they are still cold we’ll give her another bolus,” says Mr Gue. “More often than not this will be for the sixth calvers onwards, and although it’s also a very simple process, we know it’s one that works.” With much of the 400-head herd only a few weeks into lactation, he says health is generally very good and milk production exceptional.

“All we need now is some good news on milk price which will put a bit more spring into my step,” he says. “It’s encouraging to see M&S have increased theirs so it’s surely only a matter of time before the rest of the industry catches up.”

Calving going well with few difficulties

Calving is in full swing at Refined Holsteins in Dorset, where Milk Watch farmer Sam Foot is delighted with the way it is progressing. Describing three of the four herds which make up the whole 700-cow business he says: “At Westbrook Dairy, we’ve had 65 calvings and three cases of milk fever; at Bayard Dairy, we’ve had 70 calvings and one case and at Marsh Dairy, we’ve had 40 calvings and one case.

“Overall, we think the transition diet is working well, although feel we were perhaps over-feeding transition cows at Westbrook, especially with grass silage.” Other precautionary measures at calving include a 40 per cent calcium solution injected subcutaneously for older cows, while any fat cows, or those bearing twins, get 20 litres of a high energy, high calcium drench, directly into the rumen. Calving difficulties have also been remarkably few, which Mr Foot says has been heavily influenced by long-term selection against difficult calving bulls. “That influence comes in more and more now that we’ve been doing it for six or seven years,” he says, “and it fits in with our general policy of selecting against extremes.” Well-balanced The only extreme he says he is seeking is bulls with high daughter Fertility Index, with other traits sought to give well-balanced cows which are not too big and will give plenty of milk. Both breeding and management for good fertility is clearly paying off, with the highest yielding, 11,000-litre herd achieving a 40 per cent conception rate. But one cow in particular has caught Mr Foot’s attention for both fertility and production in the shape of Refined Roy Marissa. And this is despite the fact her sire is one of the poorest Fertility Index bulls used in the herd which has otherwise disappointed. “She’s our highest yielding cow, having just completed her second consecutive 16,000-litre 305-day lactation – at the beginning of which she came bulling just 37days after calving,” he says. “We wouldn’t normally serve until 45 days, but although she was giving 75 litres/day, we decided to serve her, and she held to service, gaining 32 days this year on her calving interval.” The flip side is she had a bull calf, but even this is viewed from a positive slant. “We’ve called him Refined Milk Machine and will sell him for breeding through our own KTR Group. And we really can’t grumble, as we’ve just had a run of nine heifer calves in succession, the last two of which were red and white Holstein twins.”

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