The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF)

Monitoring cow nutrition

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This month 2013 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup winner Bill Higgins updates us on the latest news from Wilderley Hall Farm, Pulverbatch, Shropshire, and in particular cow nutrition.

Following on from last month’s article we are a third of the way through the maize and the bucket brush is in full use. It does surprise me that after only six loads of maize from the first field we were checked out by the police regarding mud on the road. But all the signs were up and Andrew was doing his bit with the bucket brush so no problem.

The surprise is that on the night before the Miller’s Gold Cup Open Day Andrew and I had our catalytic converters cut out of our trucks yet this was of little interest to the local police! Welcome to rural policing—find an easy target.

Maize yields and quality
The maize is coming off really well with yields of between 16 and 17 tonnes per acre, dry matter between 35% and 40% and a starch level of 31%.

Our contractor is giving us all this information via his harvest lab computer on his forager. He assures us it is correct as one of his clients with a biodigester has a weighbridge so he can check against it. The proof will be the cows reaction, but for now I will record what fields went into which clamp and we will see.

Today is TB reading day so everybody is very fired up! I had a feeling we were going to pass when first job of the day I went into the calving shed to be greeted by one of our best cows standing proud as punch with yet another Blue Bell heifer calf. This is our largest cow family but I won’t go into breeding detail as Andrew looks after that side and will cover in more detail in future articles.
She is a bit of a legend having completed eight lactations (no big deal) but has given 136,449 kg of milk with a life time daily yield of 34.2 kg. She ate and drank as soon as she was penned up with her calf — an excellent start to the day.

After a few nervous moments we finally passed, 11 months on from the initial breakdown.

I look after nutrition for all our stock. What it really means is getting as much information about how the cows are reacting to what we are giving them and working with Richard Vecqueray, our nutritionist, to get the best out of them.

Richard has been with us since 2004 so he understands us pretty well. We will look at all the normal things like intake, yield, margin, quality, fertility and body condition. But we also look at dung consistency and how many loose cows there are—is this nutrition or something else—and how well they are cudding, how full are their rumens, what are their feet like... the list goes on.

We strive to get a good diet and settle them down on it. I can honestly say we are not there at the moment. On the milkers we are having to use a lot more first cut grass than I would like to make the maize last long enough to give 2013 maize a month in the clamp before feeding.

High yielding cows are basically energy junkies and we need lots of good maize and a small amount of well made fibrous grass silage to balance this. Instead, as we stand, the proportions are the wrong way around and so all 2013 first cut grass will be gone by Christmas. We will then move onto second cut which is drier with a bit more fibre and this year’s maize at around 26 to 27kg/cow/day. have high hopes but as always the cows will do the talking through the tank!

The dry cows have proved to be a little testing over the last few months. We have still been on 2012 haylage with all its problems, including low intake characteristics. We’ve struggled with intakes then going dirty after calving and now too much adeoma. It’s not easy!

Anyway we are on 2013 haylage now and soon to be on 2013 maize, this will allow us to cut back on their concentrate portion and hopefully sort the job out. Despite all these niggles we’ve had very few LDAs and fertility is going really well.
Helping the fresh cows has been the move to the converted deep sand cubicles. All the first and second calvers and any older cows with not too much udder are going onto cubicles and the rest plus any needing a bit of TLC are on the loose yard. Now both groups have ample space for eating, drinking and lying down.

This is having a big affect on the post calving checks that Andrew does (ketones, Temperature, PV score etc). He will go into more detail later.

Good accommodation
I do not think you can put enough importance on access to food, water and good accommodation.

Now I am hoping that when Andrew writes next month we will have finished the maize but right now the rain is pouring down and the clamps are temporarily sheeted up. He says he is going to write about what’s in the flask—I like port and brandy in mine, but each to their own!

Milking cow TMR
23kg grass—1st cut
16kg maize
5.0kg Trafford Gold
3.0kg bread
3.0kg soda wheat
1.75kg SBP
6.8kg Home mix blend
Total 58.55kg

Dry cow TMR
3.5kg Haylage
4.9kg wheat straw
10.5kg maize
2.0kg Rapeseed meal
0.75kg soya
0.5kg soya hulls
0.4kg Dry cow Minerals
0.02kg yeast
9.0kg water
Total 31.57 kg

Wilderley statistics for October
Cows in herd 321
Cows in milk 274
Young stock 277
37.5 litres/cow in milk/day
4.01% butterfat
3.10% protein
128 SCC, 11 bactoscan
28 calvings
Six month LDA rate—2 out of 161 calvings

See the full article on the British Dairying website.

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