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Lucy Allison: Blogs

Blog Entry #1 - 12/01/2017

Looking at breed and grass production to increase milk solids produced per cow and per hectare

The day before the conference started, I got the opportunity to have a farm tour of one of Teagasc’s Research Farms. I headed to Clonakilty Agricultural College to hear about the current research project which is looking at “The Effect of tetraploid and diploid swards sown with and without clover on productivity of spring milk”

The farm was sown with 4 treatments as shown in the diagram below

Diploid with clover

Diploid no clover

Tetraploid with clover

Tetraploid no clover

  • 30 cows were grazing each treatment
    • 10 Holstein Friesian
    • 10 Jersey Cross (Jersey/Friesian)
    • 10 3 way cross
  • 20 paddocks per treatment
  • Stocked at 2.75 cows/ha
  • Every paddock received 250kgN/ha during the season

Every treatment received the same amount of supplementary in parlour feeding. Cows were grazed from February until November.

Clover treatments contained 25-30% clover within the sward.

Due to clover swards being slower to get going in the spring, extra silage needed to be fed to grass +clover treatments to bridge the gap but during the summer the clover treatments produced extra grass which could be taken off as bales and used the following spring.

Grass Effect

Grass V Grass + Clover

 

Grass

Grass + Clover

KGS/MS

427.5

485.5

  • +58kg MS/cow (on average 2014-2016)
  • Extra income of €262/cow
  • 262 x 2.75 (stocking rate) = €720/ha extra

A key message was that everyone should be managing and promoting clover within their farm to maximise digestibility, utilisation and grass production.​

Breed Effect

When comparing figures between the 3 different breed types, the research found that Cross Breds were +13.6% more Feed Conversion Efficient than Holstein Friesian cows (on grass).

Cross breds were +12% more feed conversion efficient that HF cows (grass + clover).

A combined effect of using clover and cross breds =

  • from 0.81kgms/kg body weight to 1.03 KGMS/KGBW
  • +27% improvement

Not even allowing for increased replacement rate

  • Cross bred average 5 lactations/cow
  • HF average 3.2 lactations/cow

Grass Only

HF

X-Bred

Profit/ha

2090

2438

 

Grass + Clover

HF

X-Bred

Profit/ha

2631

2950

 

2016. Teagasc

 

In my next blog entry, I’ll talk about my visit to the Positive Farmers Conference and my main learning outcomes from this year’s event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Blog Entry #2 - 13/01/2017

Farm Labour and the possibilities

Apologies for being slightly off topic but I think this is a very important part of any efficiently functioning dairy farm, or any business for that matter.

Motivating them, keeping them happy and retaining them. It’s not as easy as it seems and it’s a regular problem on dairy farms. Not everyone is built for early mornings and the long hours, and the sun is not always shining.

Communication, responsibility and motivation seem to be some of the key drivers and of course salary. Well run farms provide opportunities for workers to not only gain qualifications and knowledge but also to take responsibility.

Other possibilities

I already knew there were other options into farming than just owning your own farm or being born into it, but after going to the conference my eyes were opened to other options.

Whether it be renting land to rear a few heifers each year and building up an asset. Owning cows and leasing them out. The possibilities are endless… but are limited by TB status.

Two of the speakers from the conference; Mathew Jackson (Wales) and Will Grayling (NZ), gave insightful presentations with very positive outlooks on the dairy industry even under the current climate. Needless to say I returned from the conference filled with enthusiasm and confidence that tiny acorns can grow into giant trees.

Opportunities are out there for driven individuals to go out and get. If you have dreams go out and seek them, don’t wait for opportunities to be dropped in your lap.

My next instalment will consider breed traits which should be sought after for healthy, productive long life cows.

 

Photo by Horse Business School.


Blog Entry #3 - 14/01/2017

Maximising Grass Utilisation during the spring and summer months

From visiting Ireland it is clear to see they are the best at monitoring and utilising grass in the industry.

 

Picture above: The Farm at Clonakilty, Southern Ireland in January.

 

Following my visit to Ireland in January I have set about maximising grass utilisation and growth at Sychpant on the grazing platform. A plate meter has been purchased and we have subscribed to Agrinet to help with grass budgets for the week ahead.

 

The farm is plate metered every week during the summer to monitor grass growth, and results are entered into agrinet which produces a graph to show the farm covers and the grass balance for the herd.

In the example below it shows a grass deficit of -2100kgDM. This has been a typical picture for the past month but by measuring grass and using agrinet we have been able to plan for this and buffer feed the cows to fill the feed gap. If we had failed to plan, we would have planned to fail!!

 

This can also be used to highlight which paddocks are under performing and need to be soil sampled and reseeded.

This has been a challenging spring with limited rainfall but every year is different and we must be in a position to adjust.


Blog Entry #4 – 15/01/2017

Breeding Policies

Introducing cross breeding to improve hybrid vigour which we hope to improve longevity and fertility in the herd.

Selecting sires for milk solids. Where we are situated lends itself to supply a milk buyer with a cheese contract so in selecting for these breed traits we are producing for our contract.

KPI’s

Some Key performance Indicators that will help improve efficiency are:

  • Economic breeding Index and survival in the herd;
  • yield in terms of per cow and per ha;
  • Cost per litre of milk on a rolling 12 month period.

Information record keeping

From my visit to Ireland it is clear that improved record keeping and herd monitoring needs to be done to manage herd performance. The farm currently uses Uniform as a herd management program which works together with the parlour computer to link the milk production information. By moving to a more autumn block from an All Year Round calving system the programme has helped us to highlight problem cows that are carry overs and not suited to the system. And due to building numbers and being a closed herd we have held onto these cows. With sufficient replacements we should be able to sift out these cows improving herd genetics, TB permitting!!

 

Our farm

Although the climate in Ireland is similar to that in west Wales you still have to remember to farm the farm you have. Due to being exposed to northerly winds on the grazing area we struggle to grow early grass and turn out for us is early to mid April. By moving to Autumn calving we are maximising the resources at hand and we are then able to turn cows out once then are in calf in the spring.

 

At Sychpant we aim to have 250 cows and with a 20% replacement rate we need 50 heifers coming into the herd each year. We aim to serve cows using artificial insemination, with a dairy bull (selected on his high EBI genetics) for the first 100-125 cows. With the law of averages we should have enough replacements coming through to then breed everything else to beef which will bring a higher calf income (depending on TB status), relieving labour.

By moving to a block calving system we hope to simplify the management, relieving labour units to work on the arable enterprises during the spring/summer months.