October 2015 Gold Cup comment: Milking the cows on gas

2015 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup winner Neil Baker from Haselbury Plucknett in Somerset reports on the latest developments at Rushywood Farm including the production of gas from the new anaerobic digester and problems with bactoscans.

So Wednesday the 25th of May 2016 is the date of our Gold Cup open day, and the list of jobs to do before that is ever growing—nothing like a deadline to get things finished though I suppose!

The RABDF and NMR were here recently for a look around and to start planning for the day.  I thought Open farm Sunday took some organising but I’m glad I’m not in the hot seat sorting the logistics out for this one.  The day is going to be based around the recent format of specialist speakers giving presentations every 30 minutes.

 Neil Baker

Neil Baker

We will all do our best to make it an interesting day so please put the date in your diary and come along.

This month has seen quite a few significant changes at Rushywood, as the headline suggests.  Our joint venture with Greener For Life Energy has yielded its first gas—enough to run the engine to milk the cows with their own (spare) energy, really quite an exciting achievement that makes me think maybe we aren’t doing enough to encourage our cows to get more of that free energy out of their rations and in the bulk tank.

Encouraging AD
On a wider scale, just how much energy is lost from agriculture at a national, as well as a worldwide level?  Why is it that this proper renewable energy isn’t way better incentivised by the powers that be?

Are there any downsides to anaerobic digestion that just uses manure from where it’s produced?  I can see the obvious downsides to other forms of renewables, including AD using crops which (in my view) should not only be frowned upon in farming circles but banned (realising that’s not possible of course).  Quite clearly lots of farmers make a lot of money from AD but just because you can feed crops fit for humans or livestock into digesters, should you? 

Our calving numbers this month have risen as predicted, with the fresh heifers we bought last year calving out for the second time.  I’ve moved the maternity unit back to the main dairy which has meant a slight drop in milking numbers but the logistics of moving ten freshly calved cows every day was becoming quite a big stress for cows, people and me.  My projects to alter my hospital and maternity area have stalled due to extended staff holidays and myself carrying out more cow work with staff away. 

Cows milking well
The cows are milking well—34.5 litres sold per cow in milk—with another jump in milk quality this month to 4.04% fat and 3.57%, with average DIM at 175 which is ten days higher than our normal average.  I’m sure a lot of the milk quality is coming from the herd being a little staler than usual, as well as the Jersey influence of course.

The other factor, probably the most important one, has been the enforced reduction of maize silage in the ration down to 12kg fresh weight.  I slowed it up a couple months ago, possibly too much as it turns out because I’ve got quite a stock left and we started maize harvest on 27th September.  We should have enough old crop maize to see us through until Christmas.

That hasn’t happened for the last five years.  This unplanned ration change of less maize silage turns out to have given us a really useful milk price boost because of our component based milk contract from Arla.

On the downside, this month we’ve managed to get our bactoscan just over the bonus band and have lost 0.4ppl.  Not very clever and the result of stretching myself a little too much.
This was caused by an unfortunate chain of events starting with our water softener working intermittently for a couple of weeks, this meant my bulk tank heaters became scaled up, which led to my oldest tank being quite dirty.

I thought I had a visual check in place before connecting the tanks every milking but it seems a slight lack of training of my more junior team members resulted in the ‘opening the cover and having a look inside’ check not happening at all.  So the first I knew about this was a raised result.

I went to my usual problem tank and thought I’d sorted it by fixing the water heater but the issue got worse.  It took me another couple of days to realise I had another issue in the parlour itself—the water heater also wasn’t working 100% of the time and we had a couple of dirty units.  All sorted now anyway.

Welcome price increase
Arla have announced a 0.03ppl price increase from September 28, which was only reduced due to currency issues.  Today the £ has weakened, could we be seeing the start of a milk price recovery this autumn?  I hope so, as continued cost cutting is becoming really quite difficult.

The next few weeks are going to be busier than ever here with more calvings than ever due, maize harvest and then thinking about lifting our sugar beet.  A continuation of the recent sunny days and dry nights would be very welcome.

Reprinted from the October 2015 edition of British Dairying. To see the original article please visit the British Dairying website