June Gold Cup comment: Forage crops looking good

This month John Taylor, herd manager of the 2014 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup winners, updates us on the latest news from Worthy Farm in Somerset, including the latest on favourite cow JoJo.

Well I suppose I had better start with an update on JoJo, seeing as the first question I get asked wherever I go now is: “How’s JoJo”?  I have to admit, she has made a better recovery than I expected, and is now doing about 37-38 litres.

We seem to be getting a few cows slipping while bulling, and have had to put on two pairs of shackles in the last couple of weeks.  I think when you get six or seven cows bulling there are always risks, and this is the only downside of cows bulling so strongly.

We have got through our first TB test with an all clear under severe scoring.  At least now the next test will only be scored on standard readings.  The trouble is having supposedly had one reactor now we only need one inconclusive to keep us shut down.  We were lucky that we had just put all our cattle under a sole occupancy licence so apart from the hassle of testing, it doesn’t interfere with us too much.

The biggest downside is we cannot sell our bull calves, so they are being sold to a slaughter house at £14 per calf.  We’ve been keeping all our Angus calves, and these will be sold at some point, hopefully when we get a clear test.

Decent first cut silage
We managed to make some decent first cut grass silage splitting it into two lots to avoid the showers.  It might be a bit green, but I’m not a fan of high dry matter grass silage and now the experts are telling us to add water—well why make it so dry in the first place?  Keep it simple I say.

Our maize is all looking really good and with some muggy weather, it should shoot away.  I think we will end up a bit short of maize, so we might be in the market for a bit of crimped maize at some point.  We’ve been offered a lot of wheat to crimp, or whole crop.  However, the only time we tried to replace maize with whole crop wheat, it was a disaster—no milk, poor fertility, but great milk quality.  Not what you want when you are on a liquid contract.

There doesn’t seem to be any good news on the milk price front and with the increased use of sexed semen, I can only see production increasing—barring a few natural disasters.

We have an extra sixty heifers to calve over the rest of this year compared to last year, and we have culled quite hard recently, especially on cell counts.  It’s good to be in a position to cull hard as we have always struggled with cell counts.  They are currently running at 130 to 170 and it has certainly helped mastitis rates, with only one or two clinical cases each week for the last two months. 

The only trouble with culling harder is we have culled five one hundred tonne cows and only have one left now.  I see from our latest NMR sheets we have one cow set to hit the magic 100 tonnes at the next milk recording, and two more not far behind, so we will soon have some more to replace the culled ones.

I see 100 tonne cows as the marker of all the standards we try to achieve in dairy cow management.  But I think the lifetime daily yield (LDY) is now becoming a more used management tool.  Hopefully now we have sorted out our heifer management, our LDY should increase over the next few years, if only because our heifers are calving 100 to 200 days younger.

Well I thought I had a good working agreement with my feed adviser, Alison from ForFarmers, but I can’t believe she has persuaded Mr. Eavis to use all of my big bale silage for the Festival, so I now have to include straw in my cow rations.  What some people will do for a couple of Festival tickets, Alison, and get me to feed straw.

I could not believe it when he asked me if I would mind if he used all of the bales for sound proofing—apparently they are better than straw, denser supposedly.  So I reluctantly replaced 1.0kg of big bale silage with 0.75kg of straw, and I have to admit that intakes increased slightly and dung does seem a bit more consistent.  The things I have to do for the love of the festival!

 Straw is now in the diet because big bale silage is being used as sound proofing for the Glastonbury Festival.

Straw is now in the diet because big bale silage is being used as sound proofing for the Glastonbury Festival.

Finally I would like to say a personal thank you to our routine vet for the last 16 years, Peter Edmondson who has been a great help to us, particularly in our early days here at Worthy Farm.  He acted as mediator in a few disagreements in the way the festival/farm relationship was run. 

Apparently he is still going to do a few days a month, just to keep an eye on us.  He always turns up on a Thursday morning with a smile on his face, and few jokes to tell, as well as a story about somebody who is having a worse day than you.  I wish him a long and happy semi-retirement. 

It is starting to kick off here at Glastonbury, but it all seems a bit subdued on the dairy front after the excitement of last year’s Gold Cup judging.  I wish this year’s six finalists the best of luck, but I cannot believe our reign is nearly over—is that a year ago?

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