British Dairying Gold Cup Comment: Back to earth with a bump

This month 2013 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup winner Andrew Higgins reports on a successful Gold Cup open day and events since then at Wilderley Hall Farm in Shropshire.

As I sit down to write this month’s article May is over and what a month.  It’s been a contractor’s nightmare—with lots of very short weather windows, ground conditions not improving and crops swelling by the week.  We are next in the queue when the weather allows and this will end up as always a compromise between quality and dry matter.

Times like this always start you thinking if we would be better off with our own kit.  The answer to me is easy as we can build a lot of milking accommodation for the same amount of money.  I should just add that our contractor is the type that has no problem with early starts or late finishes.  But it must be a contractor’s nightmare knowing how many customers you can service well.

Successful Gold Cup open day

May at Wilderley has been an amazing month.  The run up to the Gold Cup open day has been long and sometimes rocky but we got there in the end.  Our family and the staff pulled out all the stops to make the farm look right.

I must say that opening up our farm for people to wander around unguided is probably the thing I dreaded the most.  Not because they may see something we don’t want to be seen—we always show the good, bad and ugly.  The fact is that the farm is like an extension of our home. Imagine allowing hundreds of people to wander round your house looking through everything, even your knicker drawer.

When the day arrived we were overwhelmed by how many people turned up.  The queue for the car park at one point was over half a mile long.  The presentations in the marquee went well and we had some great questions in the Q&A.

For us the day was a chance to demonstrate that high yielding housed Holsteins are more than capable of living long, healthy productive lives.  But nothing proves the point better than the stars of the day, of course, our lovely ladies.  They looked fantastic and took the day in their stride, with over a thousand people invading their space.  We were expecting a few problems or a yield reduction next day but they carried on business as usual.  The only negative was five cases of mastitis three days after the open day—this after only two cases in the previous thirty five days.

The day after the open day was as surreal as the previous day.  The farm was so peaceful compared to the week before.  Everyone had mixed emotions that day—absolutely buzzing from the feedback but worn out from the run up to the day.  We all agreed that the day was over in a flash and it would have been nice to have had time to speak to more people.  Thanks again to our speakers and the suppliers that sponsored the event.  One last thank you to the Morris family for letting us use the field for the trade stands.  I can report that it looked a mess after the trade stands had been dragged off with the tractor but it has now been rolled, fences back up and it’s greening up nicely.

This week has been back to earth with a bump.  Nothing does that for a dairy farmer more than TB testing.  We had our first breakdown in 2012 and lost seven animals in eleven months, then went clear.

This week was our first six month test.  We decided to start testing over two days now that we have over six hundred to jab.  Our tester is a Spanish lady who I refer to as the grim reaper with a lovely smile.  I would not like her job, as delivering the bad news of TB is not easy but she is well practised at it now in Shropshire.

So what was our outcome?  TB limbo.  Out of over six hundred tested there was one inconclusive.  This means the whole herd is under restriction and one animal to retest in sixty days.  The situation could have been a lot worse but it still feels like here we go again.  Bill and I both agreed that we want the cow gone ASAP but after a phone conversation with the case vet it was made clear that we should wait. I still don’t agree with them so we will dry her off, isolate her, test in sixty days then cull her.

Finally to end on a positive note we have had planning permission granted for a cubicle shed to be sited next to the 2013 shed.  This one will be 184 deep sand head to head cubicles feeding down the outside.  We plan to move the cows from the old building next to the parlour into the 2014 shed and put bulling and in calf heifers in the old shed.  At the moment they are in less than ideal housing.  This will allow us to TMR feed them and ease the current bottleneck in the young stock system.

Wilderley statistics for May
Litres/cow/day (3X milking)    39.5
Butterfat    3.57%
Protein    3.04%
SCC    103
Bactoscan    9
Mastitis cases    2
Culls    5
Calvings     29
Heifer calves    14

Reprinted from the June 2014 edition of British Dairying. To see the original article please visit the British Dairying website