British Dairying Gold Cup Comment: Future bright for Wilderley herd

Well it’s time to sit down and write the final words from Wilderley.  For this we decided to make it a joint effort from the two Bills and myself, writes Andrew.

Writing the articles has become a Saturday morning ritual of sitting at the laptop struggling with how to get my thoughts into words that make sense.  One thing I am certain of is that the Gold Cup is a career highlight to be very proud of achieving.

Throughout the year there are always challenges to deal with but the last few weeks have been exceptional—the heat stress on the cows and people has been hard to cope with.  This, coupled with  us at maximum stocking density, meant paying  a hefty price for overstocking the post calving group three weeks ago.  It has resulted in two DA operations  and a lot of time spent pumping fluids into dehydrated cows with poor appetites.

The Higgins family—father Bill (senior), brothers Andrew and Bill, with mother Margaret.

The Higgins family—father Bill (senior), brothers Andrew and Bill, with mother Margaret.

With more ventilation and the stocking density addressed the situation is now back under control.  That said, we have only moved the stocking density issue  into  the milking  group. The new 2014 shed can’t be finished soon enough.  The builders are flat out concreting every day.  We are looking forward to moving the cows and the young stock into better quality accommodation as this will streamline the workload and hopefully have a positive effect on stock and staff.

TB is again a hot topic at Wilderley.  The cow that was inconclusive on the six month test back in early June has just been retested—the result is she is a confirmed reactor.  So we are shut down for the second time.

I think we can safely say until the problem is solved once and for all in and out of restriction will be the way of life.  I think that means deterring and excluding wildlife will be very high on the agenda.

Ok it’s my turn, writes brother Bill.  As Andrew has mentioned July has challenged us on every level.  From a nutritional point of view I have struggled to get all groups of cows to eat enough.  Intakes rule everything and the milkers are down over a kg of dry matter simply due to heat stress.  This has pulled the milk back to 37 litres per cow but they seem to have settled down now.

The dry cows are a similar story.  Far offs are not too bad especially as they have a push up feed fence.  But it is a different story with the pre-calvers who are on a trough system.  This is great from the point of view that there is no pushing required but because it sits still in a trough it is more prone to heating.  We have an additive to help prevent heating but it’s still a challenge.

Some cows that calved in the middle of the hottest days simply would not eat or drink post calving so had to be pumped.  All of the above reinforces the need for plenty of barrier space and water trough space.  The latest shed will have 0.72 metres of barrier space for each cow.

On some more positive notes, second cut silage came in young and sugary during this month.  This will complement the poorer first cut and hopefully give the cows a lift in the autumn.  I also managed to miss the tyre throwing due to a very nice holiday in Italy!

I’ve enjoyed writing these articles and all the feedback and banter that goes with it.  So I will leave you with a thought that was instilled in Andrew and I at a very young age:  “more milk comes out of the end of a pen that ever does out of a cow’s teat.”  That’s why we only ever talk about milk sold.

Father Bill sums up:  Finally I have got round to putting pen to paper.   The last twelve months have been an amazing experience.  We were fortunate to have the Gold Cup on the farm last July and our hard working staff had the opportunity to hold and have their photo taken with it. The sun shone, we relaxed and enjoyed Bucks Fizz together.

After there was a chance to look closely at the previous winners listed on the cup.  Many were household names in the industry and trail blazers in their time.  Sobering thought that we have become members of such an illustrious club.

In the New Year some of you will receive notice that you have qualified to enter the Gold Cup.  I urge you to give it your deepest consideration and enter the most prestigious competition in our great industry.

As a small boy I enjoyed working with cows.  Having cows of the calibre we have at Wilderley makes my pulse race.  The joy of working with such animals makes all the hard work worthwhile.  In my quieter moments, walking around the cows and youngstock, brings home to me how lucky I am to have two such able sons whose drive and enthusiasm have taken the business to such heights.

I must pay tribute to my wife Margaret for the support and hardwork over 48 years rearing the calves and doing such an amazing job. She has taken on a new assistant, as the numbers have increased—namely yours truly.  She is the brains, I am the brawn.

Looking to the future, we have five grandchildren who may join the business, each with their own talents and ambitions.  This gives us great optimism for the future of the Wilderley herd.

Wilderley statistics for July
Cows in herd    354
Culls    10
Dry (rolling)    11%
Youngstock    279
Litres/cow/day (3X milking)    37.0
Butterfat    3.80%
Protein    2.95%
SCC    159
Bactoscan    17

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