Gold Cup Comment: JoJo—a special cow in the herd

This month John Taylor, herd manager at 2014 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup winners Worthy Farm in Somerset reflects on a successful open day despite a few pre-event farm problems.

Well it had to happen I suppose, a bit of Glastonbury style rain ordered for exactly it passed over pretty quickly and we just had a few blustery gusts—although it certainly felt a bit fresh.
Why is it, just when you think everything is going okay, it always seems to go wrong—and particularly leading up to a farm visit? In the past two weeks, we have had five sets of twins and one set of triplets – all of them mixed sex. So a lot of hassle for no reward.

The last cow to calve had twin heifers. We thought ‘at last, twin heifers’. Unfortunately though she had a dead bull calf about 20 minutes later. The triplets’ cow, although she looked like a hat-rack, she just carried on as if nothing happened, and is at 45 litres just 10 days after calving. One of the twin cows though has been pretty off colour, and needed a bit of special treatment, but she finally seems to be bucking up.

JoJo—lead cow in the herd
We also have an old pet cow called JoJo, who is getting on a bit now and has always been the lead cow in the herd. Unfortunately, about four months ago we found her with a damaged hip hobbling around on three legs—another cow had finally got some revenge on her. She was close to going dry at the time so we decided to dry her off, gave her some extra rest, and tried to keep her at least until she calved again.

This worked really well and she started to improve gradually so we thought we had done the right thing. However, as she got closer to calving her hip started to play up again so we were quite glad when she started calving about one week early, thinking it would be better out and she would be more mobile. It wasn’t to be!

She had a huge backwards calf which we struggled to pull out and by the time we got it out it was dead. And yes, it was a heifer. JoJo then tried to stand up and did the splits so we put on some shackles, but she was pretty shaken up by that stage. We then started lifting her twice a day, and she started to gradually walk around a bit.

Eventually about two weeks after calving, she makes it to the parlour. So if you saw an old cow in the back of the calving shed, looking a bit sorry for herslef, that’s our JoJo. She probably should have been sold last summer, but she is out of a superstar cow, and all the Festival team always ask where JoJo is.

Unfortunately, she is also my wife’s pet cow so there’s the dilemma. When I mention it’s about time JoJo went – Woah!! – don’t go there.

I don’t want to do the milking or get my own breakfast, so I fight the fight. But the day is coming when she will have to go, and I will take a holiday while they mourn. It’s not that I don’t care, but I treat every cow the same, best cow or worst cow.

I would like to thank people for all their kind comments at the open day, and as usual, there are always a few negative ones. Yes, we do have some fat cows, but we always fatten up our barreners until they either give less than 15 litres, or they are over conditioned.

I also heard a comment from a vet that oxytocin is a waste of time. Well I am glad you are not my vet! To me, it is a great help and I think our records with virtually no whites or retained placentas, and good fertility speaks for itself. I think the fact that our cows are so laid back was the main comment. But our cows see a lot of people as owner Michael Eavis is always showing someone around, and there is always something going on.

There were one or two dirty cows to milk on the afternoon of the open day, but the milk was exactly the same the day after, just over 13,200 litres – as it’s been for the last three weeks. If you had to put up with the noise, flashing lights, and the chaos of Glastonbury for four or five days, you would be chilled out as well. Over 200,000 other people must like it, but I know of at least two that wouldn’t miss it—except for probably in our wages! However, the rest of our family are in the 200,000 party-goers.

Looking to the future
I had intended to get around and listen to all the speakers, but I never got to listen to anybody as I kept bumping into friends and family. ‘Where do we go from here?’ was also a question that I got asked quite a lot. And as I lay in bed the night after the open day, quite content with the day’s proceedings, I had a little peek into the future. Personally I think we can still make a lot of improvements.

We still have a lot of pretty average cows and with genomics we can move forward our genetics over the next two to three years, so all oour cows are like our best ones now. A great thought, but can we feed them well enough, should we put in robots and milk them four times a day? Or shoudl we put in a robotic rotary of which there are now a few being trialled in Europe I believe?

I think there will be a transformation in the dairy industry over the next few years as the technology improves. But it is needed because cows need to be bored with the daily routine—they like the same old, same old every day, day after day. Unfortunately the younger generation don’t—they like Glasto too much!

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