November Gold Cup comment: Cows settle in for the winter

John Taylor, herd manager at 2014 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup winners Worthy Farm in Somerset, reports on the latest news from the dairy, what they expect from the farm team and reflects on one of his favourite stories when dealing with staff.

At last the cows are back indoors, and have settled into their winter routine well.  It’s certainly been a challenging few months with a lot of visitors and I certainly enjoyed a good night out at the South West Dairy Dinner.  Unfortunately the next day was spent in a haze as I recovered, a bit of a belated celebration, but the first time I’ve been out since we won the Gold Cup.  I’d like to thank everybody who bought me drinks and celebrated with me.

These silage pits are now ‘bulging’ full with a good first cut being taken followed by second cut and a record maize harvest.

These silage pits are now ‘bulging’ full with a good first cut being taken followed by second cut and a record maize harvest.

We have had a record maize harvest and all our silage pits are bulging full of quality silage.  This has caused us a few problems because we had to bury our old maize and start feeding the new only two days after making it.  Fortunately for us it seemed to cause few problems and a few days later we also had to bury our ‘rocket fuel’ early—first cut—and opened our early June clamp.

Cows well but heifers disappoint

Intakes actually went up because the maize dry matter is lower and the milk fat has now returned to normal 3.8% to 3.9% and milk proteins have risen to 3.23%. The cows are milking really well but we have a few very disappointing heifers.  Unfortunately this is probably our own fault as we are very tight on dry cow space.

The in calf heifers are grazing and usually we put them with the dry cows for at least four weeks before calving—but the latest group was only in for two or three weeks.  We have now decided it would be better to turn out a few fat dry cows and make sure the heifers get at least four weeks to settle in. 

We still have 61 in calf heifers due in January/February outside as well as 11 due in December to an Angus.  We turned out eight cows to join the Fat Club and the 11 in calf heifers are certainly pretty good personal trainers.  When I look at the eight cows, I think perhaps I should cull them as most of them have had some sort of problem.  Probably our weakness has been keeping too many problem cows over the years but hopefully with more heifers in the pipeline we can keep a younger herd.

We have been targeting problem cows with Kexxtone boluses and this seems to be working really well.  We have just started doing some trial work with Elanco on ketone levels and this will continue for three months.  We have had a couple of cows with ketosis even after kexxtone but they both had other problems as well, and one has ended up with a LDA which we will treat tomorrow.  Probably our own fault again, with so many diet changes.

Our vets have started using a newish procedure for LDAs called endoscopy.  They claim it is less stressful and more accurate than other methods.  I have yet to be convinced of either, we have toggled cows for years and have had good success rates.  It is certainly far more stressful than toggling for the cow if not the humans.  One thing for sure it’s also far more expensive.

High working standards expected

We have had a pretty settled team here at Worthy Farm for at least two years.  My wife Pam is in charge of milking and has extremely high standards which few people can match.  She knows every cow and exactly what they should be yielding which is extremely useful in picking up sick cows quickly.  She very rarely misses a milking but has just had a long weekend in London with our three daughters at a boy-band reunion concert.  I await the next bank statement with trepidation as the daughters’ cars looked full of shopping!

Pam and John Taylor expect high standards of work.

Pam and John Taylor expect high standards of work.

I think we’ve both been pretty hard people to work with over the years, but only in my opinion because we have such high standards. We have no protocols at Worthy Farm, we just lead by example and rarely have a day off together.  Everybody knows the standards we expect and our current team is by far our best.

Karol, our longest serving Polish worker has been here five years and is my right hand man and knows all my routines by heart.  I certainly miss him when he goes on holiday—he works most days and goes home to Poland for about a month every four months. We’ve certainly been through a lot of people over the last fifteen years and I expect there are a few pictures of me on dart boards in Poland as well as England. 

My favourite story is about a LKL relief man who couldn’t get on with Pam at all.  We finished up one night and went to calve a lively heifer.  After a successful calving we went to exit the calving yard and he opened the gate for Pam whom promptly said “Thank you”.  His reply was: “Blimey, you’re a pussycat out here, but in the parlour you’re a tiger!”  We never saw him again, he disappeared overnight and when we rang LKL he had supposedly hurt his back!

Gold Cup open day arrangements

We recently had a meeting with NMR and RABDF to start planning our Gold Cup open day which will take place on 6th May, 2015. We certainly look forward to welcoming you all to Worthy Farm and would like to thank BOCM Pauls—now ForFarmers—for being the main sponsors.

I would also like to thank Alison Boydell of BOCM Pauls as we have certainly challenged her patience over the past few months with our refusal to feed straw to milking cows and our constant diet changes.  Hopefully it should be settled from now on and 3.8% fat is achievable without straw Alison!

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