November 2016 Gold Cup Comment: Tackling performance issues

This month 2016 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup winner Simon Bugler from Dorset updates us on some performance issues from Pilsdon Dairy Farm including milk output and fertility.

We are today drilling our last winter wheat, which was all put in behind maize, with the exception of around 40 acres, which is being left fallow.

Everything has been reseeded to grass or wheat, and with conditions still dry—it’s hard not to reseed everything but we need somewhere for winter slurry and early maize drilling next spring.     Our maize harvest was really good with excellent yields.  The interesting thing for us this year was the difference in varieties and their harvest dates.  We had two varieties that seemed to ripen earlier than others despite being drilled as much as 10 days later in neighbouring fields to other varieties.

Maize variety choice

This was so convincing I am already sure of the varieties that will make up the majority of our maize next year.  The extra days in the autumn are critical for us when reseeding behind maize.

In the dairy, numbers continue to rise while milk yield eased a little.  We had the potential to push them a little harder towards the end of last month with fats around 3.9% (which is high for us), and ureas around 140 so I could chase another litre and still keep fats above 3.75% which is the level we are trying to stay above, as we see reductions of 0.35ppl for every 0.1% below 3.75% fat.

However at 3.9% I will get some bonus for fat and there is no incentive for more “B” price litres currently and risk losing an additional 0.25ppl on our level supply bonus of 1.5p because we had gone over our daily litreage by more than 5% of our previous six month daily average.
    If possible we need to manage our growing production to 104.9% each month to achieve the maximum 1.5ppl level supply payment. 

To achieve the best possible level supply payment, fertility is key.  With surplus heifers every month it has in the past allowed us to drive through dips in fertility or toughs and peaks in milk output, subject to feed or disease, primarily mastitis, by adjusting numbers sold.

At the beginning of this month, we had three weeks on the trot when we were only drying up a small number of cows.  This is where the software now available to us becomes so useful.  I was able to look back at fertility for the period when these cows where served which saw a drop in conception rate, and pregnancy rate which nearly halved in February before bouncing back in March.

For a drop this significant, and a quick recovery the following month, in March to 30%, it set us thinking about what we did differently in February.  With no big changes in forage or ration the only other thing we questioned was vaccinations.  February has always been a good logistical time for us to complete vaccines.

We have more staff available as there is less fieldwork so we get assistance for the laborious job of vaccinating for what has been five different diseases in the last two years. 

Vaccine problems

While I cannot conclusively say that any one vaccine has had a detrimental effect on fertility, it does make me wonder if there has been some immune response to one, or perhaps the close proximity of all the vaccines that has affected our fertility.

We also looked back to the previous year only to find a similar dip at that time.  Another additional factor could be the stress of handling the cows through the race. 

So if there is a possibility the dip in fertility is correlated with vaccinations and extra handling, one thing is for sure—I am not about to stop vaccinating.

It is an essential part of our herd health and the security it gives us to disease challenges that may have severe implication can’t be overlooked. 

Going forward though, I plan more discussions with our vets about the February vaccinations.  Handling needs to be slick and time away from housing minimized and perhaps a longer period of time between all the vaccines. 

Cow comfort is a priority at Pilsdon Dairy Farm

Cow comfort is a priority at Pilsdon Dairy Farm

Sand separation

Dad and I recently got away for the day to a herd achieving very high levels of health and higher yields than ours from more than twice as many cows.

One of our main reasons for visiting was my interest in sand separation and recycling which in principle makes a lot of sense.  Less lorries in, less slurry out and a more environmentally sustainable option.

It was managed very well and was achieving good results with very low levels of mastitis, which would be my main concern.  There were several areas of management that impressed us, which makes you question aspects of your own business.

I always think this is a very healthy thing to do, as there are always things to be learnt.  We are very lucky to be in an industry that is willing to share ideas.  This is especially important when the pressure on milk price has been so prolonged.  We only hope it will improve at an accelerating rate.

Market realities

On our trip we had a welcome stop at Gloucester Services for refreshments, which reminded Dad and I of the fundamental difficulty we all face.

Neither of us are regular shoppers so it was good to see it with our own eyes—500ml of water sold at £1.75 and one litre of milk sold at £1.09.  Milk was in fact the largest volume of fluid available at the lowest price!


Performance to end September at Pilsdon Dairy Farm:
Cows in herd    609
Cows in milk     548
Milk sold litres/cow/day    36.6
Fat    3.77
Protein     3.12
SCC    103
Bactoscan     11
Calvings cows/heifers    42/36
Heifer calves    37

Reprinted from the November 2016 edition of British Dairying. To see the original article please visit the British Dairying website.