June 2016 Gold Cup Comment - Interest in genomics strengthened

2015 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup winner Neil Baker from Haselbury Plucknett in Somerset reflects on the Gold Cup Open Day and updates us with the latest news from Rushywood Farm.

Well the Gold Cup Open Day came and went!  To anyone that came along, I hope you had a good day and managed to have a bit of a laugh and a catch up with friends.

I’d also like to hope that our (us, NMR and RABDF) aim for the day to help everyone’s business’ back home a little bit actually did work.  I got to hear two and a half of the workshops and I thought our speakers did a great job, so thank you to everyone that helped with the day in whatever way. 

Special mention should go to my staff who got the farm and cows into tip top condition.  I only really lost it a couple times, and both times it was actually my fault for relying on telepathy as my primary form of communication on how I wanted things to be.

Interest in genomics
As a result of the day, my interest in genomics has strengthened.  Being able to only breed from our best stock has got to be one of the most important potential steps forward in dairy management for a long time.  I was pretty sceptical but after getting some results I’m becoming quite open to this sizeable investment, even at a time of record low milk prices.

I’ve had some calves screened with the Zoetis Clarified test as well as the NMR GeneTracker one (the one talked about on our Gold Cup open day).  I’m in two minds as to which is the best system—both come with different sampling techniques and application criteria.  I guess it will come down to cost, but maybe more importantly the reporting and analysis of the massive amount of information these screening tests throw up.  I think a little more homework needs to be done before jumping one way or the other.

Zero grazing continues
Zero grazing is going well.  We started in early May—a month later than planned—with some grass that was way too long.  But once some early first cuts re grew we were straight into them, now covering about seven to eight acres a day to get 19 kg fresh weight into the mix.

I’ve not yet changed the concentrates but I hope to pull out a couple kgs if everything keeps growing as it is now.  I’m writing this on the 5th of June and the field some of you may of seen for the zero grazing demonstration on Gold Cup Open Day is now ready to cut again just over ten days later.

But there are some buts.  We are getting some digestive upsets and have had a couple of odd deaths which look a little bit like clostridia (although our vaccination is bang up to date).  Bringing in either soil or dead wild animals or birds without the fermentation process of silage making is a definite risk.  But at the moment the grass is staying in.

First cut part two was also happening on the week of Gold Cup Open Day, about three weeks later than usual.  I’ve not cut silage this late for years and yield was nearly twice what we normally get, time will tell what kind of quality it is but it seemed pretty good and dry to me, the proof is in the pudding as they say.  Hopefully we won’t need to start feeding until September with the fresh grass going in the wagon daily.

Spring crop planting also finished the last week of May.  Crops have germinated well, and although quite cold in the mornings there seems to be a nice bit of sunshine about to get things bouncing out of the ground.

The European Brexit campaign continues to dominate the news and I’m still firmly in the in camp, as I simply haven’t seen or heard anything that makes an iota of sense as to why I should vote to leave, let’s hope to country sees sense and votes to remain.

Open Farm Sunday
As I finish this, we’ve just said goodbye to the last of our Open Farm Sunday visitors.  Although difficult to estimate numbers we think we had around 800 members of the public around the farm, in beautiful sunny conditions.  A big thank you to the TSDG and Arla for their support and help on the day.  It certainly made my day a lot easier. 

We had our usual mix of visitors from friends, farmers, sceptics, critics and passers-by.  We didn’t do anything fancy, and interestingly the most common comment on the feedback forms was that a lot of people would of liked a guided tour of the dairy to explain more about what goes on here.  So we’ll take that feedback and maybe try a slightly different way of doing things next year.

Cutting production costs
So with open season here at Rushywood now over its back to managing these cows and working out how to save another 1.0ppl after Arla’s cut for June’s milk.  I must admit I didn’t think they would cut again before things started to recover in the autumn—now it seems that we are unlikely to see any increase in this calendar year which is rather depressing.

As I write, feed prices continue to climb seemingly on the back of uncertainty far more than actual stocks and demand might indicate.  The last thing we need is rising feed costs this winter to make our bank balances even worse.