July Gold Cup comment: challenging spring helped by staff

The 2017 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup winners were the Norman family from The Leen, Herefordshire.  Rich Norman reports on their open day and the latest news from the unit.

I hope the Gold Cup open day last month provided what people expected to see and hear.  Chris and I were amazed at the attendance (over 1,000).  Thank you for your support and interest.

A big thank you too, to the speakers on the day, Paul Harris (Real Success), Moana Puha (LIC), Tony Evans (Andersons) and Kate Adams (Wye & Usk foundation).  And thank you to those of you that donated to the local school we raised over £2,000, which will be going towards an all weather running track. 

The feedback we’ve had has been very complimentary.  Credit must go to our staff.  Chris and I had two meetings with them and they pulled the farm together for the open day.  To be fair they run a far tidier ship than Chris and I! 

Mathew (also brother-in-law) our poultry manager is particularly fastidious and has a saying that “the farm should always be at an open day standard”.  Mathew is not from a farming background and we welcome this approach to the farm and business.


Back to the farm, we have had our first cut silage analysis back:
•    Dry Matter              25%
•    Crude Protein        17.6%
•    D Value                    74.9%
•    ME                           12 MJ/kg
•    pH                            4.2

We just wish we had more of it! Second cut was a similar size however the dry matter will be higher and there was a good proportion of seed heads visible when cut, so we feel quality may be lower.  As said in my last article we have followed with 25m³ of digestate, which got it away to a good start, but we have had no rain since and so the third cut is looking light.

Our grass growth has plummeted to 20kg DM/ha/day.  This doesn’t create a great challenge for our autumn calving herd.  However the spring herd is now having to supplementary feed silage and concentrates.  This has allowed us to push the round length out to over forty days (round length is the time it takes until the same patch of grass is grazed again).  This is one of the reasons that we are autumn calving at The Leen.

We are a farm that is prone to burning off in the summer, due to the soil being a light loam over gravel.  This is great in a wet period, but this lack of productivity in a dry period is the draw back.

The cows are currently producing 1.34kg of milk solids (MS) per day, (4.89% fat and 3.79% protein) 135 SCC and 32 bacto.  The cows are being fed 0.2kg conc and 17kg DM grass.
    We are rapidly approaching our main drying off period and we have 300 cows to do in the second week of July.  Krisztian has already put these animals in groups and put them on high dry matter lower quality feed to start them naturally drying off.

The criteria for this first groups of cows are:
1:    Those that will calve in the first three weeks of the ten week calving block.
2:    Any that had a somatic cell count over 200,000 on the last milk test.
3:    Those animals that have had two or more cases of mastitis in this lactation.

The high cell count and mastitis animals will have dry cow therapy and the others (the majority) will be teat sealed. 

We will dry off with a gang of staff and aim to do approximately 150 per day.  They will be teat cleaned, milked, iodine teat dipped, dried, individual teat ends cleaned with antiseptic wipes then tubed and finally sprayed with iodine.  We use a new pair of disposable gloves for every animal and when sealing we start with the back teats and work forward so there is not any contact with the disinfected teat ends.  This is a process that we have developed over the years with our vet and Krisztian to avoid any unnecessary mastitis.

Just one infected cow would cost more than all the extra gloves, iodine and wipes that we use in this process—so money well spent we feel.

We have had a contract foot trimmer (David Skellern) in to do the annual trim of the herd’s feet.  What a great job he is doing, given that he is trimming between 90 and 100 cows per day and not a single day has it been below 26 degrees.

On the whole their feet have been very good, the only real point that he has made was that there is about 3% of the animals with white line separation and a few with small stones, thanks to the daily foot bathing there is no digital dermatitis.

This early summer has been one of the best for nature on the farm for many years.  We have seen lots of successful broods of wild birds fledging their nests, to name a few: barn owls, pied fly catchers, gold finches, partridge and loads of LBJ’s (“little brown jobs” i.e. we can’t identify them!).  

The bird boxes we have put up around the farm, together with several types of hedgerow management and planting up odd corners have paid off.  We have a SSSI on the farm and the orchids, flag iris, marsh valerian and ragged robin have been incredible.  Amazingly a team of botanists managed to identify over 300 species of plants in these fields.  

Normally, after an early grazing they are left until mid July and then either cut for hay or grazed by dry cows.  The fields are part of the farm Higher Level Stewardship scheme.  However the cows had a brief run around the SSSI, which didn’t leave us as flavour of the month with Dad.  He had a farm walk booked to come and see this wild flower meadow, sorry Dad!

Reprinted from the July 2018 edition of British Dairying. To see the original article please visit the British Dairying website.