Monday, 23 November 2009

Proper Dairy Cow ID....small point but so important

Proper clear easily read Dairy Cow ID is so important.
Why in some herds can't you read any numbers when in other herds the numbers are clearly visible?
It is important especially during AI & mating time.
This last week I've been in East Sussex with a Grass based (Pasture to Profit network) Dairy Farmer Discussion Group from Dorset in the UK. On both of the autumn calving herds (both with NZ XBred cows too) we visited it was so obvious that both of the host farmers took care to clearly number the cows. How much easier is it to spot the right cow that is on heat!
Tony had his cows tailpainted using the new aerosol spray paint. It was so clear as to which cows had cycled already & been AI'ed (Blue), which were on heat that day (No.1875) & which were still to cycle in the first round of AI. The tails had been clipped & the cows were very clean.
In Jeremy & Daniel's herd they use a letter & a number system......again very easy to read from a distance. Both these herds had just started heat detection is full on at present.
I've also included a photo of a spring calving herd that we have been condition scoring.(Cow 33 & Cow 2). Again good ID is so important for our recording of each condition score to identify cows for drying off. Note the tape on the tail.....this is appplied at least 120 days before calving starts next year. Each colour denotes a calving group eg Two Yellow tapes is a cow that will calve in the second half of February.
By applying the colour tapes now it will be so much easier to draft cows into mobs or calving groups during the thinking now saves heaps of time later!
How good is the Cow ID in your herd? Is this the reason for poor results with AI....are cows being missed or just not correctly identified? Don't blame your staff.....sort & maintain good cow ID.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Appalling negative attitude to UK Food Production by Defra

Last week I wrote about the importance of research for pasture based dairy farmers.
I believe we must have vibrant Agricultural research teams in the UK to allow us to drive forward & compete on a world stage. I think we need to seriously back research teams with talent & imagination that understand low input pasture based dairy systems.
I'm not convinced we are getting value for money (DairyCo levies) but farmer members of the new industry research committee have written to me this week reassuring me they are trying to get a fair hearing & more research input into pasture based systems.....we wait with eager anticipation to see if they will be successful.
But is the Government really serious about food production & food security in the UK?

This week Defra have reportedly cautioned against self sufficiency in food!!!!!

They write of the risks of UK extreme climatic events which would put at risk a policy of "self sufficiency". For goodness sake who are these people??? UK surely has a very favourable climate & very good soils for food production. We have willing farmers!
We are in a world threatened by massive food shortages.......the UK has the potential to hugely increase food production yet our own department is anti.....depressingly negative & anti!.

Surely given the right incentives the UK should be planning to help feed the world......but no, the Defra people are warning against even attempting self sufficiency!!!!???!!?

If this is how the policy makers see agriculture & farmers what hope is there to get increases in research funding?
Dairy farmers in the UK should be appalled by this Government's attitude & negativity.

Lets be positive
Lets sort ourselves

Pasture based dairy farmers need to organise themselves to plan & manage a research portfolio that is totally under our control.

A really good model for doing this is the Birchip Cropping Group (BCG) in arable Australia.

Discussion Groups need to react & join together to seriously consider the "Birchip model" of 'participatory on farm research'.
C'mon! We've got lots of work to do in Carbon management, Soil Sequestration, Biochar, Climatic change impact on grass growth using the EA's predictive models (exactly how is climate change going to affect our ability to grow grass in the UK?), water management, removing water from slurry, On Farm Energy reduction, summer active pasture varieties & forage crops just to name a few research priorities. Groups need to talk about dairy research priorities.
GRASS GROWTH SLOWS DRAMATICALLY....Impact on Cow Condition Scores
Grass growth has slowed due mainly to colder soil temps as frosts & dull days indicate winter has arrived with a blast.
It concerns me on a number of farms where Cow Condition scores are being monitored that condition is being lost.......are you drying cows off quickly enough to achieve the best condition score at calving???? It appears that CS is still being lost even after drying off?? You need to build this into your wintering plans & allow time for each cow to achieve calving condition. After drying off cows need to be put onto a full milking ration to pick up liveweight.....with the use of 'good drying off practices' this should not affect udder infection rates. Time is limited.
Go & look at Cow Condition NOW
Pasture Covers & Current Pasture Growth Rates
Northern Ireland 2190 KGS DM Av. cover& growth of 16kgsDM per ha per day
Dumfries 2350 & 17
Cumbria 2050 & 20
Nth Wales 2103 & 30
Nth East Wales 2300 & 10
Shropshire 2280 & 26
Staffordshire 2285 & 21
Derbyshire 2179 & 11
South West Wales 2389 & 30
South East Wales 2480 & 42
Gloucestershire 2320 & 18
Gloucestershire 2320 & 27
Somerset 2070 & 14
Dorset 2014 & 12
Dorset 1982 & 25
Hampshire 2500 & 20
Cornwall 2100 & 33
Curtins Farm Teagasc 2154 & 22
Southern Ireland 2200 & 24
Average Covers 2215 & average growth of 23kgsDMper ha per day
Very good covers but growth has dropped dramatically.
Drying off decisions now crucial!
Last week before Nuffield applications are due. Lets get some pasture based dairy farm scholars off on travel studies around the world.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Pasture Based Dairy Farmers Must Commit to Research

Last week I attended the UK Nuffield Farming Scholarship Conference in Chester. I was very impressed by the obvious learning & excitement that is the "Journey" that Nuffield takes young people in Agriculture. A "Nuffield" creates an opportunity to travel the world & enter into the wonderful experience of personal research in something agricultural.

Every 'Pasture to Profit Discussion' Group member should be aiming to win a Nuffield....its a journey that changes peoples lives & businesses forever.

Yet within the excitement of Nuffield there was also reason for deep concern. As each scholar spoke about their travels & research.........I got more troubled about where agriculture in the UK is going...what is the future? Why? Each Nuffield speaker spoke of the amazing advances in agricultural research, on farm innovation, the large scale of farming in some advanced countries like NZ, Australia, USA, Brazil, Canada & Argentina.

How are we going to compete???? In Europe agriculture is besieged by regulators, research is under funded (& in the UK almost wiped out completely) & farming innovation has been squashed by decades of debilitating subsidies. Sadly there is a culture within agriculture that does not include research as a focus for progress.
This very sad culture includes UK politicians who clearly don't respect nor value research. The inane politicians are more likely to be influenced by popular 'of the day' lobby groups (eg TB eradication & GM technology) rather than 'Good Science'.

'Pasture to Profit' grass based dairy farmers & their Discussion Groups need to totally embrace agricultural research. Our very future depends on it. Make no mistake without research & active on farm innovation there is NO future.

There are a number of different levels of research that we need to consider.
Dairy Research Funding in the UK
Recently Discussion groups financially contributed to fund young Irish researchers to travel to NZ. This is a great illustration of commitment to research.
However it begs the question about the value of DairyCo levies & the research return we get as grass based dairy farmers from DairyCo. I see little tangible evidence of research that is of value to grass based dairy farmers in the UK. Dairy research in the UK is in serious trouble in my view.
Participation in On Farm Research in the UK
At every opportunity we must get involved with & encourage on farm research projects in the UK. We can contribute, enhance the research & effectively back good science & top research teams. Being part of the projects also means we have quicker access to the results & can spread it amongst the groups. Good research will be taken up quickly.
We (members of Discussion Groups across the UK) are currently working with Dr Christina Marley's group from Aberystwyth measuring green house gases with dairy farmers who outwinter on saved pasture. A Dairy Cross Breeding research project headed by Gillian Butler from Newcastle University is about to start with another group of 'Pasture to Profit' dairy farmers. Several OMSCo grass based organic farmers are acting as Demo farms for research into energy use on dairy farms. This involvement must continue at a pace.
Access & Face to Face Contact with Top Researchers
Dairy farmers must get access to the very best Agricultural researchers & their work. We must establish a dialogue & create opportunities for direct Face to Face contact where ever possible. Many group members have benefitted by their conversations with the likes of Dr Padraig French from Moorepark, Valerie Brocard from Travarez in France or Dr Jock MacMillan from Melbourne University Australia or Dr John Roche from Ruakura NZ.
On Farm Innovation & Personal Research
Dairy farmers in grass based Discussion Groups must be at the forefront of new ideas & innovation. This involves personal research, accurate recording & bright ideas. We in the UK should 'walk tall'...........I think we lead the world in some areas eg Dairy Cow fertility & Outwintering techniques & are leaders in grass management & utilization in the Northern Hemishere.
Doing a Nuffield is an extension of this concept of 'do it yourself research'.
We in the UK are going to have to fight for our right to exist in a very competitive world. For this to be reality we must embrace research in all of its forms & spread good agricultural science & the results of the research to our Discussion Groups as fast as possible.
We are going to have to initiate change in the UK......compared to the rest of the world we are being left behind. So what are we going to do about it NOW.
"The foundation of every state is the education of its youth" quote Diogenes (Ancient Greek Philosopher 412BC-323BC)
I wonder what Diogenes would make of the state of dairy research in the UK???