Tuesday, 26 April 2011

"In Charge of the Impossible" that's a cow man's lot.

As we surveyed the new "Pasture Grazing Wedge" after the farm walk this week, the Herdsman said "In Charge of the Impossible....thats a cow man's lot"

It seems to sum up the current difficult seasonal conditions in most areas of the UK.

Faced with the unusual most people need to share ideas & an onfarm discussion is a really good idea right now!

If you need help ask....phone me!

A check of the long range forecasts confirm this frustration on the farm.

It's important to slow the grazing rotation when the pasture growth slows. Most pasture grazing wedges are very flat or they have a gaping hole indicating a shortfall. It's the short grass post grazing that has slowed down the most.

Act immediately...you are lucky your pasture measurements have given you at least 10 days notice of changes...this is when pasture monitoring pays huge dividends.

The risk is that the average pasture cover will fall & you lose control of your wedge. You may need to graze silage crops!

Check for 3 leaves before grazing it only takes a minute each day. Write down your management decisions.
Pastures are showing early signs of moisture stress. Even if N has been applied there is not a uniform response over the whole paddock. Urine patches are very clearly visible....high nitrogen application plus a large bucket of water = lush green growth. Insufficient rain leaves most of the grass struggling after grazing = pale green low growth some plant stress.
This is exceptional spring weather on top of a very dry past 12 months over most of the UK. On most farms there will be a spectacular response when it rains but this might be short lived as sub soil moisture is very low.....plan on it being a dry summer & take risk management decisions now....otherwise it could be a very expensive year.

Most herds report that cows are cycling normally. Milk solids YTD is up on most farms so the unusually weather has not yet affected milk production.The soils are cracking on many farms....never a good sign... often poor soil structure but currently due to the exceptional dry period with above average temperatures.

Cows appear to be in very good condition on most farms but most herds have 10% at the tail end.....Check the Body Condition Scores.....most group members have put these thinner cows on OAD milking. They often cycle within a week on OAD. "Vets seem to be very good at getting cows to cycle but not so good at getting them in calf" a comment from this weeks group meeting.

This is NOT the time to underfeed cows premating.

I understand the quote this week from a Herdsman " In Charge of the Impossible" neither he nor I can make it rain.

Current UK Pasture Measurements

No rain over most of the UK plus above average temperatures has decreased pasture growth on many pasture based dairy farms this week. Some farms are going back into silage crops & virtually all farms are being forced to lengthen the grazing rotations some out as far as 40 days to maintain the grazing wedge.

Many farms reporting that it is the recently grazed pasture that is under the most moisture stress & growth rates have slowed to about 20kgs/ha/day on those paddocks.

Average Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)

Cumbria 2150, growth 80kgs, covers well up on last week

Nth Wales 2052, 67 some showers this week

Staffordshire 2040, 41 (demand 54) very dry

Staffordshire 2067, 49

East Staffordshire 1800 (2250 whole farm), 31 growth, will cut 3 for silage, 40 day

Derbyshire growth 62 same cover

Nottingham 2100, 80, demand = 70 Very dry

Shropshire 2157,38 (growth dropped), demand = 44

Oxfordshire 2090, 70 surprised at growth as very dry

Herefordshire organic, 2123, 49

Gloucestershire, growth dropped 20 to 78, covers down slightly

Gloucestershire, 2000, 70 compared to 77 last week, Very dry

Dorset, covers same, growth 70, pregrazing 3400 residuals 1600

East Sussex, 2002, 56

Devon, 2500, 70, 20% of farm shut for silage

Cornwall, 2400, 90

North Germany, growth slow, very dry no rain, staying on OAD milking

Brittany, France, Very dry & warm

Friday, 15 April 2011

An Unprovoked, Unnecessary & Ill Informed Attack on Pasture Based Dairy Farmers

"Farmer bashing" sadly happens far too often. You would think today with the "Perfect Storm" looming (likely worldwide food shortages) that a well informed society would be encouraging & supporting their local farmers who produce high quality food. Sir John Beddington the Chief Scientific Officer has clearly set out the risks to food security of climate change & population growth. http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/bispartners/goscience/docs/p/perfect-storm-paper.pdf Yet this week the unnecessary but very public attack on pasture based dairy farmers came not from someone who belongs to an extreme lobby group but from within. This ill informed attack was made by a UK University scientist (who should know better) & an Agricultural newspaper. Why did the Farmers Weekly allow this to happen I ask?

The UK dairy industry is rapidly dividing naturally into the high & low input systems. Each to their own preferred system. But why would a University & an Agricultural newspaper seek to pit one sector against the other group of farmers.

Our Dr Mike Wilkinson from Nottingham University clearly knows nothing about the efficiency nor the high calibre of pasture based dairy farmers in the UK or elsewhere in the world.

Has he ever been on a low input pasture based dairy farm in the UK? I doubt it as he spoke at the recent British Society of Animal Science conference in Nottingham clearly not understanding the outstanding technical efficiencies of the pasture based system. Nor has he fully considered the numerous inefficiencies of the high input systems of milk production.

The average milk production per cow in the UK is approx 7000litres/year times 2.5 lactations. This equals a lifetime production of approx 17500litres per cow. The low input pasture based dairy cow that Dr Wilkinson was so critical of only produces 5500litres per cow per year but over 5.2 lactations = 28600 lifetime production.

Which high yield cows would you prefer Dr Wilkinson?

Add to the lifetime production the ability to calve every 365 days for more than 5 lactations & we have a very scientifically efficient system. These are genetically very sophisticated dairy cows that are fed simply & naturally on pasture. The high breeding efficiency of the crossbred cows & the clover fed pasture means a very low carbon footprint. Pasture based dairying doesn't rely on protein from South America.

Pasture based dairying in the UK is for smart thinking professionals. It attracts smart young entrants to the dairy industry....it's a pity the UK Universities are not playing a greater part of this sector.

Pasture based dairying is at the forefront of science & technology. Don't be fooled by the apparent simplicity.

Grazing management is simple but sophisticated. It requires real management skill..

Dr John Beddington called for sustainability in agriculture...times have moved on..we no longer wish to destroy the very environment we depend on for food.

The pasture based dairying has a long term sustainability. Under pasture there is a healthy soil with high soil organic matter (soil carbon). Although UK soils are decreasing in carbon stocks those soils under low input pasture systems are increasing the soil organic matter & contributing to the UKs Soil carbon stocks.

Sustainability is clearly something Mike Wilkinson hasnt considered with his high input milk production that relies on cereals, protein from South America, depleting soil carbon, tractors & fuel. Not to mention poor herd fertility & a low number of lactations & lifetime production.

Lastly Dr Wilkinson.....you need the public support for healthy locally produced food. Today the public is well informed & with social media can rally support or opposition to farmers & farming practices eg. notinmycuppa. http://notinmycuppa.com/ High input systems do not have public support.

Pasture based dairy farmers are proud of the public support they get & will fight back to protect that support.

Current UK Pasture Measurements

Few areas of the UK have had either any rain or enough rain to significantly influence pasture growth on UK dairy farms. The long dry spell is of increasing concern as it follows a relatively dry 12 months.

Pasture growth has hit "Magic Day" on many pasture based dairy farms as soil temperatures increase. Cornwall (not really part of England!) is having an amazing spring with some farms having already cut silage.

Average Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)

South Ayrshire Scotland AFC 1962, Growth 64 rotation 18 days

Dumfries 1910, 36

North Wales 1950, 44

Cheshire Organic 2000, 39

Lincolnshire 2350, 115

Nottingham 2000, 60 (no rain for 2 months)

Nottingham 2064, growth 69, demand 65 (no rain.. silage?????)

East Staffordshire 2080, 56

Staffordshire 2004, 60

Herefordshire 2080, 50 (no rain 6 weeks)

Herefordshire 2099, Growth 59 demand 32

Gloucestershire 2230, 77

Oxfordshire 1940, 50 (demand 48) no rain

Pembrokeshire 1970, 61

Pembrokeshire 3085 (complete farm), 105 growth

Somerset organic 2300, 45 (paddocks shut for hay)

East Sussex 1947, 47 (no rain since early March relying on Chicory fields)

Dorset 2600, 87 (third farm shut for silage) perfect grazing conditions

Dorset 2443, 91

Dorset 2462, 79 (planted 15ha Chicory & Plantain for summer)

Devon 2500, 75

Devon 2180 , 65 (demand 51)

Cornwall 2100, 105 (third farm shut for silage)

Cornwall 2498, 94 (silage already cut).....Cornwall is not in England????(Ed comment)

Southern Ireland 2100, 68 Lots of bloat around

Friday, 8 April 2011

Less N Leaching. Lower Emissions & More Grass with EcoN

Eco-N Every so often Agricultural Research hits the jackpot with a really significant finding. I suspect the work on N Inhibitors by Profs'. Hong Di & Keith Cameron at Lincoln University, NZ in conjunction with Ravensdown will prove to be very significant. The end product of this research is the N Inhibitor Eco-N (now a Ravensdown product for use on pasture based dairyfarms. The Eco-N is applied as a fine spray onto the soil/pasture during the autumn & again in the late winter early spring. Here is a photo of Prof Hong Di & Prof Keith Cameron at the LUDF demonstration soil pit. http://www.ravensdown.co.nz/Products/Eco-n/Default.htm

Urine is the main source of nitrate leaching & nitrous oxide emissions in grazed dairy pasture.

Dairy cow urine deposits the equivalent of 800-1000kg N/ha in each urine patch. Eco-N holds the nitrogen N that is normally leached or emitted, in the root zone so the plant can use it. It does this by slowing the activity of the nitrifying bacteria in the soil that convert ammoniun to nitrate. This boosts the N supply to pasture for plant growth during the growing season.

This was explained at the International Farm Management Conference held in NZ.

Watch a video of Prof Keith Cameron explain how Eco-N works

Eco-N is a Ravensdown product that could very very exciting & a huge break thru for the environmental management by pasture based dairy farmers. There are no incentives for reducing nitrate leaching or nitrous oxide emissions other than knowing you have contributed positively to the environment. So in the short term the usage will depend on whether the nitrogen savings (caused by the use of Eco-N) are more valuable (give an economic return to the dairy farmer)as measured by the additional pasture grown. The current cost in NZ of Eco-N is approx $170/ha/yr.

Work needs to be done urgently in the UK & France to see if we can get an economic return by using Eco-N & be credited with the environmental savings. Eco-N will need to be licensed for use in the EU. At the Lincoln University Dairy Farm 60 lysimeters (encased columnns of soil the same as exist in the paddock) have been placed on the farm to measure ground water nutrients. Further lysimeters have been set up at the University to see whats happening under clover pastures. Eco-N is applied before the major drainage off the farm soils...in most areas before winter. A second application is done pre spring rains. This also indicates that it is either Urine or applied N fertilizers that are applied during the autumn which might create the worst nitrate leaching problems. "Eco-N has the potential to be a valuable nitrogen management tool, together with best management practices, to support environmentally sustainable production of grazed pasture systems."

Current UK Pasture Measurements

On farm conditions remain very dry over most of the UK. Grazing conditions are ideal with very good quality pasture for milkers & young stock. Pasture growth rates have accelerated since last week. Magic Day is not too far away.

The very dry soils are a concern as we edge closer to summer without substantial rain. Dry summer planning eg Planting Chicory or Plantain & Clover leys, needs to start now.

Average Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)

Belfast, 2150kgs Av Cover & 66kgs DM daily growth (double last week)

North Wales, 1860 & 45

Oxford, 2100 & 70 excellent grazing

Sussex, 1902 & 55 (demand 50 & grazing rotation 21 days)

South West Wales, 1912 & 69 (Demand 52)

Dorset, 2048 & 64

Devon, 2500 & 94kgs (shutting for silage)

Friday, 1 April 2011

Better Communication = Better InCalf Rates

I've just seen a simple idea to improve communication between staff on a pasture based spring calving dairyfarm in Dorset, UK. This came to light at the "Realfarmer" discussion group.....a group for Herdsmen & Herd Managers/farm staff on pasture based dairy farms. "Tail Tape Id".... yes that's right "Tail Tape Id!" "Tail Tape Id" is hardly a new idea....often used to identify cows with mastitis or different calving batches pre drying off in many pasture based herds.

However Gary & Will in Dorset are now using it to identify non cycling cows in the herd in the pre-mating month before AI starts.

Every cow has an orange tape wrapped around it's tail(this week one month pre AI). If there have already been Vet treatments a different colour is applied too.

If any staff member thinks the cow should be rechecked (for whatever reason) she gets another tail tape.

Once the cow has been seen in heat the Tail Tapes are removed.

Gary & Will have a very good track record with a very compact calving block.

It's a team effort & it's important every one in the team is up to speed.....with every cow, every day.....even though there are more than 300 cows in the herd. It can be done but you have to be smart!

It also concerns me that it's hard to observe the correct 'Cow Number' on many farms. The freeze branding on many cows & on many farms is very poor. How do you pick the right cow if the Cow Number is impossible to read?????

At the very least the numbers need to be clipped now. However I think alot of freeze branding needs to seriously improve!!

Below you will see three cows with the "Tail Tape Id".....the cow on the left has already been identified as requiring another vet check (what is her number??? not easy to read is it!). The 2 heifers have very clear easy to read numbers.

Identifying non cycling cows is seriously important in a block calving system & it needs to be done early. The evidence is that the earlier problem cows are identified the better & the more likely that they will remain in the 8-10 week calving block. "Cows with a history" are already known that is cows that had problems at or about calving....twins, milk fever, difficult calvings etc.
Heifer rearing is part of this story too. Dr John Moran (Victoria Australia) said increasing liveweight at first calving would improve milk production and fertility.

http://www.weeklytimesnow.com.au/article/2011/03/28/309881_dairy.html It would also reduce the age at first calving and dystocia. Dystocia can increase the time to conception by 14 days and reduce the first lactation milk yield by 650 litres.

The quicker problem cows are identified & treated by a Vet the better.

Cow Body Condition Score (BCS)both at calving & pre mating are very important. You need to minimise the Condition Score loss post calving. Early work by Dr.Jock MacMillan in NZ (with Discussion Group farmers) in the early 1980s clearly linked BCS to fertility. So too did work shortly after at Ellinbank in Victoria, Australia.

It will take 8 days longer for a cow at a BCS of 4( NZ Scoring system) to cycle compared to a cow at a BCS of 5.

Pregnancy rate at 1st insemination for cows with a BCS of 5 will be 1-2% higher than those calving at a BCS of 4.

Empty rates are generally greater in cows that are thin in early lactation (2% for each BCS unit) data from DairyNZ .
However, as herds get bigger it's rapidly becoming a staff management issue as to whether cows get in calf or not, within the targetted block. Do staff fully understand the game plan & their role. Can everyone including relief staff pick cows in heat? Now that the peak calving period is over....the first issue is to offer tired & fatigued staff time off to fully be at their best pre-mating & AI.
Maybe using "Tail Tape Id" might help your pre-mating management & communication between staff.


Current Pasture Measurements from around the UK
Grazing conditions have been excellent during March but pasture regrowth rates are poor due to very dry conditions. Some areas have just had good rain & should expect rapid growth...but the country remains very dry overall.
Average Pasture Cover(kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth rates (kgsDM/ha/day)
Dumfries, 1850kgsDM/hectare & 30kgsDM/ha/day

Cumbria, 1600 & 18....(Top of wedge 2100 feeding like 2400)

Shropshire, 1650 & 30

Shropshire 1950 & 20 (demand 35)

Derbyshire, 1865 & 35

Nottingham, 1850 & 25.....no rain all of March....very dry!

Gloucestershire, 1900 & 41

Gloucestershire, 2028 & 60 (Spring is here!!)

Somerset Organic, 2115 & 35

Sussex, 1750 & 25

Dorset, 1816 & 15

Devon, 2100 & 43

Cornwall, 2450 (1900), 58 growth ....have pulled out surplus to reduce cover to 1900. Just had another 30ml rain.