In this article on the website of Farmers Guardian, Martin Wheelton talks about some routines in his daily management he has simplified in order to being able to work more easily with a large dairy herd. This involves calving patterns, fertility management and calf rearing.
Mr. Wheelton has implemented a simple system for fertility monitoring. He says his system relies on tail paint, a shopping trolley and shaving foam.
“We don’t observe for heat but we do have a routine,” he says. “Three weeks before mating is due to start we shave the backs of the cows and tail paint them.
“As we feed the cows, one of the men in the parlor will hop into a shopping trolley so he can see the backs of the cows. If the tail paint is missing, or even half missing, that cow will have a blob of shaving foam put on it and then these cows are drafted out to serve.”
This routine takes place during every morning milking and any cows with paint still on them when serving begins are seen by the vet. Once served the cows are marked with different colored tail paint.
He says this routine works well, with only 5-7 per cent usually empty at the end of the nine-week service window and the aim is to keep this consistently below 10 per cent. The system is ‘numberless’ until the cow has been served and this is the way Mr. Wheelton and his team prefer it.
A.I. is used for the first six weeks of the breeding period and then bulls go in with the cows for the last three weeks. Two groups of eight bulls are used and each group is with the cows.
Calving pattern and calf rearing
Calving starts in February with students employed during this time to assist the five full-time members of staff. “Because we’re often short-staffed at calving time we have to have a strict protocol in place, otherwise something will get missed,” he says, explaining this involves identifying the day’s best quality and thickest colostrum and using it to drench all the calves, starting with the youngest in the shed, with 2.5 liters.
Mr. Wheelton says it is important not to ‘underestimate the power of colostrum’ and each calf will be drenched at least twice more, taking away the need for ‘evaluating’ whether a calf has been seen sucking or whether it looks full.
Any colostrum left over will be kept warm to drench newborns through the night, although Mr. Wheelton says they find by feeding the cows later in the afternoon they seem less inclined to calve during the evening.
“We have found feeding the cows at around 5pm means they will be encouraged to eat during the evening, they spend the night digesting, and often calve the next morning.”
Cows are removed from their calves soon after calving and calves spend the first three days in individual pens, fed warm powdered milk twice a day. They are then transferred into training pens of 10 and fed milk in a trough.
At seven days old they will go into the main calf shed and receive 3.5 liters of warm powdered milk each day at a 20 per cent concentration and a coarse calf ration mix and access to clean water being ‘essential’.
“This is twice as strong as normal powdered milk but we’ve found doing this eradicates scours,” he says. “With once a day feeding, the calves are much more interested in eating straw, hay and corn.”
Calves are weaned at 80-85kg, which is usually when they are about nine to 10 weeks old. Calves then go straight out to grass, fed 0.5kg of corn a day for the first three weeks and then just on grass subsequently. They graze paddocks and are moved every 48 hours, coming in during December for a couple of months until grass growth picks up.
Silage is viewed as being secondary to grazed grass and just two cuts are taken so that enough grass is left to block graze the calves at the end of the year.
“We have some ground away from home, and although this is an expense, we try to offset this by maximizing calf growth off grass,” says Mr. Wheelton. “We silage what’s left after the calves have grazed. If the calves can eat more we’ll let them have more of the silage ground.”
This farmers has definitively been thinking on how he can make his farm more efficient by implementing simple yet effective routines. He may not have top results with these routines but in the end the overall results is what counts. In that he has succeeded in my opinion.
What makes this article also interesting is that he was thinking out of the box. Some routines he is using are sure worth more investigating. Farmers like Mr. Wheelton show that it sometimes is a good thing to consider your routine of working in a completely different way.
Mr. Wheelton talks about not to ‘underestimate the power of colostrum’. If you want to learn more about this, check out this article on proper colostrum management.