Thursday, May 23, 2019

Lifetime appraisal helps optimise dairy herd output

January 2, 2019 by  
Filed under Livestock

Identifying and addressing areas for improvement as part of a Lifetime Dairy appraisal has resulted in a 1.5-2 litre increase per cow a day and improved calf health on one Staffordshire farm.

Making small, inexpensive tweaks to feed trough and cubicle dimensions has resulted in improved dry matter intakes and longer lying times, leading to milk yield increases worth over £18,000 at Moorscovert Farm, Stafford.

The changes came last summer, following a Lifetime Dairy appraisal carried out by Mole Valley Farmers. As part of the assessment, one of the Mole Valley Farmers team walked the 250 cow, 9,100 litre herd, run by the Bloxham family, to assess various aspects of herd management.

Using the CowSignals concept of looking at cow behaviour to establish where improvements can be made forms a key part of the Lifetime Dairy strategy, which covers either the lactating cow, the transition cow, the calf or the heifer.

These cow signals flagged up issues surrounding feed barrier and cubicle design in the herd run by Dom, Carol and Henry Bloxham.

At the time, the farm had a feed passage up the middle of the main shed, with slatted head yokes. There was also another feed barrier in a separate area with 50 cubicles, and two other troughs. Dom says the family had always noticed that cows preferred the troughs first, but were unsure why.

Feed troughs

Dom recalls: “When you put the feed out, they would all go to the troughs outside and leave the centre passage until there was nothing left outside. It was reducing feed space as they would go to the troughs and just eat there.”

The Lifetime Dairy appraisal flagged up these anomalies in cow behaviour and also identified that the slatted head yokes were reducing cow comfort at feeding and making the cows show preference for eating in the troughs.

As a result, the Mole Valley Farmers team advised removing the slatted yokes and installing a single rail feed barrier instead. The Bloxhams subsequently did just that, putting in a 50cm high concrete wall, with 130cm high tube neck rail, set forward by 100mm to maximise intakes and comfort.

Dom immediately saw a change in feeding behaviour.

He says: “It’s made more use of the space on the farm as now some of the cows will stay in the shed and some outside. It must have helped dry matter intakes. There’s also less stress. You’d see cows slipping as they’d all rush to the troughs. Now they don’t do that.”


The appraisal also found cows standing or perching in the cubicles in the main shed. In comparison, an additional shed was full of cows lying in the cubicles or waiting to lie down. The difference was a breeze block wall in front of cows in the main building, which was restricting lunging space.

The Bloxhams have since further acted on advice from the Lifetime Dairy report and knocked out the brick wall. This has increased lying times and put an end to queuing to lie down. Combined with better dry matter intakes, this has lead to a 1.5-2 litre a cow a day increase. Across six month, at a milk price of 27p/litre, this equates to a minimum of £18,225 benefit in milk.

Dom also believes that improved light levels have encouraged cows to express heat better, whilst knocking the wall down has aided air flow.

He says: “What we did in the shed was not an expensive upgrade. For the wall, it was just a few afternoons with a hammer and moving bricks out. For the feed barriers it was just fabricators coming in with steel work and tubing, which was cut up and welded. It’s not a lot of money for a 1.5-2 litre a cow increase.

“All these recommendations on feed barriers and cubicles are from your feed company, so it’s going above and beyond. And the changes we’ve made haven’t cost us much at all.”


A Lifetime Dairy appraisal has also been carried out on the calves at Moorscovert Farm. This identified room for improvement regarding consistency of colostrum management. Previously, there were no strict protocols surrounding colostrum feeding which meant some calves were left on the dam for several days and some would have been tubed.

On Mole Valley Farmers’ advice, the team now follow “strict rules”, with calves removed from their dam and given two litres of colostrum in the morning and two in the evening, via a bottle. This ensures calves consistently receive what they need.

Dom says: “It gets them on to teats earlier and we’ve also seen health benefits. We’re definitely using less rehydration sachets for scours so we’ve got less scours. They seem to grow faster and quicker.”


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