Putting your cows first

Published 25 July 18

Moving to twice a day delivery of fresh feed has increased milk production by 1.5 litres per cow for no extra cost at Chance Hall Farm in Cheshire managed by Tom and Karen Halton.

The second meeting at AHDB’s strategic dairy farm focused on feed efficiency. Farmers heard how Cow Signals had not only made the cows lives easier but had made them money too. And, how further improvements had been identified during a review of their key performance indicators (KPI’s).

Tom explained “We decided to try delivering the feed in troughs twice a day instead of once and the next day milk went up. They didn’t eat any more but we saw an increase of 1.5 litres per cow per day and for no extra cost.” 

Karen’s ethos is ‘put your cows first’ and had asked Owen Atkinson from Dairy Veterinary Consultancy to run some Cow Signals training for the whole team. 

Owen said “Cow Signals is about improving the lives of cows and the people who care for them. It helps people to look at their own farms with a fresh set of eyes. At the Haltons, one of the areas we looked at was feeding and identified that to be time efficient Tom was cramming too much feed into the mixer wagon which wasn’t mixing properly.  Also through sieving we found there was too much fibre present in the cows muck”.

Owen continued “Encouraging the cows to eat little and often, meant there wasn’t waste, their rumen pH was more stable and they were dealing with their diet better”.

According to Owen there are 7 key feeding things to look at using the acronym WAFFLES

  • Water – Allow 10cm at least per cow of water space
  • Acclimatisation – Ensure rumens are acclimatised to a milking cow diet (transition cow management)
  • Feed barrier space – Allow a minimum 66cm per cow
  • Fibre – Ensure there is enough, and of the right type to aid good rumen function
  • Little and often – Get cows to eat little and often throughout the day to get a stable rumen pH and most efficient fermentation
  • Ease of access – Ensure it’s easy for cows so they have very little stress in the day i.e. good cow comfort, tackle lameness, wide passages.
  • Sorting – Try and reduce it

Hefin Richards, an Independent nutrition consultant for Rumenation Nutrition Consultancy, looked at their feeding KPI’s which suggested the Halton’s could achieve 1-1.5p per litres more with better feed efficiency.

Hefin said “Through benchmarking the Haltons have identified a number of opportunities to improve feed efficiency. For them it’s about using higher quality forage and increasing income over feed matter rather than reducing feed costs”.  

“I would encourage all farmers to benchmark. By looking at their KPI’s and comparing themselves with themselves and with others will highlight where improvements could be made.”

Karen said “We became a strategic farm as we want to do what we do exceptionally well. We have always done costings and looked at figures but we are now measuring more and reading into the detail – if you don’t measure it you can’t manage it.

“As a result of this meeting we are starting to milk the mids three times a day to see if we can gain the extra 5 to 7 litres Hefin suggests could be there and, longer term we intend to move the Voluntary Waiting Period from 50 to 55 days to increase lactation yield.”

Izak van Heerden, Senior Knowledge Exchange Manager for AHDB Dairy says “Through the strategic dairy farm network AHDB want to aid benchmarking by showcasing what the best farmers are doing through on farm meetings where performance data which is critical to success will be shared.  Farmers can then compare and benchmark against the strategic farmers to understand their own potential, learn from each other and take home ideas for making improvements”.

Farmers can calculate their KPI’s using the AHDB KPI calculator at dairy.ahdb.org.uk/kpi-calculator and identify which areas they are performing well in and where they could improve.

The next meeting at Chance Hall Farm will be held on 23 October 2018 and will focus on optimising forage utilisation.