Archive: OAD milking a year on

Published 26 September 14

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As the team at Lydney Park in Gloucestershire draws towards the end of its first season of milking both the herds on a once-a-day (OAD) system, they spoke about both the management and financial implications of the changes, at a recent LIC Open Day.

The full background on how the evolution from a 400-strong, fully housed, high-yielding Holstein Friesian herd to 720 cows, split between two separate herds, both milked on a OAD system, took place is available here. 2014 is the first season when both herds have been OAD milked and the plan is to expand cow numbers, under this system, to 1,150 by 2017.

“The decision to take both herds to milking OAD was a profit decision not a production one,” stressed Gavin Green, Farms Manager at Lydney. “With no appetite for investment in a new parlour on the Estate, OAD became a logical choice for us. I know we can make nearly as much, if not as much, money on an OAD day system as a twice-a-day system, primarily through reduced costs, and without the depreciation of a new parlour.”

The two herds at Lydney are run as completely separate units, on separate blocks of lands, sharing the infrastructure of the parlour, but with separate milk tanks. They are assessed and evaluated on an individual basis.

“I can’t stress enough how important getting the right staff is for a system like this,” said Keith Davis, Herds Manager. “The vast majority of the ideas regarding cost saving and management come from the team here, and while there is a very healthy amount of competition between Tim and Pawal, who manage the herds, there are a lot of ideas and suggestions flying between the two.”

This is the first year for OAD milking for the herd that Tim Thompson manages. Last year, when the herds were split between OAD and twice a day, Tim’s cattle consisted of older cattle without New Zealand genetics, so primarily any cow on her fourth lactation or older, and all the heifers.

“It was basically all the cattle we felt might not do well initially under an OAD regime,” explained Tim. “This year, under OAD, we’ve kept the herds the same and split the heifers equally between the two, so my herd has a lot of young animals (all the heifers from last year and half the heifers from this year) and some older Holstein types.  

“I’ve stocked at about 3.3 cows/ha, perhaps a little too low, as we’ve had more than enough grass on quite a few occasions,” he said. “But stocking rate for OAD is one of the things we’re ‘experimenting’ with this first season. Cows are eating, on average, 13kg DM/day, and are fed about 2kg of concentrate in the parlour. I aim for a 24-hour break in each paddock.”

One of the issues Lydney has with the Holsteins milking in a rotary on an OAD system, is that they have to go round twice, slowing down milking times.  The cows are giving four to five litres more milk than the cows with New Zealand genetics, but the same solids. But both Tim and Keith Davis have been impressed with how they have taken to the OAD systems without many problems.

This is the second year of OAD milking for Pawal Wegelewski’s herd at Lydney Park. At the moment, his cows are on 10kg DM/day, plus 2-3kg of concentrate in the parlour and 1kg of silage.

“At the moment, the herd is stocked at 3.7 cows/ha, and the covers on my area have dropped in the last week from 2,421kg DM/ha to 2,291kg DM/ha, maybe as a result of the colder nights or the dry spell. Whatever the reason, I’ve had to slow the round down to between 45 and 50 days, and am adding the silage in to give us time to ‘rebuild’ the grass,” explained Pawal.

“There were times in the summer when I was on a 17-18 day round and got into a real tail spin, at a time when Tim had a lot of grass. But, as he said, the OAD stocking rate ‘experiment’ is in full throes this season on both units! I think the ideal OAD stocking rate is going to be somewhere in the 3.6 cows/ha, but that’s something we’ve been exploring.

“At the moment we are on 24 hour breaks in the paddocks but, with higher cover, I tend to do 12 hour breaks in order to make sure they clear up everything,” he explained.

Both herds at Lydney use tail paint for pre-mating heat and then scratch cards after that.

“We’re only looking for heat at serving, because we want to keep all eyes fresh for this hectic time of year,” said Keith. “The combination of tail paint and scratch cards means that we know which animals are non-cyclers. This year, of the 700 odd cows, we only had 10 non-cyclers, and a submission rate in excess of 90%in the first 21 days. We have an empty rate of 13% and would want to be about 5% on OAD.

“As our figures show, we caught them bulling, they just didn’t want to get in calf. It does tend to be those Holstein-type cows that are the problem.  The all-year round calving system we had here until 2007 bred in infertility. We’re also building herd numbers at the moment so keeping some cows we might normally choose to cull for fertility reasons. But we don’t make an effort to intervene with problem cows because they, and their offspring, are not the ones we want continuing in our herd.”

When it comes to cow condition under the OAD system, keeping the cow from getting too fat can be an issue: “You don’t have to worry about thin cows on this system, in fact we’re trying to stop them getting fat. I’m not sure that maize will have a place in the diet of these cows in the future. It just seems to put weight onto them,” says Keith.

“We only feed concentrate to replace the grass we can’t grow. We’re at 180kg/cow so far this year and we put a bit of magnesium chloride in the water and also have a high magnesium soil index here.”

Half the cows from each herd are outwintered on fodder beat or deferred grazing, and the rest are housed. Lydney is moving away from outwintering as Gavin thinks it’s hard on both soils and the workforce.

“A wet winter knocks soil structure and it takes a good while to get over that. Even if you are reseeding behind outwintering cattle, you’re not looking at getting a crop off that land until well into the season,” says Gavin.

“With this in mind, we’re putting up a new shed, with a stone floor and very little else, to give us more space in the winter period. With such a tight block calving we need more area for calving cows and calf housing.”

The team at Lydney measures everything with a plate meter once a week and discusses the week’s grazing as a result. Both Tim and Pawal manage their grazing down to the hour, and will come back and move that fence later if the cows haven’t cleaned up yet. They feel that residuals are key, as grass quality can have even more of an impact on an OAD system.

Keith explained; “We’ll go into our last rounds about 1 October and aim to graze into December. Last year, we dried off on 17 December, this year we’re looking at the 22nd or 23rd. We have brought calving forward a week to 7 February, as I feel there is a week’s milk to be had there. Calving any earlier would mean we run the risk of running out of grass before our magic day, around 2 April.

Keith, Gavin and the team have sat down and clearly worked out the financial implications of the OAD system at Lydney Park.

“As we supply a cheese company and are paid on milk constituents, profit here is clearly driven by kg MS/ha and our cost of production,” says Keith. “Our target for this first year of complete OAD was 310kg/MS/cow but it looks like we will be nearer330kg/MS/cow. I think as the herd matures we should be seeing milk solids around the 375 to 380kg/cow level.

“We know that the move to OAD has resulted in a reduced income of £199/cow less milk solids, but we have reduced costs already by £156/cow. The big headline costs are down; concentrate is down £80/cow compared to a standard year, and now sits at 2ppl; vet and med costs have fallen by £19/cow or 0.55ppl; chemical costs have halved, and labour costs have reduced by £37/cow or 0.3ppl.

“As the herd matures, giving more MS/cow, and as herd numbers increase, meaning more cost savings, OAD will continue to drive profitability at Lydney. This year, we budgeted for our cost of production at 24ppl and our aim going forward with OAD is cost of 20ppl. As just one of the enterprises on the estate, we have to justify the dairy usage of every hectare of land on profitability. The fact that we keep increasing the dairying area each year speaks for itself,” Keith concluded.