Over 200 farmers learn from DairyCo Research

Published 3 June 15

Good technical performance can have a huge influence on a dairy farm’s cost of production, farmers attending a DairyCo Research Day in Wales have been told.

Ray Keatinge, head of DairyCo research and development (R&D), said: “Marginal gains across several key areas such as lameness and grassland production compound and enable farmers to produce milk for less.”

At the DairyCo Research Day at Manor Farm, St Clears, the latest developments and advice on these topics and many others were shared with over 200 farmers from across South Wales.

Host farmers Aeron and Carys Owens, who are members of a DairyCo discussion group, have embraced new research and Carys Owen With Calves development advice to make significant progress with heifer rearing.

“Heifer calves are the future of our herd so it is essential that we get it right. We were getting losses but we have made some significant changes and calf health has improved hugely,’’ said Carys.

She said every farming business could gain by attending events like DairyCo Research Days. “We can perhaps all be guilty of thinking we know it all already but when you come to events like this you realise that there is a lot more to learn.’’

Heifer rearing, the second largest annual production cost on a dairy farm, was one of the topics under the spotlight at the research day.
Farmers were urged to make better breeding decisions by using all the tools available, including genomics. From August this year, farmers can evaluate the genetic potential of their replacement heifers by using DairyCo’s youngstock herd genetic report to make strategic breeding decisions for the future of their milking herds.

DairyCo technical extension officer Andy Dodd said the report will indicate which heifers have been genomically tested. “These proofs will double the reliability compared with heifers not genomically tested, providing a more accurate prediction of their strengths and weaknesses,’’ he said.

Environment and management also play an important role in successful heifer production.

Dr Jenny Gibbons, DairyCo research and development manager, warned that calf mortality is a cost farmers often overlook. “By understanding the costs of rearing and the cost of mortality, farmers can look at making changes to ensure optimum economic efficiency of their heifer rearing enterprises,’’ she said.

Professor Jon Huxley presented findings from a DairyCo-funded study run in collaboration with the University of Nottingham Vet School into early detection and treatment of lameness. Cows with either sole ulcers, sole haemorrhage or white line disease were treated immediately with a range of options – either hoof trimming, trimming and the application of a footblock or trimming and the application of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. Cows in a fourth group had their hoof trimmed, a block applied and were treated with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory; it was this group that achieved the best results.

Jon said after five weeks of treatment, 85% of cows were no longer lame.

Lameness is not the only aspect of cow health and comfort that can lead to loss of production – lying times can dictate how much milk a cow will produce.

High-comfort lying areas encourage cows to lie down, helping to support the overall health and productivity of the herd.

A DairyCo-funded study found that some cows laid down for as little as three hours a day while for others it was 17 hours.

The study found that a number of different aspects in housing influenced lying times – cows on deep-bedded sand cubicles spent an additional 1.5 hours laying down compared to those on mat or mattress lined cubicles.

Dr Nick Bell, researcher at the Royal Veterinary College who presented the findings at the Research Day, urged farmers to ensure that cows’ lying areas are soft, deep-bedded and dry and that the lying area provides the cows with enough space to lie down and rise with ease. Cows should have around half the day to lie down.

For some farmers, it is poorly performing soils that are costing them money. A recent survey highlighted that compaction is evident on up to 70% of grassland soils in Wales and England.

Dr Debbie Mc Connell Soil CompactionA three-year DairyCo compaction project has been trialling three different aeration machines to improve soil structure. DairyCo research and development manager Dr Debbie McConnell said the trials showed that both spike and sward lifting aeration had a positive effect on soil structure, encouraging oxygenation and improving water infiltration. However, there can be a short-term yield penalty associated with aeration, resulting from root damage, she warned. “As a consequence, it is important to identify why aeration is necessary, with any aeration being completed in the autumn to minimise yield loss,’’ she told farmers.

Soil also benefits from the application of nutrients and recent AHDB-funded work has helped to identify a strong relationship between manure dry matter levels and nitrogen content. Dr Lizzie Sagoo, soil scientist at ADAS, showed farmers attending the Research Day how slurry hydrometers can be used on farm to obtain a quick reading of the dry matter content of manure. From this, slurry nitrogen levels can be calculated and manure and supplementary fertiliser applications can be more accurately tailored to the crop’s requirements. Dr Sagoo showed how MANNER-NPK, a free software programme, can be used to calculate the effect of timing of application on nutrient efficiency. The programme shows that springtime applications are more beneficial than autumn, increasing nitrogen use efficiency by as much as 10%. She also outlined how low emission application techniques, such as trailing shoe, can help improve nitrogen efficiency from manure.

Among the farmers who attended the event was Gerwyn Griffiths, whose family runs a dairy farm at Pwlltrap, near St Clears. Mr Griffiths said he would be taking on board advice he had gleaned from the presentations and the discussion that followed. “It is more important now than ever that we use this research to our advantage,’’ he said.