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Adapting ration to meet herd needs

Sector News Sector News24-10-2019

For Somerset dairy farmer Trish Coombes and her family, a readiness to adapt their herd feeding regime has enabled them to maintain a strong performance in the face of some recent challenges.

Trish Coombes farms in partnership with her husband Ron, son Ed and mother-in-law Peggy, near Langport, just on the edge of the Somerset Levels. Together they manage 510 acres of land and a herd of 280 cows, producing milk for Muller on a Tesco contract. Herd replacements are home reared, with calf growth rates monitored by daughter Ann, who also helps on the farm.

Trish explains: “Cows calve all-year-round and we aim to always have around 240 cows in milk. Average annual yields currently stand at 9,850 litres. There is a high percentage of younger animals in the herd at the moment, which bring the averages down a bit, but our best cows will easily be producing well over 10,000 litres.”

Low yielders and heifers graze during spring and summer, but high yielders are housed all-year-round and fed a ration based on high levels of home-grown grass and maize silage.

With home-grown maize and grass silage forming a key part of the herd’s diet, a shortage of grass silage put a serious strain on maize stores last summer and forced adaptations to the herd’s diet. “Our usual summer ration for high yielders is 23kg grass silage, 12.5kg maize, 0.5kg straw, 30g of Levucell yeast, 1kg molasses, 4.8kg of blend and 5kg of AmyPlus – all topped up with concentrate through out-of-parlour feeders,” says Trish.

Trish and Ed Coombes
Trish and Ed Coombes

Changing the ration

“Last year we had such a shortage of grass silage that we needed to feed much more maize than usual to stretch out the grass silage stocks. The knock-on effect of this was that we were getting through our maize stores far too quickly and were at risk of running out before the next maize harvest was ready to feed.”

After speaking to their ForFarmers account manager, Fred Power, the family made the decision to feed out a higher level of AmyPlus to help alleviate some of the pres-sure on forage stores. 

Fred says: “The Coombes’ have used AmyPlus for a few years, so they knew it had the right nutri-tional profile to meet the demands of their cows. It is a palatable moist feed, high in energy and protein, and, when it was fed at higher than usual levels, it acted as a good stand-in for some maize in the ration.” Trish says: “Adding more to the diet allowed us to stretch out our grass and maize silage stores.” 

In order to counteract dropping butterfat levels, the Coombes have also had to manage another more recent change to their herd’s diet. “Earlier this year, we noticed that milk butterfat levels had taken a significant drop, to around 3.64%,” says Trish. “We knew something needed to be done to remedy this and looked to change the cows’ diet.” 

The decision was made to add FatBoost to the cows’ ration and that saw butterfat levels increase to 3.82% and 3.83% in the following two months. Fred and Trish talked about using C16, rumen protected fats, to try and resolve the butterfat issue, but felt FatBoost was a better option.

It is an amino acid-based product and works to improve milk butterfat levels by limiting the negative impact polyunsaturated fatty acids have on rumen bacteria, thereby allowing the rumen to work more effectively. Average butterfat levels currently stand at 3.76% and, most importantly for Trish, constituent levels are now where they need to be in order to avoid any financial penalties asso-ciated with their milk contract.

The family runs a closed herd with a strong emphasis on maintaining good cow health, and have adapted their cow management over the last few years to pay particular attention to reducing incidents of mastitis and lameness in their cows, as well as cutting antibiotic usage.

Dry cow therapy

Afbeelding: Webp.net-resizeimage (40)

Trish says: “We work very closely with our farm vets and have a regular vet visit every two weeks to make sure that everything is ticking over nicely.

“On the advice and guidance of our vet, we made the decision to switch to selective dry cow therapy on the farm a couple of years ago, and it has worked really well for us. It was great to be on the front foot with this and embrace the system before it became a compulsory part of our milk contract.”

Foot trimming is now a more regular part of the herd’s health routine too and has helped to tackle lameness levels in the herd.

“The emphasis is currently on providing new cow accommoda-tion with much better ventilation which will, hopefully, improve overall cow health,” adds Trish.“Heat stress has been a problem during over the last two summers so we are hoping the high welfare and comfort considerations given to the new building will improve cow health and performance.”