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Future focus on youngstock management

Sector News Sector News11-10-2019

After developing a successful, high-yielding dairy herd, two Dorset-based producers are continuing to push for improvements across all aspects of their business to realise their cows’ full potential.

A methodical approach to improving their dairy  business is paying dividends for brothers Paul and Bryan Stranger. They’ve made significant improvements to herd performance by focusing intensively on improving one specific area of the business at a time.

Paul and Bryan farm in partnership, at Mansfield Farm in north Dorset, and they have gradually expanded the family business from a 120-cow herd, averaging 8,000 litres per cow, to 270 head with cows averaging 12,000 litres. 

“We are on a long journey and will continue to slowly develop our business until we feel it is meeting its full potential,” explains Paul. “The key focus for us, in the long term, has been to increase cow numbers, increase milk output, and maintain good constituent levels. Now that we have achieved this, we want to improve young stock performance, and herd fertility to ensure that we are ticking all the boxes – right across the board."

“The herd currently averages 12,000 litres at 3.65% butterfat and 3.26% protein. While dry-cow management is pretty much where we want it, there is still plenty of work to be done when it comes to rearing and managing young stock, and fertility.”

Paul Stranger and Peter Cade
Paul Stranger and Peter Cade

Mansfield Farm comprises 180 hectares, split into 60 hectares of maize, 65 hectares of first cut silage, 12 hectares for fodder beet, and grazing for young stock and dry cows. 

“About four years ago it became clear that our housing infrastructure wasn’t fit for purpose, so we bit the bullet and decided to erect a purpose-built cow shed,” explains Paul. “With the extra space, we then decided to house our high yielders all year round.”

Cows are milked twice a day and in the summer high yielders are fed a ration comprising: 50:50 mix of maize and grass silage, along with chopped straw; 9.75kg of Pellemix; and 0.5kg of Lintec. This provides maintenance plus 32 litres and individual cows are then topped up to yield with concentrate in the parlour, capped at a rate of 4kg per milking. 

Maintaining butterfat

“The only change to the diet during the winter is that we also feed between 9kg and 10kg of home-grown fodder beet per cow,” says Paul. “The cows love eating it and it has done a great job of maintaining butterfat and protein, with milk protein actually increasing from 3.16% in 2016 to today’s 3.26%.” 

Paul and Bryan are happy with the milk yields and milk quality that the cows are achieving, but now want to focus on other areas of the business.

“We calve all year round and rear around 80 heifers a year,” says Paul. “Our target is to get heifers calving down at between 22 and 24 months of age, but we are some way off that at the moment. “We have made some improvements, switching from rearing calves indoors, to using calf hutches, and, this summer, we have trialled rearing calves outdoors on a paddock-based system. We have had good results and calf health has definitely improved,” says Paul.

During the past two years, Paul and his brother have also worked hard to improve herd fertility. Around 75% of cows are currently served 80 days after calving and the herd’s calving interval stands at 390 days. “We have been working closely with our farm vet and fertility specialists, Alta Genetics, to synchronise our system so that we can achieve a target of serving cows by 70 days after calving.” 

Dry-cow management has also come under closer scrutiny and there have been some changes. “We had a lot of issues with milk fever but two years ago, on the advice of ForFarmers’ Peter Cade, we started feeding TRANSLAC Advance, with Calcium Capture, and we’ve hardly had any problems since.” 

Comfortable cows: cubicles are sand bedded
Comfortable cows: the cubicles are sand bedded

Conception rates

Peter is keen to highlight that the brothers’ hard working is paying off: “Paul and Bryan have only relatively recently started focusing on young stock and fertility performance, and already, in just two years, conception rates have improved from 20% to 39%.”

One supplement that has been a key part of the herd’s diet for a while is Lintec – a linseed feed that’s high in omega-3 fatty acids and also utilises a specific strain of thermo-extruded linseed. It provides a healthier, more environmentally friendly alternative to protected fats and helps to support cow fertility and milk production, according to Peter.

It is fed, strategically, at a flat rate of 0.5kg per cow per day to the herd’s high yielders, all year round. “The supplement works well as part of our system, because everything else is already being done to support or try and improve cow performance – be it housing, feeding, or management,” says Paul.

“Peter is always keen to stress that Lintec isn’t a magic solution to fertility or production problems, but it helps to support strong cow performance.” And Paul plans to continue to improve herd performance. “The icing on the cake will be to calve heifers at between 22 and 24 months old – that’s currently one of our key goals.” 

Cow housing: the facilities at Mansfield Farm
Cow housing: the facilities at Mansfield Farm