Tim Sinnott runs a 227-cow autumn block calving Holstein herd, which averages 12,700 litres of milk at 3.82% fat and 3.26% protein – around 880kg of milk solids per cow – on a three-times-a-day milking. Based at Ivy House Farm, near Nuneaton, he manages the herd with help from ForFarmers’ nutritionist Alison Ewing, vet Rob Henderson, and his RMS technician Tom Bennett, in order to pay close attention to detail during the transition period. And this has paid dividends for fertility and cow performance.
The far-off dry cow group receive 6kg of rota-ground straw, mixed with grass and maize silage and 1.5kg of protein-rich rapeseed meal (to fuel tissue repair for the cow and ensure high colostrum quality for the calf), as well as TRANSLAC dry cow minerals. This ration, according to Tim, ‘knocks the milk off them pretty quickly and helps to maintain rumen capacity’.
Three weeks prior to calving, cows move to a transition group in a loose-housed yard. They are fed ForFarmers’ TRANSLAC Advance feed with a mix of 3kg of straw, plus grass and maize silage, which includes a calcium binder, to reduce the risk of milk fevers. Cows are fed the forage mix once a day, but the feed is pushed up five times a day – with the TRANSLAC Advance top dressed twice per day. After calving, cows are put into a fresh-calved group and are kept separately from the main milking herd, close to the parlour. This allows staff to keep a watchful eye on them. Cows’ temperatures are checked regularly during this period and dry matter intakes are monitored.
They are given an electrolyte drink immediately after calving and the fresh-calved group are fed on a ‘calmer’ diet, before being moved into the main milking group. Protected choline is also added to their ration for between 10 days and two weeks after calving.
“We are also using Breeder Tag feed-fence technology, to help early detection of metabolic problems in the transition and fresh group of cows,” explains Tim.
He believes that the three weeks pre-calving and three weeks post calving are the most critical time in the lactation and that if this period is managed correctly, everything else falls into place.
“I need healthy, fertile, well-looked-after cows in order to make the most efficient use of feed in the system,” he says. Purchased feed costs are 9.1ppl, while yield from forage stands at 2,920 litres per cow.
The cows at the unit calve from the beginning of July through to early November, with the herd achieving a rolling calving index of 371 days. During the 2018 breeding season, Tim used sexed semen in order to produce the required number of replacements. The rest of the herd was inseminated with beef semen. “We’re aiming to breed fertility into the herd and we ensure that we have plenty of information to help with breeding decisions,” says Tim.
“We use Genus RMS, information from pedometers, and visual checks to make sure we’re serving cows at the right time. Running a block-calving system means that we get a break from fertility to concentrate on calving. It also helps to take the pressure off a bit, resulting in better results when we start again.”
Tim has a routine visit from his vet, Rob Henderson, once a week during the service period to ensure that the vast majority of veterinary activity on farm is proactive.
Getting cows back in calf quickly is crucial to Tim’s system so vet Rob, the herd’s nutritionist, and the RMS technician, and Tim, all have a meeting before the service period to make plans.
“We discuss things that might have changed since the previous service period and what the aims are for the coming season. The group get together again at the end of the serving period to look at what worked, what didn’t, and how they can improve next year.” Cows calve into the herd at BCS 3 and drop to 2.5 after calving, where they hold steady throughout the lactation. Every cow has a post-calving health check 21 days after calving and again at 41 days, if they have not been seen bulling. If a cow is not served within 70 days of calving she is given another check. This helps to ensure that no cow slips through the system.
With the results that he and his team have been able to achieve, Tim says that there is a temptation to push up cow numbers. “But, instead, we’ve chosen to focus on making every cow place as profitable as possible. And I really can’t stress enough just how important the whole team is in helping to achieve this.”
Taking a more holistic approach to the transition period has led to significant improvements for one Dorset-based herd. Changes to management and feeding mean that cows and heifers now have a better start to their lactation.
For one Derbyshire-based dairy producer, adjusting dry-cow nutrition during the close-up period has resulted in improved cow and calf performance. We spoke to him to find out how advice offered by three different sources led to significant changes to transition cow feeding and management.