Fine-tuning to improve herd performance

Leicestershire-based producers Paul and Jackie Haines took an unusual route into dairying, via sheep and pigs, but now, 25 years on, they have a well-established unit and are fine-tuning management to improve efficiency and productivity.

Dairy Nutrition
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Paul Haines’ passion for farming began in childhood when he worked on a local dairy unit after school every day. Those early experiences secured his future in agriculture, but he says he never imagined that one day he’d be dairying in his own right.

“I went to agricultural college and became selfemployed after I left,” he says. “I worked on other farms and had a few sheep of my own, which I kept on land I rented in Lincolnshire.”

He married Jackie in 1992 and the couple took on tenancies together, expanding the flock to 2,000 ewes. They also reared pigs on a bed-and-breakfast contract and, later, reared dairy heifers that they sold as fresh calvers. In 1997 the couple took on a 17-hectare Leicestershire County Council unit, which was more secure than their previous tenancy. “It was a dairy farm with milk quota and a parlour,” says Paul. “So we sold our flock and bought 40 cows.”

Substantial growth

They built up the Holstein Friesian herd to 60 head until the offer of more land presented the possibility of more substantial growth. The couple were offered a farm, near Lutterworth, comprising 50 hectares that, in 2000, was the council’s largest unit. A 10:20 herringbone parlour was installed, and they began milking there in late January 2001.

The retirement of a neighbouring producer, who was also a council tenant, allowed them to secure additional grazing. Together with land from a handful of private landlords they now have 145 hectares to support their 140-cow herd, plus 88 followers. The couple have also bred their own 48-head suckler herd from Simmental dairy-cross heifers, which they put to Limousin bulls. These cattle graze the unit’s more distant fields.

The farm is in one long block intersected by a road and has two streams and one area of steep ground, but this doesn’t stop the Haines from grazing the dairy herd from April to October. “The cows have to cross the road every time they come in for milking, and the streams can only be negotiated in a couple of places, so it is challenging. But we make it work,” says Paul.

The herd is predominantly Holstein Friesian but are typically much more Friesian in type, he says. “We have some red-and-white cows in the herd, which is just our personal preference. We also have a few Jerseys that we purchased for our sons Oliver and Ben when they were younger and wanted their own cattle to look after.”

Now grown up, Ben works on the farm, mainly carrying out feeding and tractor work, as well as working for a silage contractor as and when required. Oliver has just graduated from University of Nottingham with a degree in agriculture and works away from home for a contractor, but gets involved when time allows.

Block calving

Breeding for butterfat and protein has been a long-term strategy. “We also want health and productivity traits, but sires must have good positive scores for fat and protein to make the shortlist.

Herd average yield is 7,776 litres of milk, at 4.57% butterfat and 3.52% protein. That’s up considerably from a 6,975-litre average in 2022. Solids have also increased from 4.53% butterfat and 3.44% protein in 2022. The increase is due to a combination of factors, according to Paul. “During the past two years we have moved from all-year-round calving with an autumn bias to a block that runs from late August to mid-January. This year will be tighter still, with calving set to finish in mid-December.”

Achieving a tighter block was possible with judicial use of Cow Manager ear tags to help with heat detection. “We have also worked closely with our vet to be more proactive when dealing with any health issues, and we also PD from 35 days.”

Nutrition has also played a key role. The Haines now offer mineral buckets to the herd, which they believe have boosted fertility, and in 2022 they grew and fed maize silage for the first time in 12 years.

“Before that we paid contractors to do all our silaging, but decided to invest in our own machinery in 2010. The specialist nature of maize-harvesting equipment meant we decided to drop it and concentrate on grass,” says Paul.

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Maize silage

But in 2022 they decided to give maize another try. “We had some grass that needed reseeding and, due to high fertiliser and feed prices, we thought it was worth trying maize to replace the caustic wheat we had been buying in. It was a good year for maize and the newer varieties that are now available worked well for us.”

Balancing the overall rations with maize silage is carried out with advice from ForFarmers’ account manager Andrew Torrens. “We have been working with Andrew for about 10 years, but the changes made this year have allowed us to invest in targeted feeding and we have seen great results.”

This year Paul also switched from his previous compound to ForFarmers’ Optima Footprint NS range, a decision based on incentives in his Arla contract and the fact that the ration would still supply the right nutrition to the cows.

“It’s too early to see any difference in performance because there have been so many variables with the late spring and change to our calving block, but early signs are good.”

Optima Footprint is formulated without the use of soya, soya hulls or soya oil and to its true digestible protein level, rather than being hooked up on crude protein. “I believe we can achieve 11 points from Arla for switching to non-soya feed. And, because the cost of the feed is the same, it makes sense to use it if we can still achieve the same results.”

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