Maintaining a tight calving block while expanding the milking herd has been a dual challenge for Owain Williams who farms with his parents Hefin and Eirian in Tudweiliog near Pwllheli in North Wales. Owain joined the family business 10 years ago after agricultural college followed by some time working on another local dairy farm.
Until 12 years ago Hefin and Eirian ran an all year round calving herd with 50 cows in-milk, but the opportunity to expand arose when they were able to purchase some land and take on some more rented land. With the farm up to 201 acres they started to increase numbers, breeding their own replacements which also meant a shift to block calving.
Now standing at 150 cows, the herd is predominantly Holstein Friesian with a small number of Jersey crosses, explains Owain. Average yield is currently 7,320 litres per cow at 4.55% butterfat and 3.52% protein ideal for their milk contract with South Caernarfon Creameries. The family’s system is based around maximising milk from forage with the cows at grass from mid March and through the summer. “Being on the peninsular here means we can get them out fairly early usually. We are lucky that our grass starts growing early in the season here,” he says. The good grazing means that the cows just need supplementary cake in the parlour but otherwise no other purchased food during the warmer months.
The 12-week calving block starts around 25th August and with the cows housed they are fed a TMR made from homeproduced grass silage, blend, straw, dairy minerals, molasses and Lintec all mixed and delivered by a Keenan feeder wagon.
The family produce their own grass silage from white and red clover leys and this year have also introduced 24 acres of spring barley. “We thought it was worth a try to reduce the amount of bought-in feed we need and to see how we get on with it,”says Owain. “As well as providing some bulk to the diet we also think it might be useful to reduce the weed burden.” It’s has proven a useful addition this year, he explains. “With it being so dry this year our silage crops haven’t done as well so it has really made a difference.”
They use AI across the herd, with sexed semen used for the first three weeks before switching to Hereford or Aberdeen Angus genetics. This produces an early crop of Holstein heifer calves which they rear at home while the beef crosses are sold on to other local farmers for finishing. “We rear heifers in two groups with about 60 in each but we will bring that down to 30 now that the herd is up to the size we want,” says Owain. Achieving first calving at 23-24 months is important, he adds. “We have found that feeding really well in those first 18 months is essential as well as paying attention to the basics of good bedding, keeping them clean and warm and making sure they get enough colostrum in the early days. It all pays off.”
Lintec was first introduced to the diet in Autumn 2020 on advice from the family’s ForFarmers account manager Guto Jones. The Omega 3 rich feed quickly earned its place in the ration and is now fed throughout the Autumn months until the cows are confirmed in calf.
“It has made a big difference to fertility. Before we started feeding Lintec we had empty rates of around 23% but now it’s just 13%.” In the same period the calving window has also reduced from 14-15 weeks to 12 weeks. “We’d now like to bring that down to 9 or 10 weeks and if we can do that it would make a huge difference again.
“Keeping our calving block as tight as possible is a priority for us. Before Guto suggested we try Lintec we were struggling a bit with it so we decided to try it and could see the benefits fairly soon.
“Cows come into heat more naturally now and we have fewer cows needing vetting. It has really worked for us.” As well as the fertility benefits the supplement also pushed yield up by 1 litre per cow per day. “That extra litre more than paid for the Lintec by itself without thinking about all the other benefits as well,” says Owain.
Going forward the family will continue improving the herd and general efficiencies of the unit and have plans to invest in a cubicle shed next year. This they hope will make workload more manageable, feeding easier and improve the overall cow comfort too.
“We are always trying to improve what we do.”