Latest Updates from Challenge Dairy.
18 months on and following a successful 12 months, the Challenge Dairy initiative has come to an end. The initiative proved a huge success and the family have decided to continue to use the services of all those involved, as part of their tool kit for success.
To celebrate the success of Challenge Dairy, we held an open day last month and invited members of the Wynnstay Next Generation group to come and learn from the improvements made at Plasgwyn. Genus, Pentagon Associates and Huw McConochie for Wynnstay, all presented the benefits of using each of the company’s services and how they had been able to influence the performance at Plasgwyn. Euryn Jones of HSBC gave a talk on the challenges facing the dairy industry and how banks decide to lend money to farmers. All in all the message was clear, by working together as a team on farm, we can provide farmers with the necessary tool kit to push the business forward and become more efficient and ultimately more profitable.
Challenge Dairy & Changes at Plasgwyn
Plasgwyn has gone through major changes in a short space of time, the cows are giving 41% more milk overall, going from 22L to 26/27L virtually overnight just through changes to the feeding, but when the results of RMS kicked in, cows increased a further 2-3L of milk. To achieve their goal of 9,000L from twice a day milking Trystan will continue to implement the transition diet using the newly purchased ‘Rota Grind’ machine to introduce a consistent sample of chopped straw into the diet. Improvements can already be seen in the fresh heifers where they are easily reaching 29/30L.
Plans for the short term include extending the cubicle shed so there is room for a total of 320 milking, this is necessary to accommodate the increase in heifers entering the herd. The expansion will allow Trystan to have a heifer group to avoid social unrest among the milking herd.
Having acquired the services of Pentagon Associates throughout the year and seeing the benefits of benchmarking, Trystan has now joined the ‘Next Generation’ benchmarking group, formed as part of the Wynnstay Next Generation club.
Two key areas highlighted by Pentagon Associates for Trystan were the loss in cull cow value and the cost of vet and med. It was identified that Plasgwyn were holding on to cows for too long, and therefore losing out on the value of that animal as a barren. The vet and med cost was put down to cows needing caesareans and the occasional wash out after calving, since implementing the transition diet this cost has already come down and, through culling sooner and the value of cull cows has increased by £100.
Trystan and his family have been so pleased by the changes made to the farm that they have decided to continue to implement the services of all of the companies involved and, as fertility improvements continue to be made and the transition diet continues, the goal of achieving 9,000L from twice a day milking is not such a distant goal.
Written by Rebecca Richards – Calf Specialist
Sponsors have now been working with Challenge Dairy 2015 competition winner Trystan Davies at Plasgwyn Farm near Carmarthen in south Wales. He and his family are very pleased with the progress so far.
Cows have looked better this summer than they have in the past and milk yields have increased by 25%—from an average 22-23 litres per day to 27-28 litres over the summer. “We have kept the cows in at night over the summer and they have been happier— we do not have the ideal ground here for grazing,” says Trystan. “Cows have been inside all the time since the first week of October.”
Milk quality has also been good. In October butterfats averaged 4.36%, protein 3.44%, cell counts 100,000 and Bactoscans 19. Cows calve all year round and milk has been sold to Dairy Crest from September 1st on a formula contract.
Expenditure on concentrates has been increased from £12,000 per month to £18,500 but initial costings are looking positive. “Margins have definitely improved with the new feeding system but we need a year of figures for a proper comparison“ says Trystan’s father Phil. Cows were being fed grass silage plus 3kg of an 18% blend in the feed passage and up to 8.0kg of concentrates in the parlour.
Following advice from local dairy producer and Wynnstay’s Howell Richards, concentrates were cut back in the parlour and the blend increased in the partial mixed ration to 8kg per cow. Protein in the blend has also been increased from 18% to 22%.
“The maximum fed in the parlour is now 5kg per cow of 18% protein concentrate,” explains Trystan. “Those producing 40 litres of milk get 4.0kg, those on 33 litres get 3.0kg and those producing 20kg or less get 2.0kg concentrate.”
At the end of October Trystan felt the cows were not milking as well as they should and were one or two litres below par. This was put down to the fact that there were a lot of stale cows in the herd and third cut grass silage in the ration.
Yields are now back up to 27 litres per day with 70% of the herd in calf and the introduction of first cut silage to the ration.
Challenge Dairy Target
Salt licks have also been provided at each end of the feed trough. “The cows seem to like it and it has helped butterfats go up to 4.3% although they have dropped back to 4.1% now,” says Trystan. “It has helped increase dry matter intakes and should improve fertility. “The target is to be selling 9,000 litres of milk per cow by autumn of 2015,” he says.
Housing at night during the summer has allowed them to produce more silage—700 acres were made in three cuts last year while 990 acres were made this year. Having a contracting business which is run with the farm the additional contractor costs were kept down. At a charge of £42 per acre total contact costs would be around £40,000.
They also have the advantage being able to cut the silage at the correct time. On May 4th 220 acres of first cut was made and a further 90 acres on May 15th. “We are grazing the cows on sloping fields and using the flatter fields to grow more silage,” explains Trystan.
“The cows are now drying off in better condition and so are milking better when they calve. We are also making changes to the dry cow ration and feeding more straw. Before they were on silage based diet and getting too fat.”
A straw chopper has been purchased and a feed bin to store the dry cow blend. Straw is currently being chopped by the forage harvester and has been introduced to dry cow diets. When everything is in place dry cow rations will comprise of 5kg chopped straw, 1kg blend plus grass silage. “The new ration should help to increase milk production further and improve cow fertility,” notes Tystan.
Other small investments and improvements are being made on the farms. New tip-over water troughs have been installed in the milking cow housing which should ensure a good supply of clean drinking water.
At Pencelli Farm where dry cows and heifers are managed a new footbath is being installed. “The aim is to improve locomotion and reduce digital dermatitis in the herd,” he adds.
Challenge Dairy Update from Trystan
Since starting Challenge Dairy in April there has been a lot of activity on the farm. As part of the Challenge Dairy prize I have received nutritional advice provided by Wynnstay and this has seen our milk production increase from 22L per cow to 28L, I am now looking to maintain this level of production throughout the winter. Currently the cows are grazing through the day and are in at night. The cows are now having 9 kilos of blend each in the TMR, with the high yielders receiving a maximum of 4 kilos of dairy nuts in the parlour.
Before starting Challenge Dairy we used Holstein Friesian bulls on the cows and Limousin bulls on the heifers. Fertility was good on the farm but I had concerns over accuracy with the bulls, either cows being served toe early post calving or being missed all together, resulting in them going on late into lactation before being served.
When we used bulls we didn’t have any accurate record of serving dates making it hard to determine drying off date. Genus began work on the farm mid-July and since then we have seen a big improvement in fresh cow management. Having Genus on the farm has made me pay a lot more attention to the fertility, in particular heat detection I have learnt a lot about detecting signs of heat and take an active part in helping our AI technician. We hope to see milk yields rise even further as the calving index will improve resulting in more fresh cows in the tank.
As part of the Challenge Dairy prize, Pentagon Associates have now taken over a proportion of our book keeping. Karen from Pentagon visits us once a month to collect invoices and do our VAT. I will be sitting down with Steve from Pentagon later this month to discuss the future of the farm and, as part of this we will be creating a farm business plan.
For updates on the Challenge Dairy competition you can follow Trystan on twitter @cd_dairy
Changes planned for Plasgwyn
British Dairying will be monitoring the progress of Challenge Dairy 2014 competition winner Trystan Davies regularly and reporting on developments on the farm and progress made. This month Trystan outlines the farm business and his aspirations for the future.
Using their land better and getting more out of it is the target of Challenge Dairy 2014 competition winner Trystan Davies. And he recognises improvements can be made to the dairy unit with the help of the four sponsors of the competition—Wynnstay, Genus ABS, Pentagon Associates and HSBC.
They are providing £10,000 of products and services to help drive the business forward. Twenty-three-year-old Trystan farms in partnership with his parent Helen and Phil at Plasgwyn near Carmarthen in south Wales. They have three farms totalling 460 acres and rent a further 115 acres. This supports a 310-cow dairy herd plus followers with plans to increase the herd to 500 cows over the next four to five years. Cows calve all year round with milk supplied to Arla. Last summer the cows were grazed day and night with access to a grass silage buffer before each milking. In the 20:40 swing over parlour they were fed an 18% concentrate to yield to a maximum of 8.0kg.
In winter the herd was fed grass silage with 3.0kg of a 24% protein blend. Silage quality was not the best and up to 8.0kg of
24% protein concentrate was fed in the parlour. In spring cows were housed at night with grass silage and 3.0kg of a lower protein blend. Cows were grazed during the day. In June Howell Richards, Wynnstay business development manager, reviewed the ration and suggested feeding grass silage plus 9.0kg blend at night. Cows are still being grazed during the day but concentrates in the parlour have been cut to a maximum of 4.0kg.
“Over the next few weeks we are looking at increasing the blend in the TMR and reducing the concentrates fed in the parlour,” explains Trystan. “We are also considering housing the herd all year in future.”
“Since the herd went on to the new ration yields have increased by four to five litres per cow and are now averaging over 28 litres. The cows are more content, are in better condition and I am happier with the herd,” he says. Dry cows graze in the summer and are run with the milking herd two weeks before calving and go through the parlour. In winter dry cows are housed and fed just grass silage. This policy is under review—housing all dry cows and ration changes being considered.
“I think this is the biggest area we can make improvements in,” says Tristan.
Footbaths are to be installed next to water troughs in the dry cow housing so that pre calving cows and heifers can be footbathed regularly. Another big change to the business is breeding policy. Until now no AI has been used and the herd run with pedigree black and white bulls. While this gives a good calving interval there is no accurate dates for drying off or calving.
“Using AI will help us keep more accurate records,” says Tristan. From now on Genus ABS will be providing their Reproductive Management Service (RMS) on the farm—a technician will identify cows in heat and inseminate from 60 days. “Some cows were getting in calf too soon,” says Trystan. “We have now chosen a good AI bull to use on the cows. We are looking to get more Holstein blood in the herd but do not want to go too extreme.
“We will continue to calve all year round but I will start taking more interest in the bulls we use—this will be completely new to me. I will be looking for bulls with good feet although the most important factor will still be how much milk goes into the tank.”
The aim is to calve heifers as near 24 months as possible although no records are kept at the moment. Calves are kept in separate pens and bucket fed twice a day—heifer calves on milk powder and bull calves on waste milk. At two to three weeks they are grouped in pens of four and weaned at eight weeks old.
Youngstock are grazed in summer and housed in winter on a diet of grass silage, and rearer pellets. Service date is determined by wither height. The heifers run with a Limousin bull which produces a valuable calf. “We want to increase herd size using our own replacements so may put half of the heifers to the Limousin bull and half to black and white semen in future,” he says.
Last year 300 acres of silage was cut three times. This year the first cut was taken on May 5th and second cut started on June 20th. “We have not had the first cut analysed yet but we have started feeding it and milk yields went up,” says Trystan.
“This is a good grass growing farm and we do not grow maize. If we did want to include maize in the diet it would be cheaper to buy in rather than grow it ourselves.” Detailed costing for the dairy herd are currently being put together so that margin per litre and cost of production can be calculated. It will allow the business to be benchmarked against other dairy units. “I think we are doing okay but it will be interesting to compare us with other farms,” says Trystan.
The costings are complicated because the farm has two businesses— the dairy herd and a contracting business. About 30% of turnover comes from contracting. The contracting business employs two full time men and up to 12 seasonal workers. Services provided include silaging, slurry spreading, hedge cutting, harvesting and reseeding.
“I am sure our business can benefit from the farm advice and services that this competition provides,” adds Trystan. “It will be interesting to look back and see where improvements have been made and the benefits from them.”