July 2014 Update

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.”

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