17 April 2018
Achieving high levels of performance for productivity and animal health are key to success for EuroDairy Pilot Farmers Roger, Judith and Tom Hildreth. Curlew Fields Farm in Yorkshire, is home to 120 Pedigree Holstein cows which are all year round calved. Producing 10611 litres/cow/year, they average 4.10 per cent fat and 3.21 per cent protein.
The farm is also part of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board’s (AHDB) Calf to Calving (C2C) initiative, which has followed 12 host farms from the time the calf is born, to when they first calve. Through this initiative the farm has been able to reduce calving age from 25 months to nearly 24 months, and has identified ways to reach that target.
AHDB funded research, conducted by the Royal Veterinary College, shows that calving at 24 months rather than 26 months reduces average rearing costs by 16%. Thinking about this another way, the cost of rearing a heifer increases by £2.87 per day for every day increase in age at first calving over 24 months.
Roger said: “Todays calves are tomorrow’s herd. C2C helps to take the time to look at current rearing practices to ensure all of the stages are right. We’ve invested in a new heat detection system, which has allowed us accurate detection in 90 per cent of heifers. We’ve also been recording the daily live weight gain of calves and adjusting feed accordingly. We introduced calf jackets in 2016 which has helped with the calves welfare and weight gain.”
Keeping an eye on nutrition and regularly weighing calves, has also helped with efficiency bespoke design of handling systems which increase animal welfare, reduce stress and only needs one operator has been an asset to Curlew Fields Farm, handling cattle efficiently and safely and regularly monitoring heifer growth rates.
Roger started using genomic sires in 2011. Sires are selected with management traits, type and kgs of fat and protein in mind. Profitable lifetime index (PLI) is being used as it is weighted towards lifespan and other management traits. Curlew Fields Farm PLI averages at 328, easily placing them in the top 5% PLI. They now has 93 home reared genomic bred heifers.
Roger added: “Genomic testing has made complete business sense for us. It costs about £1,400 to rear a heifer on this farm. We can identify animals which are unlikely to perform to our standards at an early age, therefore saving the cost of rearing them. Genomic testing gives us confidence as it is a reliable indication of the milking ability and profitability of each animal.”
A change to sandbeds, a bespoke dry cow ration and using selective dry cow therapy has helped the farm to reduce the use of antibiotics by over 80 per cent. The family run farm have banned the use of third and fourth generation antibiotics successfully and economically.