Improving the dairy cows’ diet by carefully selecting what you put into your blends and adapting the diet to requirements was well spoke about by the experts in the industry and how farmers can begin to increase their milk production at three farm tours across the country.

This was all hosted through Davidsons Animal Feeds Dairy Road starting in Longtown with the Vevers family of High Plains, followed by a tour of the Agnew family run business at West Dhuloch Farm, Stranraer, finished off at the Veitch family’s outfit, Greenside based in Cumnock.

The Scottish Farmer: The Veitch family of Greenside from left: Adam, David, Liz, Holly and LouiseThe Veitch family of Greenside from left: Adam, David, Liz, Holly and Louise

The farm tours also hosted four guest speakers who all reiterated the point of how to improve your diet to increase milk production and gave top tips to all. The speakers consisted of Mark McFarland of Lallemand Animal Nutrition, Richard Colley of United Molasses GB Ltd, Jonathan Huxtable of Zinpro UK and Michael Davey an independent nutrition consultant.

“Focusing on your herds transition period has got to be the real start, but the key message is we want 0% lameness at that transition stage. Keeping on top of foot trimming at that age is essential before trying to get her in calf,” said Jonathan Huxtable.

“By looking after your cow and ensuring she is happy it can help improve not only your milk production but the quality. The diet is next in line and ensuring a well-mixed bulky ration that is going to fill her rumen is required. If the rumen is not right in the cow she will not get into calf. We want the cows fit not fat.

“In the housing situation ensuring that cow comfort is your priority along with clean freshwater troughs and sufficient feed space. Feed space should be around 3ft to ensure that all cows are getting the same opportunity at eating, and it is not the same cows dominating,” added Jonathan.

Richard Colley of United Molasses spoke about the physical diet in a dairy cow and how 50% of the cow should be made up of home-grown forage with just 10% to be made up from Molasses products with the remaining suggested to come from compound feeds, blends, meals, minerals and other on-farm feeds.

“By adding Molasses to the diet, it helps improve dry matter intake as well as sourcing energy and sugars to enhance feed palatability and rumen function,” he said, adding that on an energy basis 1.3kg of Caneflow would replace 1.3kg of rolled wheat costing approximately 0.4p per cow per day more, but it adds value to the cow and it will be worth it in the long run when she begins to produce more milk.

The main message from Michael Davey was that we should be fighting for both quality and quantity when producing home grown forage.

“To achieve more quality forage through an efficient, healthy ruminant is possible if we focus on forage utilisation, the influence of the herds environment, heifer development, calf rearing, dry cow and transition health and management,” he said.

“Reseeding should be occurring every four years in a silage field to keep it at its optimum. It is important that we focus on the future of the crop as well as opposed to the current period.

“As for cutting, silage samples should be taken to keep on top of when is best to cut as well as being able to read the leaves. If you can read the growth curve of the grass you are onto a winner, and you will find it will be two to three weeks prior to when you are currently cutting. Going that little bit earlier keeps the quality throughout the cut. After all, less is more.

Michael Davey concluded: "And of course, sheeting the pit is also essential for keeping that quality in the silage throughout the winter. We need to prioritise getting the weight on the pit to eliminate all the air as well as covering the pit efficiently.

Finally, the last but no means least speaker of the day, Mark McFarland of Lallemand Animal Nutrition encouraged dairy farmers in the area to look into what is actually going into your blend.

“Yeast and bacteria need to be the core elements and utilising the fibre in your silage by adding a live yeast product is essential if you want to produce more milk. By adding yeast, it will help look after the rumen of the cow and is proven to produce up to 1kg of milk more,” he said.

Visitors got to hear from all the industry experts as well as getting farm tours and experiences from three different families.

High Plains Farm, Longtown

Matt Vevers and his parents, Richard and Julie run 420 Holstein cows along with 380 youngstock across 400 owned acres and 100 acres rented, having had the farm since 1885.

The team consists of a further three full time and two-part members of staff. Milking twice a day through a 24 unit Swingover Devalal parlour which has been installed on the farm for 15 years with all milk supplied to Arla on a manufacturing contract.

The herd is housed all year on cubicles and calves all year round. The herd is split in to three separate groups for management purposes which are fresh calved, highs and lows. Part of the grouping system is so that they can feed the full herd by TMR as there is no feeders in or outside of the parlour. The Vevers made this move about four years ago for cow health and ease of management which they believe has been a valuable decision.

The Scottish Farmer: A respectful attendance occured all three days A respectful attendance occured all three days

The diet consists of molasses, Traffordgold, straw, silage and a bespoke blend. The highs and fresh cows are fed the same diet whilst the lows are on a separate diet which is kept an eye on by Davidsons dairy technician, Sam Hodgson.

“I work closely with Sam to keep the nutrition on track as we change the blend in relation to the silage analysis. This goes to show with the herds current production been 10,124kg at 4.11BF and 3.35P whilst maintaining the years average preg rate at 35%,” said Mark.

The farm takes three cuts of silage a year with 360 acres been cut twice and 250 acres been cut three times as this allows for grass reseeding later in the year and extra grazing for in calf heifers.

“Forage is a major part of the cow’s diet so it crucial that we get it right. Thereafter I find it is important to work with specialists in the industry to add the compounds that helps built that cow,” added Mark.

West Dhuloch, Stranraer

Grazing cows through the summer is primatial for the fourth generation of the Agnew family who run 200 pedigree Holstein cows across 300 owned acres and 90 rented, with 270 followers.

The farm has been in the family since 1946, with Robert and Susan still in charge with their twin sons, Robbie and Craig having left school almost a year ago to come home full time to work, with the eldest daughter, Kate at University in Edinburgh studying Primary teaching.

The Scottish Farmer: Robert Agnew and his twin sons, Robbie and Craig are the team at West DhulochRobert Agnew and his twin sons, Robbie and Craig are the team at West Dhuloch

“We like to have the cows out to grass as a real selling point for our produce it is exactly what the consumer wants to see and it also keeps the costs down for us through the summer,” said Robert, with the herd grazing outside from March to November.

During the winter the cows will be housed inside in cubicles on mattresses with a dusting of sawdust being fed a TMR mix through a Kennan feed wagon, which consists of silage, straw, molasses, and a bespoke meal.

“Having just switched over to Davidsons 18 months ago our dairy technician, Michael Carruthers, keeps an eye on the silage quality, testing the silage regularly, with last years’ first cut testing 28% dry matter, 11.9 protein, second cut at 53%DM and 16.9P with third cut coming in at 34DM and 19.6P. Michael constantly tweaks the meal for optimum performance as we move through the pits,” said Robert, who aims for every cow to be averaging 50tons of milk per lifetime while hoping to breed the odd show cow.

Cows on average will be producing 8800kg a year with 4.1BF and 3.4P, being fed to yield through the 10:20 swingover parlour twice a day. All milk is sold through First Milk in a Nestle contract. The family have just started a five-year plan with the same contract to lower their carbon emissions.

Recently Nestle’ have carbon tested the whole farm and Robert has signed up to undertake measures which should improve carbon secretion. Sowing different grass seed mixtures, rotational grazing, reducing water, electricity and antibiotic usage are some examples of the actions to be undertaken. Robert is also reducing his fertiliser usage this year due to the cost, alternatively he has managed to store more slurry which the grass fields will get two goes at with just one load of fertiliser.

The farm takes three cuts of 130acres of silage annually in which a contractor undertakes, although last year the Agnew family invested in mowers and tedders. Aiming to have the silage around the 35DM as the team finds 40% being too dry for the feed.

“Silage quality has a massive impact on our milk production, so we need to get it right. We moved from two cuts to three cuts to help increase our energy and protein. We like to have the cows out in the summer to enjoy the grass, we are lucky we are in a great grass growing area – we can grow grass for fun here,” added Robert.

“Along with the diet I believe that if we can keep the cows correct at their transition period we can get our calving index lower which in turn helps the cows to be in calf quicker and back to producing milk sooner,” said Robert.

Greenside, Cumnock

The last of the visits was to Greenside which has been in the Veitch family for 60 years now milking 240 Holstein cows alongside 230 followers.

It is still a very much family affair with David and Liz in partnership of the enterprise with their son and daughter, Adam and Holly also working full time at home with no other outside employees required, and the occasional help from oldest daughter, Louise, when she is not working full time at her local vets.

Herd numbers increased in 2017 when the team purchased the neighbouring farm, East Boreland which is home to 150 acres now run alongside 200 acres at Greenside.

The Scottish Farmer: Local farmers engaging with industry experts Local farmers engaging with industry experts

The herd is now at the maximum capacity for the acreage they have, with the milking herd going through the Westfalia 2020 parlour twice a day to produce 9500kg a year per cow on average with a daily average of 33.4kg. All milk is sold to Muller in a Co-op contract which the family moved to in 2000.

“Although we want to be producing sufficient milk for our country the quality is foremost for our contract, so we need to ensure we get all indicators right. We are penalised on our milk for anything below 4.0BF,” said David, with the herd averaging 4.02BF and 3.2P.

The milking herd are fed through the parlour a mix of grass silage, supergrains and chopped straw which is complemented by a bespoke meal made up by dairy technician, James Bendle. The cows have ID feed monitors in the parlour where they are fed to yield.

“The diet is a key component in producing milk for any dairy cow they need to be receiving the correct nutrients and producing as much milk as they can be to the highest of quality,” said David, with Davidsons monitoring CIS milk recording data, parlour data and carry out regular metabolic blood profiling with Edinburgh Vet School and their DHHPS service to keep on top of the herd.

Cow comfort is another major component to a happy cow, which when housed they are in cubicles on slatted mattresses with a dusting of sawdust and lime to keep the beds dry and bacteria low.

The high yielders tend to be housed all year round with low yields put outside as soon as they can to take a bit of pressure of the shed throughout the summer and help with the air flow.

Making the most of their acreage the team will undertake three cuts of silage annually which they are self-sufficient, having purchased two forage wagons in conjunction with his brother, Robert at Strandhead five years ago.

The Scottish Farmer: The main shed at High Plains which is run by the Vevers family The main shed at High Plains which is run by the Vevers family

“Silage quality is key in milk production and ideally, we should have it cut and covered within 48 hours. Since having our own silage kit it is a lot more flexible to achieve this and manage the weather window which should be resulting in better quality for our herd – we are already seeing it paying off,” said David, who takes 250acres on first cut along with 220 acres and 150 acres on second and third cut respectively.

“We need to make the most out of grass this year due to the price of fertiliser, all costs are soaring, and it is a very difficult time of year for farmers. The price of milk is finally starting to slowly increase and get closer to where it needs to be which is in the 40p to 50p margin. If you told us 10 years ago, we would get 40p for our milk we would have thought you were crazy, but with the soaring costs it still barely leaves a margin to invest in the future of our farm,” concluded David.