John Oliver is in the process of moving from 100% autumn calving to 100% spring calving, but is doing so in a staggered approach in order to limit the impacts on milk production and profit.
Prior to the switch, the herd had an average calving interval of 365 days, but this has since increased to 413 days, although John reckons it will be back to 365 days by 2023 when the herd will be fully spring calving.
Essentially, breeding was delayed by two months last year and will be delayed again next year.
The herd is due to start calving on 4 January next year, with the long-term plan being to start calving in early February.
There are currently 111 cows on the farm, producing 22l at 4% fat and 3.45% protein. Grass growth was poor in May and June, but improved greatly in July, and John reckons the last five weeks were the best weeks for grass growth ever on the farm.
Average farm cover is 200kg per livestock unit and the stocking rate on the grazing platform is 3.34 livestock units/ha, but this will drop to around 2.8 cows/ha when calves are removed from the grazing platform and sent up to the hill for grazing. John is spreading protected urea after grazing and feels he is getting a very good response to it.
The grazing paddock reseeded in May has since been grazed twice and John is very happy with how it turned out
First-cut silage was completed on 27 May and second-cut was taken on 12 July. Slightly less area than planned was cut for second-cut, as some of the ground intended for silage was grazed as grass was tight in June. The plan now is to take 30ac for a third cut in late August, but with grass growth so strong, extra land could well be added to this cut.
The grazing paddock reseeded in May has since been grazed twice and John is very happy with how it turned out. At this stage, he has fully reseeded all the grazing paddocks on the farm and his attention is turning to the silage fields.
One silage field was reseeded in early July and he plans to do another field in late August or September, weather depending. Minimum tillage is used when reseeding.
John is carrying out regular scanning on the herd and at this stage, 83% of the cows have been scanned in calf and are due to calve in the first six weeks of the calving season next year, with 91% due in the first 12 weeks. These figures include first calving heifers.
At the moment, 9% of the herd is not in-calf. For now, John is deciding what to do with these cows. He says he could cope with having a few late-calving cows if they were good milkers, but would prefer to keep calving compact. Any cow inseminated now will be calving in May, which is far from ideal.
Of the 105 cows due to calve in the first six weeks, 50 are in calf to sexed semen. Given the number of cows due to calve, John expects that he may be tight for calf space, at least until the first of the bull calves are sold. To mitigate risks, he is investigating the options available for some short-term calf accommodation.
The first of the cows will be dried off in early October and will be moved to the hill to graze off some deferred grass.
Body condition score is good, so the quality of the feed going into the dry cows will not have to be super, at least not for the first few weeks. Cows may be dried off earlier than October, depending on milk yield.
With 40ha in the grazing platform, John has been thinking about milking 130 cows and producing 1m litres of milk to get the volume bonus. The herd would need to produce an average of 7,700l per cow in order to achieve this.
With 102 cows scanned in calf and 30 heifers in-calf, there is the potential to milk that number of stock next year.
An exercise worth doing would be to sit down and examine the overall system in terms of cow numbers and herd production
However, John recognises that not all of the heifers will make it that far and some cows will need to be culled for various reasons.
There are 50 heifer calves approaching one year old, so the numbers targeted should be hit the year after.
An exercise worth doing would be to sit down and examine the overall system in terms of cow numbers and herd production. Cow numbers are generally governed by the amount of grass being grown and how much of this grass can be utilised.
Aiming to increase production just to achieve a volume bonus may cost more than it generates, particularly if extra concentrate feed is needed.
John’s motivation for moving to spring-calving was to reduce the workload, so he needs to be careful he doesn’t end up increasing the workload by over stocking the grazing block
It’s also worth considering the impacts on workload – such as having to feed out extra silage to milkers at the shoulders of the year because stocking rate is higher. At 130 cows, the grazing platform will be stocked at 3.25 cows/ha, which is doable, but probably at the upper end of the scale for a high and exposed farm.
John’s motivation for moving to spring-calving was to reduce the workload, so he needs to be careful he doesn’t end up increasing the workload by over stocking the grazing block.
John’s breeding goals since going into dairying have always been geared towards fertility and this is really showing through in his fertility performance. The question he is asking now is whether there is more that he can gain in terms of milk.
For this reason, he has decided to use a few milkier bulls this year and next year.