Precision expertise make herd expansion plans a reality

Staffing changes in the midst of the breeding period and aspirations of herd expansion prompted Somerset farmer Rodney Down to approach Cogent Breeding for a helping hand with fertility management.

The Precision team at Higher Wrantage Farm

Rodney and his wife Claire farm 1,650 acres near Taunton, which currently hosts a herd of 320 Holstein cows plus followers. However, plans are in place to set up another dairy unit nearby which will open in autumn 2019, effectively doubling the number of milking cows and bringing with it the requirement for more replacement heifers.

Higher Wrantage Farm is situated in a rain shadow, meaning during summer, land can become extremely dry, therefore the six-month calving pattern is designed to make the most of grass growth.

Mr Down says: “Cows are served September through to March with the aim to have finished calving by Christmas, with a few stragglers going into the New Year. When we turn the cows out, everything is in-calf and in-milk.”

It was in January 2017, part way through the main breeding period that Mr Down approached Cogent to talk about its Precision packages, following the loss of two members of staff, who did the majority of the artificial insemination, but were fortunate enough to have secured their own farm tenancy.

Around this time Mr Down also received a recommendation of Cogent’s Precision services from a member of a local discussion group who was using a similar service. He explained to Mr Down how impressed he was, and that it had freed up time for the other staff on his farm.

Mr Down’s point of contact, regional sales manager for the south Graham Higgott, says: “Precision can be flexible which allows us to customise it for the requirements of each farm.”

Rodney Down (left) with Cogent's Regional Sales Manager Graham Higgott.

SERVICES

Cogent offers a variety of services under the Precision banner, PrecisionREPRO utilises a number of different heat detection methods that include technology and ‘walk and chalk’.

Highly skilled reproductive specialists then provide their clients with a 365-day a year service, making breeding decisions to maximise fertility performance. Collection of data to analyse performance is a key part of the PrecisionREPRO service. When clients choose the method of technology for heat detection in the form of MooMonitor+ the added bonus of health monitoring is available. Individual animal data 43is collected 24hrs a day and is easily accessible for the client and technician via a cloud-based system.

“As well as spending time reading chalk, using technology and breeding animals, they use live fertility data for each animal in the herd via their phones. This enables the technician to combine the data with their trained skills to make better informed breeding decisions,” says Mr Higgott.

Mr Down’s staff were using the walk and chalk method previously and as they already had collars for parlour ID, he decided to continue this with the help of Cogent.

Mr Down is breeding all the replacements for the new unit out of the existing herd as disease status is an extremely important driver for him: “Over the last eight to 10 years we have blood tested everything on the farm for BVD, we are also clear for IBR, lepto and fluke, and there are only two red Johne’s cows in the herd, so it is a no-brainer to breed our own heifers.

“I have been really impressed with the service and the expertise of the technicians, it is a teamwork approach. We decided to go again this year with the same technician, Kirsty Pickles, she is brilliant and with the introduction of the new unit we have decided to use 100% sexed semen on the genetically best and most fertile cows within the herd and beef semen on the remainder,” says Mr Down.

The farm’s submission rate is now running at 73%, driving a pregnancy rate of 32% and average days in milk to conception is 94 days.

All the SexedULTRA 4M semen is being used on cows and Mr Down says conception rates are higher this year than they were last year with conventional semen. The current bulls being used are NH Sunview Fantastic, EDG Delta-B52 and De-Su Spring Silverado.

“We were going to use sexed on the top 25% of the herd but we have decided to go sexed on about 80% of the herd to get the replacements we need for the new unit, the rest are put to beef semen,” says Mr Down.

As well as PrecisionREPRO, Mr Down is also using PrecisionMAP, a genetic auditing tool personalised to the farm’s specific requirements.

The programme allows for the identification of genetic trends and therefore areas of potential genetic gain. This is carried out by looking at the requirements of the farm’s milk contract, combined with each cow’s performance and conformation data.

Cogent Reproductive Specialist Kirsty Pickles.

CUSTOM INDEX

This allows Cogent to create a custom index for the individual farm, which means the best animals can be selected to create replacements from and correctively mated to the right bull to improve their performance and conformation.

Mr Down says: “We are on an Arla Tesco contract and have been breeding for fertility and constituents for the last four to five years, we are seeing it now in the bulk tank, so these traits are still an important factor.”

He is also selecting bulls with low stature, weight of positive combined fat and protein kilos and good legs and feet that are also important for a grazing herd. With the herd currently achieving 8,761kg per lactation at 4.05% fat and 3.38% protein with and average somatic cell count of 142,000/ml.

Bulls to suit each cow are then selected by the PrecisionMATCH mating programme which is used to actively manage genetic recessives and inbreeding within the herd at Higher Wrantage Farm. The list is then filtered down by Mr Downs according to his criteria.

“I leave it up to the technicians, they are brilliant, if a cow is not performing well, is in poor conformation or has been served three times, they will use their own initiative and use beef semen, this also works the other way too if she is a particularly good cow and they think it should be given another chance.”

As well as the dairy herd, Mr Down grows wheat, barley and maize and runs a beef finishing enterprise which takes all the male Holstein calves and beef-sired calves from the dairy herd.

The use of SexedULTRA 4M semen is also helping to drive profits within this part of the business. Any smaller cows and a small number of Jersey cross cows which are designated to be served with beef semen are put to an Aberdeen-Angus and larger cows are served with British Blue semen.

“I benchmark how much each animal earns each day it is on the farm, I have found Holstein steers can provide up to £300 less income over their life than a beef-sired animal, therefore by using mostly sexed semen I am able to remove these lower earning animals from the system,” says Mr Down.

“For me combining Precision and SexedULTRA 4M means that I can reduce the number of Holstein bull calves, drive heifer numbers for the second unit, tick all the boxes for the milk contract as well as produce a consistent animal, and the PrecisionREPRO service means none of the full-time staff have to AI.”

"By using mostly sexed semen, I am able to remove lower earning animals from the system"

As well as the dairy herd, Mr Down grows wheat, barley and maize and runs a beef finishing enterprise which takes all the male Holstein calves and beef-sired calves from the dairy herd.

The use of SexedULTRA 4M semen is also helping to drive profits within this part of the business. Any smaller cows and a small number of Jersey cross cows which are designated to be served with beef semen are put to an Aberdeen-Angus and larger cows are served with British Blue semen.

“I benchmark how much each animal earns each day it is on the farm, I have found Holstein steers can provide up to £300 less income over their life than a beef-sired animal, therefore by using mostly sexed semen I am able to remove these lower earning animals from the system,” says Mr Down.

“For me combining Precision and SexedULTRA 4M means that I can reduce the number of Holstein bull calves, drive heifer numbers for the second unit, tick all the boxes for the milk contract as well as produce a consistent animal, and the PrecisionREPRO service means none of the full-time staff have to AI.”


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