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TEETHING TROUBLES TACKLED ON NEW GREENFIELD UNIT

Expectations were high when the dairy herd at Crutchley Farms in Nettlecombe, Dorset, was
moved to a new, greenfield unit in 2007. Every aspect of its design had been carefully
considered and state-of-the-art technology was combined with measures to improve both
cow and worker comfort. There was the 40/40 rapid exit Fullwood parlour with its pipework
entirely concealed in easy-clean stainless steel cabinets; there was the Kraiburg rubber
matting in the parlour to improve cow confidence and reduce slippage and potential injury;
and there was a carefully constructed viewing area from which visitors could witness the
smooth and seamless process of milking 400 cows in around three hours.

But beneath the surface problems were brewing. A mastitis issue – a legacy of the
traditional, loose-housed unit the cows had left – seemed to be getting worse; nutritional
problems had inexplicably arisen and were proving stubbornly difficult to overcome; and
fertility targets were being missed as the head-count expanded towards 450.

But teething problems are hardly a surprise on a brand new unit, and farm manager Anthony
Butler together with herd manager Nigel Waterman, who joined the team only 18 months
ago, have worked tirelessly to overcome them.

“It was a steep learning curve,” recalls Anthony, who describes how yields dropped and
levelled at around 8,400kg during the first year as cows from three separate groups – the
farm’s two existing herds totalling 260 head and a bought-in herd of 128 – were brought
together. “There was the stress of mixing the herds; there were also a lot of heifers coming
in and it was all made worse by the weather and a very wet year.”

Mastitis and cell counts were amongst the first things to be tackled, and high cell count cows
were retained rather than culled wherever possible, in what Nigel describes as a ‘salvage
operation’.

Admitting that the worst cell count peak for the herd exceeded 400, he says that much of the
cure was in standard good practice in the milking routine.

“When we first dealt with the problem we would pre-spray with a combination of paracetic
acid, Dermisan Plus for teat conditioning and water to dilute,” says Nigel, who also paper
towel wiped and checked fore-milk to pick up mastitis cases early. “But now we’ve got on top
of the problem the routine has changed to using a teat foam, which we use as a pre- and
post-milking spray.”

The parlour itself has also had a positive impact offering good working conditions and good
visibility with cattle standing at 90 degrees to the milker. Plenty of natural light floods through
large areas of perspex in the roof of the exceptionally large and airy building in which the
parlour is housed.

“And the staff are happy and committed too, which helps a lot,” adds Nigel.
At drying off the new routine is to use Cepravin Dry Cow long acting antibiotic for high cell
count cows (more than 200) and a shorter acting and cheaper antibiotic for those with lower
cell counts, with a teat sealant on them all. And the net result has been to dramatically
reduce herd cell counts to a consistent and impressive 117, while Bactoscans now run at 15.
Meanwhile, outside the parlour another problem was becoming apparent as cows which
were previously in strawed yards, had to get used to cubicles in the two 72 metre sheds
totalling 440 cow places, which were bedded with sawdust over mattresses.

“Many of them wouldn’t stay in the cubicles and had to be tied in place – which was done
every night by herd owner Victor Crutchley – until they got used to the idea,” says Nigel.
“This was not only impacting on cleanliness and cell counts, but standing in passages was
also causing laminitis.

“They are no trouble at all now,” he says. “And now I routinely train the heifers by bringing
them into a cubicle house for a few weeks before calving.”
But while the mastitis and high cell counts were being reduced, a problem was becoming
apparent in the cows’ nutrition.

“The cows were regurgitating their cuds,” explains Nigel. “It wasn’t just a few; it was a great
mess that was really noticeable in front of each bed.”

Calling in Pete Kelly, their regular nutritionist from Green and Kelly to assess the situation,
he said that never had he seen this problem so pronounced.

“When you see regurgitation across a herd, it’s normally a sign of acidosis,” he says. “On
this farm, we were feeding a lot of blend as we were chasing yield and my concern was that
we were overdoing the concentrates.”

But closer analysis of the ration revealed that concentrates and starch levels were not too
high, so attention then turned to the quality of forage.

“As it transpired, it was the maize silage that was harvested wet and immature, and its pH at
3.7 was almost as low as you would ever see,” says Pete.

Buffering products were rapidly brought into the ration, with sodium bicarbonate chosen as
the first line of attack for its expected quick response, later to be followed by ground
limestone as a longer term approach.

But neither had any discernible effect, and nor did the extra chop length straw which was
also added to the ration.

“This was very unusual,” remarks Pete. “My experience from other farms is that bicarb and
limestone should have sorted the problem out.”

It was at this point that Diamond V XPLS, a fully fermented yeast culture from Rumenco was
introduced, firstly to a trial group and later across the whole herd.

“The impact was immediate,” recalls Nigel, who included the product in the TMR at a rate of
60g/cow. “The trial group stopped regurgitating cuds within days and their yields – which
were also being separately monitored – saw sustained increases throughout the lactation.

“When I saw the effect it was having on cudding I knew it was benefiting the rumen, and this
was also reflected in better dung consistency and would also impact on wider health issues.
Longer term, we have seen both body and coat condition improving and have had far less
milk fever and no displaced abomasums.”

The yeast culture has now been introduced across the whole milking herd and has also been
added to dry cow rations three weeks before calving and the calf ration for up to 12 weeks,
where it is having a noticeable impact on digestion

“The next line of attack will be on fertility,” says Nigel. “We already have indications from the
pedometers that we had been inseminating too early, so now we’ll be waiting for around 12
hours after the first signs of bulling activity before we AI.”

Today, the picture painted by the herd is one of utter contentment and optimal health as the
cattle belie the difficult transition they had into the new unit. Quiet cudding is a feature of
both cubicle sheds and parlour; projected 305 day production is up to 9,200kg at 4.01
percent fat and 3.31 percent protein (2x); and the team has every confidence that financial
performance will significantly improve as the cows begin to recoup the substantial capital
outlay.

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