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Good Forage & Consistency


Consistency and Quality Forage Help Somerset Farm Clinch High Yield Award

 Mole Valley Farmers members Barry, Jack and Sam Coombes walked away with The High Yield Herd Award at the recent Cream Awards at Chesford Grange, Kenilworth, Warwickshire.

The award acknowledges the immense attention to detail they place on cow management on a daily basis, which helps them achieve an impressive 12,700 litre a cow average - a figure that keeps growing. At the same time, they’re also hitting around 3,800-4,000 litres a cow a year of milk from forage, with constituents averaging around 3.9% fat and 3.2% protein.

Barry believes quality forage is one of the key success factors when managing such high performing animals, milked three times a day. He also opts for feeding high quality concentrates.

“We’ve always pushed for higher yields, but we’re not feeding a lot of concentrate. It’s by feeding quality forage,” he explains. “You’ve got to get rumen health right. Cows like that are on a knife edge so you’ve got to be on the ball all the time.”

The Coombes run 250 cows at New Grove Farm, Wedmore, Somerset. In recent years, the family have started shredlage processing their forage maize. Shredlage maize is cut longer than conventionally processed maize at harvest and then ‘shredded’  through  a  special  processor fitted in the forager. This results in a light, fluffy mix, which includes a more evenly distributed and processed maize corn.

Barry attributes a one litre a cow increase, together with improved butterfats, to feeding  shredlage.  Grass silage receives the same level of attention at harvest. Jack says:
 

“It’s going that extra mile to do the right thing. We do aim to produce the best forage we can, as quality forage is key to rumen health and the overall performance of the cow.”
 

The family harvest their own silage so they are in control of when to cut, which means they consistently produce grass silage of 28-30 % DM and 11-11.5ME. A forage wagon is used to produce a longer chop grass silage, which Jack says is kinder on the rumen. Grass is cut every 45-50 days. The ration is also fed out twice a day and pushed up every 1.5-2 hours to promote good intakes.

The Coombes work closely with Mole Valley Farmers nutritionist, David Balls who recognises the huge importance of quality forages at New Grove Farm. 
 

“Good forages are essential to achieve these consistent yields, which makes the nutritionist’s job much easier,” he explains. “When cows are giving 12,700 litre average yields and calving interval is below 400 days, the skill needed to manage them is second to none.”
 

David believes the attention to detail and the consistency of routines forms an important part of the yield story. As does good sized, deep bedded, comfortable cubicles and wide passages, to enable free movement of cows.
 

“They know their cows and can immediately spot any changes in milk yield and their management is consistent, every day,” David says. “They deliver the same ration to the cows t the same time, every 24 hours and milk at the same time, three times a day. They do all the small things right, which adds up to a significant gain in milk output, cow health and fertility.”
 

Ration balance is another factor high on the list of importance. Barry says David Balls is good at looking at the information the cows are giving and adapting the ration accordingly. He explains:

“He comes in once a month when he does the costings and walks around the cows for half an hour, checking dungs for things like grains coming through. We’ll then discuss what he’s found.”
 

Barry likes to amend the ration on occasion and works with David to ensure it’s meeting the herd’s requirements. “David listens when I want to tweak the ration and amends it on the rationing system to create a balanced diet,” Barry explains.

Jack and Barry also believe breeding the right type of cow is key to success. They generally opt for North American and Canadian Holsteins. Good strength in the body and wide front ends are seen as some of the most important traits, along with a cow that gets up, eats and walks well. Bulls aren’t necessarily selected for really high milk production figures and generally score around +400-500kg.

Asked what he’s most proud of, Barry says

“I’m most proud of my cows. I’d never sell some of them. They have perfect udders, good legs and feet, they produce a lot of milk and don’t lose body condition. We have heifers giving 60 litres a day and they stay good on their feet and in their udder. We’re very proud of them.”

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Newsletter 648



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