Scottish trip highlights dairying options and calf management

A landless dairy unit that buys in all its feeding stuffs, one which grows all its own feed and a 1600 head new heifer rearing unit were some of the highlights of Markethill Dairy Discussion Group’s visit to Scotland which was organised by Zoetis.

Crichton Royal Farm

The visit to the Dumfries based Crichton Royal Research Farm focused on feeding management and calf rearing.

The farm is just completing a 10 year study looking at a ‘landless dairy enterprise’ versus one where all of the diet ingredients are grown on the farm (grazed grass, grass silage, red clover, beans, wheat and lucerne). The landless herd utilises by-products (e.g. brewers’ grain, biscuit meal) and bought-in feeds such as wheat straw and sugar beet pulp; this herd is continually housed. Critical objectives include finding ways to improve the health and welfare of UK dairy herds and measuring different systems’ effects on the environment.

Over the years calf health at Crichton Royal Research farm has significantly improved. The emphasis was put on colostrum management, and improvement of calf accommodation. All colostrum is harvested and tested for quality as soon as possible after calving. Only good quality colostrum from Johnes free cows is frozen. Colostrum is stored in a disposable ColoQuick bag which can be used in conjunction with a specially designed cartridge. The cartridge fits in a rotating mechanism inside a water bath ensuring colostrum is thawed rapidly without denaturing the antibodies. The purpose built calf accommodation is a sheltered igloo system and the number of pneumonia cases reduced as a result of improved ventilation.

Barony Dairy Technology Centre

This 250 cow pedigree herd is managed in one of the most technologically advanced dairy units to be found in any UK Agricultural College. The centre provides a unique resource that allows a ‘learning by doing’ approach for students, similar to the CREAM initiative operated at Greenmount College.

Specialised Heifer

Rearing Unit

This unit rears replacement heifers for four local dairy herds owned by N&K Forsyth. It is a purpose built facility at New Bishopton, Whithorn, and is based on four rearing sheds (approximately 400 cattle per shed). Animals move through the system and are carefully managed at each stage with the aim of calving at 24 months old. The unit has 1700 cattle at any one time; cattle are housed continually and managed by three members of staff. According to the unit manager Andrew Taylor, 80% of his time is spent managing house 1, the nursery shed; this is the shed housing calves on milk. He said: “It is vital that we operate a strict protocol in terms of feeding and hygiene; disease at this stage will severely compromise the animals’ long-term productivity and lifespan. Calves must receive 3 litres colostrum within two hours of life and a further three litres within 12 hours - a total of six litres in the first 12 hours of life. This colostrum is tested and only taken from cows certified as Johnes free.”

All calves are vaccinated with Rispoval® IntraNasal at nine days of age offering protection against BRSv and PI3v for a period of 12 weeks. This is followed by an injection of Rispoval® IBR Marker Live at 12 weeks of age, giving six months protection against IBR.

Glenapp Estate Farm

The group’s final visit was to the McKay’s family farm which extends to 14,500 acres on the shores of Loch Ryan. This estate has a 2600 ewe flock, 750 spring calving cows, hosts various bird shoots, and is involved in various renewable energy projects (solar, wind).

Charles Russell, manager at the SW Scotland AHDB dairy monitor farm at Glenapp impressed the group demonstrating his firm handle on every aspect of operating the 750 cow New Zealand style spring calving herd.

The animals start calving on 14th February and are at grass immediately. Attention to detail supported by a comprehensive BRD and IBR vaccination programme was highlighted by the farm vet Steve Raphael.

Currently being paid 17.5ppl for milk, the farm aims to keep the system as simple as possible. Many of the cows are crossbred (Jersey/Friesian); a strict breeding program is followed. A strict protocol also extends to calf rearing; colostrum is key to success along with a routine vaccination program. All calves receive four litres of colostrum within two hours of birth and are vaccinated with Rispoval® IntraNasal at nine days of age.

The group felt that they had learned a lot from the visit and were pleased that the staff at each unit discussed details of challenges and progress openly. It was more about sharing experiences with each other rather than them just telling the farmers what to do.

Roy Harpur from Bessbrook was interested in how the farms were endeavouring to control Johnes disease and was shocked to hear that despite all good management practices such as snatch calving, testing and pasteurisation of colostrum, a percentage of calves could still become infected intra-uterine or at the point of birth where inevitably some calves may be put in contact with their mother’s faeces. He agreed with Andrew at New Bishopton farm that a calf that suffers relapses of a case of pneumonia will never make a good heifer or cow.

Roy changed colostrum management on his own farm two years ago and concluded that increasing the quantity of colostrum given from 2.5 l to 4-4.5l had resulted in great health benefits.

Chairman of the group, Peter Sheridan from Cullyhanna, was impressed with the attention to detail given to colostrum management and the emphasis that was put on vaccinating calves as soon as possible from nine days of age with Rispoval® IntraNasal. He has already started making changes on his own farm including buying a colostrometer to ensure all calves receive good quality colostrum, and freezing colostrum four litres at a time. In the past he thought two litres for a calf was sufficient. He is planning to start vaccinating calves with Rispoval® IntraNasal.

Ian Carrick, Group secretary thanked Zoetis for organising such an informative trip and pointed out that while the units visited might be much larger than the Markethill Group farms the principles of feeding and management could be applied to any unit regardless of size, thus the farmers took home a lot of information to consider for the future.