My Grazing Week 12 on ABC robotic Grazing
Robotic system: 1 DeLaval VMS™ box unit on Feed First with 3 Smart Gates™
Farm: Andrew & James Walsh, Co. Wexford, Ireland
Soil type: Heavy to medium-heavy
Weekly rainfall: 30 mm
Milking cows: 54
Grazing platform: N/A
Housing System: Feed First guided traffic
Re-cap of week 11
- International AMA KPI project
- International comparison of our farm
- 72 kg Ms/cow/day
- 2016 grazing season at an end
Week 12 (5th- 13th December)
Growth rate N/A
AFC 600 kg DM/ha
Stocking rate N/A
Demand/cow/ha 0 kg DM/ha
Supplements fed/day 4.5 kg/cow cons + 11 kg FW fodder beet
kg/cow/day 20.5 kg
MS/cow/day 1.72 kg/cow
SCC (‘000) 90
TBC (‘000) 3
On the farm
Fodder beet so far a success.
Currently the cows are consuming 11 kg fresh weight of fodder beet. They are milking well on this feed so far and milk yield is holding solid at 20.5 kg/day, which is good considering 95% of the herd are spring calving.
The key to the success of fodder beet is a gradual build up on the feed, in order to acclimatize the rumen flora to the sucrose-rich feed.
This week we had three cows that calved down. Our plan in the breeding season this year was to have cows calving as we were drying off others, to keep producing a reasonable level of milk all year round, but still have 95% calving after the New Year.
Weekly topic: The calf – the future generation
Many farmers should be looking at getting their calving, and calf rearing facilities ready over the next month. The main calving season on our farm begins after the New Year, with a few cows already calved.
One of the most important aspects on any dairy farm, and especially a voluntary milking system, is the heifer calf. These will be the animals that will be paying for the robots in the future!
It is worth putting in the time and effort into rearing the calf to get it to the desirable weight for breeding to be able to calve the heifer at 22-24 months of age.
A good healthy heifer will:
- Go in-calf easier
- Produce more milk in 1st lactation
- Operate well amongst the AMS
Small heifers tend to get bullied by larger cows and find it hard to establish themselves among the herd, usually meaning slow to travel and last into the machine. This all equals low milking frequency, lower feed intake, and lower milk production.
We have realised the advantage of getting the calf off to, not only a good start, but the best start possible after birth.
Our calving routine is as follows:
- Cow calves down with calf
- Cow brought straight into robot for harvesting of colostrum
- Cow left in ‘fresh pen’
- Calf brought into a calf hutch (made from IBC tank!) with lots of straw bedding
- Calf fed 3L of colostrum within an hour of calving
- Calf fed a further 3L of colostrum within 8 hours of first feed
- Calf fed 3L of milk/ milk replacer up to day 20
- Calf fed 2.5 L after this day to encourage more solid feed consumption
Concentrates and water are introduced to the calf in the hutch after about a week. Fresh water is very important for the development of the calf’s rumen. The water in milk or milk replacer is not sufficient for this purpose.
We introduced the calf hutches this year to the calves which we made out of IBC plastic tanks. The idea is that each calf goes in to its own sterile environment with a good bed of straw, until it builds up its own immune system. The hutch is steam cleaned after each calf exits. Calf mortality this year pre-weaning was 1.6% (1 still-born calf). This is one of the lowest figures on the farm to date for mortality.
After about 10 days in the calf hutch, or depending on demand for hutches, the calf is placed into a group of about 10-15 calves and fed on a Volac Urban automatic calf feeder.
All of the calves are vaccinated with an IBR vaccine as early as possible to try to prevent pneumonia for setting in.
The calf is weaned at about day 60-65 once the calf is deemed to be eating 1 kg of concentrates a day for three consecutive days.
For early spring calves, concentrates are given for about 2 weeks after turnout to grass, then they are on a grass only diet. The later born calves are fed concentrates right through the grazing period to prevent them from falling further behind as grass intake is lower than the older calves.
To reiterate the importance of excellent calf rearing; a calf may have superb genetic potential from the dam and sire. But this calf has to be exposed to an environment to unlock this potential.
It is often a false economy cutting costs when it comes to calf rearing.
Tip of the Week
A good trick to help with training heifers is to get the heifer into the machine 1-2 weeks prior to calving. This will ensure that the heifer is relaxed and has familiarised itself with the robot.
We give the in-calf heifers about 0.5 kg of feed in the robot for 1 week prior to calving and increase this gradually in the second week up to 1.5 kg of feed. When the heifer calves down, her rumen will have adapted to consuming adequate levels of concentrates.
Last spring was the first time that we carried out this process for training heifers, and their performance was greater than the heifers from the previous year.The first milking for the heifer is a much more pleasant experience as it is not her first time there. Milk let down is much better which is a sign that they are relaxed.