DAIRY - Productivity and Herd Improvements for Orkney Dairy Herds

1 Sep 2016

Orkney’s 2200 dairy cows, owned by 17 units, produce liquid milk for local distribution and enough to provide 25 tonnes per week of the famous Orkney Cheese, which is manufactured in the farmer-run cheese factory and widely exported.

The most favoured method of feeding the mainly Friesian and Holstein cows has been using a mix of soya and barley together with silage and draff. This soya/barley diet has meant that the cereal content is high enough to cause acidosis problems, especially in top yielding cows. Local feed merchants J & W Tait Ltd, in conjunction with Harbro Ltd, their main feed supplier, has spent the past eighteen months addressing this problem and perhaps providing a solution to the ever increasing difficulties in securing a decent barley crop when the weather at harvest time is poor.

Orkney Dairy Blend has completely transformed the health and productivity of the user herds. The introduction of two revolutionary products, from Harbro, together with the reduced level of cereal in the overall ration, have contributed to the success of this new dairy blend. The first of these products is Rumitech, an in feed additive, which reduces the production of methane in the rumen, improving feed efficiency. Trials in France, Germany and the UK have shown lifts in yield, fat and protein, and measured over a six month period reduced calving intervals of 20 days.

The second, a Harbro innovation is the use of the cereal enhancer Maxammon which increases the pH from an acidic five to the highly alkaline level of nine, which is much more rumen friendly. As an added bonus, the protein level of the cereal rises by 3-4 units. The resultant improvements in milk production and in milk solids has produced real benefits both on farm and in the cheese factory.

Two of Orkney’s milk producers who have adopted the blend feeding strategy for the past few years are Erlend Wood of Berriedale Farms, South Ronaldsay and Steven Reid of Scott & Reid, Stromness.

Erlend states that his cows have a good bloom to their skins and the dung texture indicates that the protein level in the diet is in balance, indicating that each animal’s wellbeing is being looked after. “There has been improvements in fertility and are also fewer feet problems in the herd which is a clear indication of reduced sub-acute rumen acidosis.” says Erlend. Another big plus for Erlend is the convenience of the whole operation; the fully mineralised blend arrives in 29 tonne loads and is tipped in the store ready for mixing with barley. Steven has closely monitored the performance of his previous soya/barley diet compared to the blend, which he has
now been using for eighteen months. A lift in yield of three litres per day and a 25% increase in butter fat and protein have been recorded. “These improvements are so significant, they cannot be ignored.” says Steven. “The move to Orkney Dairy Blend has definitely improved our business.” This shift towards the use of blends in Orkney dairy rations has opened up the whole debate on whether it is cost effective for both dairy and even beef producers, to continue growing their own barley. Modern barley varieties mature a month later than previous varieties and this creates severe problems with weather at harvest, as September is a much harsher month on Orkney than August. Dried barley from the south is often used to make up any shortfall before harvest. This product when bruised can give rise to very fine particles which can bypass the rumen and find their way into the bloodstream causing laminitis. Maybe the future lies in importing the added-value product of carefully bruised,
high quality Maxammon cereal either in straight form, or included in a blend, rather than farmers having to face the annual struggle with the fickle Orkney elements.

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