Cows needing a bit more legroom in the parlour

Showers, some of them quite heavy have freshened things up no end these last few days. It had got quite dry, and whilst there is plenty of moisture further down, the rain has helped germinate seeds and water young seedlings.

It has certainly done the trick for our maize as it is now up and the rows are there to be seen very clearly. The grass is growing well now that cloudier weather has prevented the frosts, and it is beginning to look quite good for silage after such a slow start; it will not be as big a cut as usual but a month ago it looked a disaster.

I have been in the garden planting vegetables and again the rain has been welcome, although the lawn needs cutting every week without fail as we get into normal May peak grass growth. The cows are still in as a decision has been made to cut the whole farm for silage in just over a week’s time, starting our grazing wedge from aftermath.

The parlour work has been completed and has made it much lighter, less cluttered and easier to work in, now that it has all been raised up a few inches. Removing various bits and pieces no longer in use, and generally tidying up the pipework has made it more efficient, whilst re-alignment of the clusters to the cows will help to make sure they milk out properly.

There is still some welding to do, and I noticed the other day that we could do with giving the cows some more room, maybe 4 inches so that they stand more comfortably in the parlour. Our cows are bigger now than they were a few years ago and it does seem that they could do with a little more room.

As we continue to use more of our own manures as fertilizer, buying less of the chemical variety, it has occurred to me that I should check our soils for Sulphur.

Sulphur used to be freely available from polluted air and the rain that fell, but as we have cleaned up our act in this country over the last forty years or so, some soils are now becoming deficient in this mineral, and fertilizer companies have been selling fertilizer ‘with added Sulphur’ for a number of years. Our levels have been fine over the years, but it must be time to take another look.

In theory, grassland spread with slurry on a regular basis should have levels topped up leading to greater yields, and a trial in Cheshire has showed the difference in grass growth between sulphur deficient soils when one area has Sulphur added with the fertilizer and the other area in the trial did not, is significant.

Sulphur deficiency restricts the plants’ ability to utilise Nitrogen efficiently, and if it is lacking, protein levels and digestibility of the grass diminishes. This affects silage quality, as does levels of water soluble carbohydrates which are also enhanced by Sulphur.

The role of ruminants and methane is a subject that refuses to go away, and as our animals go about their business of eating grass and silage with some cereals, their fermentation vat (the rumen) produces quite a lot of methane (which is how our anaerobic digester works), resulting in a lot of burping!

My own solution to methane and climate change is to try and make sure that we breed as few replacements as possible for the herd. The longer the cows last, the fewer heifers we need running around the place eating and burping.

There are a few dilemmas’ here though, as I am also under pressure to use as little medicines as possible, especially antibiotics, and culling older cows and keeping the herd younger could be one way of using fewer drugs.

Higher milk yields means less cows and fewer burps, but again we are told that cows producing less milk is what some people want, which means more of them and more replacements which add up to quite a few more burps!

Trials are taking place to see how we can change cow’s diets so that they burp rather less, but then the public want to see cows out eating grass, and grass certainly makes them burp.

The three year trial taking place in Cheshire is measuring the amount of methane produced by the rumen according to the diet fed to beef cattle. Concentrate based and forage based diets are fed, both with different additives which could cut the amount of methane produced.

I think that maybe we should just accept that cows are meant to burp (otherwise they would blow up!) and if they burp a lot on their natural diet of grass and forage; so be it. I don’t hold cows responsible for climate change, although others seem to worry and are very keen to do something about it. What is UKIP’s policy on cows burping? I think we should be told (although I think I know what the answer would be).

April milk production in the UK was the lowest since the abolition of the Milk Marketing Board (or de-regulation as it is known); at almost 8% down in milk supply on last year which was in itself a poor April.

Soaring world market prices have still not fully delivered the price for manufactured milk according to the ‘Dairy Coalition’, with reluctance to pay more for cheese being blamed.

There are still companies who have not signed up to the voluntary code of agreement on contracts and Agriculture Minister David Heath is being asked to legislate if they do not come on board. David Heath has responded by telling farmers to vote with their feet and not supply those companies.

It has been pointed out that it takes a year to serve notice to leave and that by then the market will have moved on and farmers will have lost out on the current high prices, and also the opportunity to join others who are recruiting right now due to shortage of milk, or in Arla’s case a huge new factory being built which will need filling.

New Zealand production was hit by a massive 16% drop in March and 34% in April due to the worst drought for 30 years. This caused world prices to shoot up due to New Zealand being a major supplier of milk on the world market.

Production in New Zealand had been very high, almost 7% up year on year, but it has all been lost in the last three months and they are now 0.5% under for the year.

Rain has arrived, but production at this time of year is low as they head into winter and they will need to wait until next spring to start again and see what the next milk year brings them.

Markets have responded and world prices for dairy are at a very high level, climbing very steeply over the last few weeks.