Abbey Farmers Challenge Dairyco Knowledge on Transition Cow Management

Published 9 September 09

What value do dairy farmers really get out of the milk levy they pay? Some may argue: 'Not a lot'. And until recently a group of specialist dairy farmers in Gloucestershire might have agreed. But this summer Abbey Farmers - a group of 16 dedicated dairy producers around Tewkesbury - challenged DairyCo to show them how they could build on their knowledge about transition cow management, and were pleasantly surprised with the results.

 "DairyCo had asked a couple of our members to host meetings, and they felt they were not getting much back," says Andrew Warren, who keeps 240 cows at Bengrove Farm, Sandhurst, Glos. "We do a lot of training within the group, and asked DairyCo to show us the latest practical approaches to transition cow management.

 "Transition is the most important stage of the lactation - it sets you up for the whole of the next lactation. And training is crucial because it brings us closer together and helps us move forward and face new challenges - nothing stays the same."

 Established more than 25 years ago as a training group, Abbey Farmers developed into a close-knit co-operative. The members frequently benchmark their figures, and act together to purchase inputs and sell their milk to the local Cotteswold Dairy. "We are very open, and every month we have a training meeting," says Mr Warren.  They also work closely with their vets to train staff, and go on an annual trip to see dairy farming in other parts of the world.  Tasked with meeting the group's needs, extension officer Andy Dodd collaborated with DairyCo colleagues to locate exemplary farms and experts in transition cow management. In July he took 12 Abbey Farmers members to North Wales, to meet vet Gwyn Jones and visit two proactive dairy units.

 "I wanted to challenge them and make them reassess what they were doing at home," says Mr Dodd. "Mr Jones spoke about good dry cow management, and then we visited two very different farms to put the theory into practice."

 Armed with some farm-specific information on calving intervals, cull cows and service figures, Mr Jones offered his own benchmarking advice to group members, identifying areas where management - and therefore profits - could be improved.  Managing high yielding cows on heavy land, most of the group members have minimal grazing regimes. They tend to keep the high yielding cows indoors, and graze those in late lactation. So to illustrate the potential for milk production off grazed grass Mr Dodd also arranged a visit to grass-based farms. "It was fascinating to see what production they are getting out of grazed grass," says Mr Warren.

 Although it is too early to see dramatic results back in Gloucestershire, he is convinced that the trip will yield benefits. "Like all things, it is attention to detail - getting the cows on the right ration, and getting the balance right. I've had very good feedback from the group, and am trying to do everything a bit better at home; trying harder to get it right."

 DairyCo has extension officers across every region in England, Scotland and Wales, who regularly organise and host events for dairy farmers. "The knowledge that DairyCo can draw on is immense - and we want producers to make use of that," says Mr Dodd.