Mark Davies & his wife Caroline farm close to Fishguard in north Pembrokeshire. As well as the Davies family – including daughters Mari (4) and baby Evie – this farm is also home to their 250-strong Tynewydd Holstein Friesian herd. Everything in this 235-acre farm is organised, tidy and well laid out with plenty of clean concrete and galvanized steel about the yard. Mark & Caroline have invested heavily in this impressive Muller-supplying dairy farm over the past two years.
A new, expansive and airy slatted cubicle house with milking robots was constructed in 2017 to accommodate the Davies’ herd.
Four new Lely Robots were installed on the farm in early 2018. The robots replaced an old 20-unit herringbone parlour. “I suppose the cows would be the best judge of how well the robots work” says Mark. “They go in and out to be milked with no fuss and at their leisure – there is no standing around waiting in the collecting yard in the wind and rain!”
“We are on wetter ground here and in the old outdoor grazing system, cows – and grass – had come under pressure in the wet summers we have had recently. The move to the robots and the full indoor system has given us a much more predictable and manageable system. Now it’s just the young stock and the drys that are outdoors for about a month before calving, so we are much less dependent on the weather. The heat during this warm summer was a good test of the ventilation in the new shed. Cows were never under any heat stress, so we should be safe from that worry for another 40 years” joked Mark.
The farm now runs with one full time and one part time worker as well as Mark and Caroline. “With the old system and parlour we were 4 to 4.5 hours milking. We also needed 3-4 people hands on to manage milking and feeding. Now you just need one good reliable man on call to respond to any faults or robot maintenance required. Andrew Thomas, our full-time man is excellent, and it means we are not tied to the farm as much as when we had the twice a day routine.”
Mark installed 240 Head-to-Head EASYFIX Cow Cubicles in the new slatted cow house. “We saw these flexible EASYFIX cubicles on a farm that we show cows with and been impressed by them on other farms we viewed in England. These EASYFIX cubicles flex to almost 4’ and the safety of them gives us a great piece of mind. When you have such big Holstein cows that fill the cubicle, as we do – the last thing you want to find in a morning is a top cow or heifer having injured herself in steel cubicle!”
“EASYFIX Cubicles and Mattresses give the cows great comfort. They’re not afraid of a slip or an injury and neither are we!”
Mark is really impressed with the comfort that the EASYFIX cubicles provide. “What we first noticed is that the cows lie down straight away, as soon as they step into the cubicle. In the old steel cubicles, cows would have been faffing about, dancing and worried about hurting themselves – and much slower to lie down. Now we often come into the shed and see cows fully stretched out like you would in the field.”
The 50mm EASYFIX Neptune Mattress was installed along with the brisket rail and cow scratchers. Mark is very happy with the peace of mind, comfort and hygiene the cubicles provide. “Look – even with the EASYFIX cubicles you’ll get the odd cow that will do silly things like reverse into them or try to push her way through the head-to-heads, but the difference with the EASYFIX is that with a little prod they will go straight through – and the important thing is that they don’t injure themselves”.
The Davies’ old cubicle shed, which contained 180 Super European steel cubicles, now accommodates the farm’s young stock. “In three or four years’ time we will be due to upgrade the young stock housing and I will have no hesitation about selecting the EASYFIX cubicles again. I can’t see why we would go back to steel.”
The efficient and well-planned design of the new 15-bay cubicle shed was developed with cow and farmer comfort in mind. Two 18-foot wide, fully-roofed feed passages flank either side of the cow area. Within the cow area are three rows of head-to-head cubicles with wide feed lanes at either side. In the centre of the shed are the milking robots, handling area, bull pen and calving pens.
Lime and sawdust is applied to the cubicles twice a day. “30-40% of the cubicles will be idle at any given time so with two applications you get most of the cubicles limed in the day” “We find that cow lameness and injury problems have been almost eliminated in the new shed – thanks mainly to the cubicles and the EASYFIX mattresses” explained Mark. “They are spending less time walking or standing on concrete. The problems of grit from roads is no linger an issue.”
The Davies’ now use the Lely cow collars – monitoring heat and rumination. It tends to pick up 5-6 cows in heat every week that Mark would have missed before.
All AI is done DIY by Mark with cows served at the optional time as specified by the Lely system anytime 6am-10pm. 90 Holstein Friesian AI straws are used. All low-yielders are bred to Belgian Blue of Aberdeen Angus, with a Black and White stock bull cleaning up and for serving heifers. The Davies calve about 20 cows per month which gives a consistent milk output and workload throughout the year. All bull calves are sold, while heifer calves are kept on the farm with a number earmarked for sale each year either milking or in-calf. “The heifer trade is a little bit dubious this year” said Mark. “The bad spring along with the dry summer means that many farms are short on feed, so that has hit the price of milking heifers. Top-quality stock are largely unaffected but certainly the poorer than average heifer is well down in price.”
“The cows stretch out in the EASYFIX Cubicles just like you would after the wife gets out of the bed!”
“Luckily, we had good crops of silage last year and are still finishing off our 2017 third-cuts. So we are not under pressure like some farms in England. Generally, we have a 4-cut silage system, with the first three put into the pit and the last cut baled. This year, because of the drought, growth has been poor for the third cut so we will bale it and pit the last cut instead.”
Mark finds the individual cow data from the robots, including yield, constituents, milk temperature, SCC etc extremely useful for management and breeding decisions. Bulls are selected (and cows culled) primarily on udders, feet, milk components and functionality, as well as yield.
“My ideal cow is powerful, wide, deep with excellent feet, legs and udder attachment. Teat placement is also essential with the robots”.
All cows receive a consistent blended diet during lactation, getting 3.5 kg of ration, fed twice per day by TMR through the Keenan feeder wagon. The rest of the meal is fed in the parlour. “We find the feed-to-yield system through the robots a great efficiency in terms of saving feed and increasing yields. Lower yielders are restricted and higher yielders get what they need to reach their peak output”
The TMR generally consists of high quality grass silage plus straw, soya hulls & ration. Silage is cut 3-4 times/year. The TMR is pushed up to cows by a Lely Juno robot every hour on the hour. “There is never clean concrete in front of the cows when the Lely Juno is working” says Mark.
The Davies’ sell a number of pedigree HF heifers either milking or in-calf every year. “We sell them from the yard generally”. However, they still like to attend 5-6 shows in the year with cows, particularly the Pembrokeshire Show, and also other county shows around South Wales. However, with two small children and the change of system with the new robots, Mark and Caroline have taken a back-step from the showing over the last year.
If you would like more information on any of the EASYFIX Dairy Housing Solutions mentioned above, please do not hesitate to get in contact.