How award-winning dairy farm is taking steps to net zero

Hundreds of dairy farmers flocked to this year’s Gold Cup Open Day earlier this week (5 July) hosted by the 2020 winners, the Torrance family, Albyns Farm, Essex, to see their award-winning herd in action.

The theme for the day was ‘The Road to Net Zero’, with expert speakers delivering talks on breeding, nutrition and improving herd performance to reduce carbon emissions.

The Torrance’s are milking 685 cows with just over 500 followers and are breeding for lifetime production and feed efficiency. They are yielding 13,100l on three times a day milking with 58 100-tonne cows in the herd.

Breeding

All heifers are genomically tested at birth and anything with a £PLI under 485 is served straight to beef. Their top £PLI animal currently stands at 811.

Their breeding outlook changed in the late 2000s when they joined a KTR discussion group and switched to breeding smaller, more functional cows that were easier to maintain. Their continual selection of £PLI for the last eight years instead of the Holstein Index has resulted in longer living, healthier animals, explained Liam Healy, GB Genetic Service Manager for Genus.

At the same time, the family also invested in a sand-based 360-cow shed and slurry system, which was replicated two years later with a dry-cow shed, eradicating the need for antibiotic dry cow therapy. They have not used intramammary antibiotics in 24 months, opting only for teat sealants at drying off.

Their success lies with breeding a herd ranked in the top 1% on £PLI managed in a system that allows cows to exhibit their genetic potential. The staff are at the heart of the success, with John Torrance setting clear objectives with the team, meaning everyone is working towards the same goals.

Feeding

Speaking at the Open Day, Christine Pedersen from The Dairy Group said: “The things that make a profitable herd are the things that also help reduce emissions. John is breeding a herd in the top 1% on £PLI and health, welfare and fertility go hand in hand.

“He is achieving a pregnancy rate of 29%, which shows you can have high-performing cows and good fertility.”

Ms Pedersen explained how, unlike many milk producers, John had moved away from targeting milk from forage, with only 30% of the milking cow ration made up of grass.

She explained: “When John looked at the opportunity costs for growing grass compared to wheat, forage was expensive. Instead, he uses multiple co products, which in turn, is also helping reduce his carbon footprint.”

Milking cows are fed a Maintenance (M) +45l ration TMR and later in lactation move onto a M+40l ration and M +35l ration. Maize makes up the majority of the ration (21-22kg a head a day), with three co-products also included – brewer’s grains (5-10kg/head/day), potato chips (4.5-7kg/head/day) and citrus pulp (4-6.5kg/head/day). Straights are also included. The target is to aim for a dry matter intake of 26kg/head/day containing 16% protein.

Co-product feeding helps reduce the carbon footprint of the farm, which currently stands at less than 900g of C02 equivalent per kg of fat and protein corrected milk produced.

Emily Keep, UK Head Nutritionist at Duynie UK, said co-products offered a solution to reduce feed costs and carbon footprint and remove soya from the diet.

“Co-products replace crops grown on land with products harvested from the surplus in the human food chain. This reduces the land required per kg of milk and meat in any livestock enterprise.

“You can’t get net zero without addressing feed carbon. Co-products are virtually all very low carbon plant-based products, as the primary product used in the human food chain takes responsibility for the carbon.

“John is using co-products to reduce his reliance on wheat; on top of that, they are highly palatable and nutritious, so help drive intakes,” she said.

Management

Getting cows eating and digesting their food relies on well-thought-out accommodation in this housed herd. Ideally, cows should eat or lie down for more than 20 hours a day.

Cows at Albyns Farm are housed on five-inch-deep sand beds, each 1.2m wide and 2.5m long, with an 8.5 fallen curb at the back of each cubicle and a gradient of between 1-2% on the floor. This allows muck to drain easily to the centre of the building, helping keep cows clean.

Tim McKendrick from The Dairy Group explained how sand is the most ‘forgiving’ bedding for cows. “Cows are most comfortable on sand and are not fearful of it as they have grip when standing. You can see that the cows always lie straight on this farm, which is what you want.”

The passageways have a parallel groove imprinted to prevent slipping and rubber mats at the feed fence.

This herd’s outcomes are a testament to the Torrance family’s building design and management. Mr McKendrick added: “The best way to measure if a housing design is successful is by the outcomes, such as mastitis rates, mobility, fertility and somatic cell counts.”

John and his team are constantly monitoring cow performance through Cow Manager and assessing their body condition every month. This ensures cows dry off and maintain the target body condition score through the dry period and into lactation.

Gold Cup Entries 2022

Entries for the 2022 Gold Cup are now open. To find out more about the prestigious competition, go to rabdf.co.uk/gold-cup-comp

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