The Wiltshire Organic Dairy group have been investigating how herd observation can impact a dairy cow’s routine, and have recently announced their findings.
Using a French diagnostic tool called Obsalim® this group have been monitoring herd health and altering feeding patterns. The technique involves using a set of cards to diagnose the needs of the herd.
The field lab has taken place over the last two years and has helped the participants learn and understand how to effectively use the Obsalim® system. They have found that this technique can reduce feed costs and improve the efficiency of the dairy herd by making rumen stability better.
Three herds participated in the field lab. An important finding for all herds was the need to establish a synchronised eating and ruminating cycle – helping to prevent overeating. The field lab has been coordinated by Kate Still of the Soil Association and training provided by Obsalim® specialist, Edward De Beukelaer. While researcher, Susanne Padel from the Organic Research Centre has been analysing the results.
It was noted that in order for the herd to find their rhythm and ruminate effectively it was important to allow them to synchronise. Splitting the feeds into morning and afternoon and establishing an undisturbed period of rumination in between improved rumen function.
Kate Still said; “This field lab has really shown us that to allow cows to make the most of the feed they are given they need both time to digest it effectively and structural fibre to aid that digestion. Establishing a system that allows the herd to feed together and then lie down and ruminate together, undisturbed, enables them to be more efficient at converting feed and healthier as a result. Cows that are disturbed by others feeding or by having feed constantly available are more inclined to snack and over eat, resulting in poor rumen function. Training calves to establish this rhythm early on results in healthy rumen function from the start.”
At Manor Farm in Wiltshire, the ration was split into two feeds to help establish a synchronised ruminating phase from late morning until milking. As a result of more efficient feed conversion both silage and concentrate feed could be reduced with no drop in milk production, in fact Manor Farm had a 6,000 litre increase in production during the trial period over what was expected. The cows also had better overall condition with none needing to be dried off early.
Other alterations to feed following observations and analysis included adding straw and hay to the diet to increase structural fibre and help with rumen stability.
If you’d like to find out how each of the three farms involved in the field lab changed their routines read the results>>