By Debbie James

Milk recording data is helping a Conwy dairy farm breed replacements from cows yielding 1kg milk solids (MS) to every 1kg of their liveweight.

The herd at Llwyn Goronwy near Llanrwst was converted to spring calving in 2012 by using Jersey and New Zealand Friesian genetics on the 150-cow Holstein herd.

Cow numbers have more than doubled to the 320 crossbred cows brothers Elgan and Gareth Evans and their father, Brynmor, now milk.

They are now in a position to improve cow efficiency, says Elgan.

“We want a 550kg black and white cow producing 550kg of milk solids (MS) and 320 of them, not cows producing 10,000 litres of white water.

“Until now it was all about numbers, if a cow was in calf we would keep her but now we have sufficient cows we need to look at efficiency.’’

The business has been evaluating the benefits of milk recording in a spring block calving herd through its work as a Farming Connect focus farm.

By analysing kilogrammes of butterfat and protein produced and comparing this to cow liveweight, the most efficient cows in their herd have been identified.

Cows were weighed at 100-120 days in milk in August 2019 and, following a programme of milk recording, their performance and size were compared.

The most efficient cows are 19 cows that produce 1kg MS per 1kg liveweight and a heifer achieving 1.36kg MS per 1kg of liveweight.

“Overall we were pretty happy with the data, the average weight was 527kg and 25 per cent of the cows are hitting the targets we are aiming for,’’ says Elgan.

“These are the type of cows we want, now we know who they are we can focus on breeding our future herd from them. We can select the better cows to move the herd forward.’’

The bottom performers include a 700kg cow producing 0.49kgMS per 1kg liveweight.

“About 15 per cent had pretty disappointing results,’’ Elgan admits.

“We have animals at the top, middle and bottom so the less efficient of these will be bred only to a beef bull or, when we have an excess of heifers, we will lose them from the herd.’’

The herd at Llwyn Goronwy has an annual average milk yield of 6,000 litres at 4.4 per cent butterfat and 3.6 per cent protein, with milk sold to Arla.

Farming Connect Lead Technical Officer Simon Pitt, who oversaw the project, says the project highlighted an anomaly in milk recording systems.

Current reporting systems are more suited to all-year round (AYR) herds rather than block calving systems, Mr Pitt suggests.

“There is no option to input milk solids kg liveweight data, so we had to input this manually on a spreadsheet,’’ he points out.

With 53 per cent of the milk produced in the UK sold on a solids contract, Mr Pitt says this needs to be reviewed.

If more spring calving herds are to take up the option of milk recording then fertility and production information should be presented in a relevant format which is essential if herds are to become more efficient, he says.

“For instance in some programmes there is no option to input kg/LW for each cow or heifer; if this was the case it would in turn work out who the top performers are which in turn would run a report that ranks the best animals.’’

With a rolling annual somatic cell count of 130,000 cells/ml, milk produced at Llwyn Goronwy falls into the highest price band.

However, with cell count data on individual cows now available through milk recording, the Evans’ will cull individual cows with persistently high cell counts.

“We will be putting beef straws onto the bottom 25 per cent of cows and see where we are when we have scanned the cows at the end of the breeding season and make a decision of which to keep and which to let go of,’’ says Elgan.

Milk recording will now be routine going forward, he says.

“This project gave us the push that we needed to record and it will give us the information to make adjustments to save pence per litre.’’