Brian Archer, Derbyshire

A switch from feeding with a forage box in favour of the first diet feeder to be bought by a Derbyshire dairy farm has helped reduce rumen problems and boost butterfat levels among its high-performing British Friesians, despite an unchanged ration. 

Brian Archer’s Collycroft herd is currently one of the highest yielding of the breed in the UK, averaging 8,400 litres at 4.1% butterfat and 3.3% protein. What’s all the more impressive is that this is achieved using a simple, relatively low-cost diet, centred on grass silage, hay and straw, with no maize and low concentrate rates.

“British Friesians are lower maintenance cows, and compared with Holsteins require less feed for similar milk output,” says Brian, explaining his breed choice. He milks 180 head, and rears all his own replacements, with bull calves retained and finished on-farm.

Brian Archer, Derbyshire

“We operate a closed herd, using British Friesians on both heifers and cows, and calve all year round. To allow us to feed to yield, the herd is split into low, mid and high-performing groups, according to maintenance plus 16, 22 and 26 litres. They are fed all year round, with grazing supplemented with a summer ration.”

Investment in facilities and equipment has been substantial in recent years, and following the installation at the beginning of the decade of new housing with mattress-equipped cubicles to increase cow comfort and reduce cell counts, more recently it has been the feeding regime that has come under scrutiny for improvement.

The move from forage box feeding to investing in the farm’s first diet feeder came about primarily because of Brian’s desire to put more roughage into his cattle’s ration, and improve the rumen function.

“I use barley straw to provide the scratch factor required for good rumen function, and hay to provide the ‘float’ needed to carry the rumen contents. With the box, though, I wasn’t able to process bales or get straw and hay down to the ideal lengths for this.

“I also wanted to be able to incorporate most of the concentrate element into the ration, so that I wouldn’t be trying to get all the cows’ concentrate requirements into them at milkings.”

Having decided to switch to a diet feeder, the choice between a paddle type and an auger machine was relatively easy, he says.

Brian Archer 1

“A paddle feeder wouldn’t provide the ability to process bales, or get roughage to the right length. With an auger machine, I know I can put whole bales in and chop them to the length I’m looking for.”

If that decision was simple, choice of manufacturer was also surprisingly straightforward, Brian recalls.

“I had a look at a few different makes, but the build quality of some wasn’t very impressive. The Shelbourne Reynolds Powermix machine was in a different league - much stronger and more solid.

“I wanted a simple, single-auger feeder with a feed-out door – with the layout we have, there’s no need for cross-conveyors or anything more complicated. Shelbourne could supply what I wanted, so we purchased an ex-demo single-auger Powermix Pro 11 through Platts Harris at Darley Dale.”

After its first full season of use, improved feed intake through better hay and straw processing and the inclusion of most of the concentrate ration in the TMR was not the only advantage Brian noticed.

“We still feed a little concentrate in the parlour, but most of it is now in the TMR, which the cows have access to throughout the day for gradual feeding. As a result, we are seeing fewer rumen problems and improved general health as concentrate intake is more gradual.

“Our nutritionist, David Rhodes of Promar International, helped us devise a base diet comprising 6kg pressed sugar beet pulp, 5kg brewers grains, 7kg dairy blend, 3kg home-grown rolled barley and minerals, plus 36kg/head grass silage. Aside from the inclusion in that mix of the concentrate and the consequent reduction in cake fed in the parlour, we haven’t changed from the ration we were using before we bought the Powermix.  

“Despite that, though, our butterfat levels rose 0.1-0.2% after the machine was introduced, which I believe was a result of the improved mix and the concentrate inclusion.

“It took a little time to find the ideal chop length for the roughage, and our nutritionist was keen not to over-process. At first we were chopping straw and hay down to an inch, but we’ve since moved the knives so they are just in one notch to give a 3in chop, and the result gives just the right length and mix.

“The knives look likely to do a full three seasons before needing replacement, so I reckon they’re as well-made as the rest of the machine.”

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