As most people are aware a cow on a dairy farm produces milk because she has a calf every year. The 6 cows still left to calve this year are right at the end of the calving pattern. In 2013 we’re aiming for all the cows to calve in 9 weeks rather than 12.
It’s very important not to miss the crucial 24 hour period when a cow is on heat. Technology will assist us. Cows move around a lot more when on heat and we record their miles on an ankle bracelet pedometer. If the fertile period is missed there is a 21 day wait until the next cycle. Observation is also essential and we’re always watching and evaluating the cows’ behaviour.
The bulls must be selected (the cows are artificially inseminated) and the semen ordered in. This time we have picked 2 Holstein bulls, 1 Montbelliard, 1 Swedish Red, 1 Normande and 1 Jersey, since we like to cross breed for the best characteristics of these dairy breeds. Any cows that are not in calf in the next 6 weeks or so of will be inseminated with Belgian Blue or Limousin beef breeds after their next cycle.
Bull choice is a matter of deciding what fits the herd. Our milk buyer, Dale Farm in Kendal, pays a premium for high milk fat & protein because the company makes desserts and yogurt. Different breeds have different strengths and qualities; we pick out the individual bulls from the breeds that are going to meet our requirements.
Genes for disease resistance and good fertility take several generations to make an impact, but they are essential in the herd. We also want cows with good legs and feet, good udders and longevity. We aim for cows that live healthy, productive and contented lives.