Investing heavily in the future of their business focusing on productivity, welfare and cow comfort is Euan and Andrew Lawrie of Grangehall Farm, Pettinain. The very much family enterprise is home to 245 pedigree Holstein cows along with 180 youngstock followers, the duo farm alongside their dad, one full time worker and a part time milker to make it work.
Among the milking herd, cows are currently giving 10,300l with a 4.1BF and 3.2P, and the family are fortunate enough to have had a Muller Tesco contract for the past decade. Currently 40-45% of the milking herd are heifers due to expanding the herd in recent years, having gone from 170-180 milkers.
Running 400 acres between Grangehall and Pettinain Farm – which are just a mile apart – there is plenty of room for growing their own produce. The main ration for that dairy herd consists of silage, wholecrop, Invergold or supergrain, barley or wheat, ground maize, minerals fed along with a bespoke blend made up by Davidsons Animal Feeds to suit the ration. There is also a ration fed in the passage along with the outer parlour feeders which are fed with Davidsons Animal Feeds Autolac range, which is a non-mineralised cake since the cows will be fed minerals down the feed passage.
Over the last 10 years Davidsons Animal Feed have been the main suppliers for the blends at Grangehall, for the dairy herd, youngstock and the sheep side of the enterprise. “We like to use Davidsons because we get a nice friendly rep, John Rodgers, he is always at the end of the phone if we need anything and will sample our silage or wholecrop regularly,” said Euan. Andrew added: “The other benefit of using Davidsons is cows like stability and don’t like too many changes. We don’t like to chop and change suppliers and would prefer to stick to one.”
Around 220 acres will be set aside for three cuts of silage, 100 -110 acres for grain 50-60 acres for wholecrop wheat, 40-50 acres for spring or winter barley.
“We try to be as self-sufficient as we can by growing our own crops for our rations. All the main field work is also undertaken by ourselves although we get help for silage and combining,” said Andrew, who also invested in their own umbilical slurry system by adding a dribble bar on the tanker to try and get more use out of the nitrogen in the slurry.
Euan added: “The way the price of fertiliser is going I certainly think it will be a good investment for future years.”
Cows are split into three groups – early to mid-lactation cows, late lactation cows and fresh cows. Dry cow housing is something the family have spent a lot of money on in the last year or two investing in cubicles as opposed to having straw pens.
“Realising the importance of cow welfare is crucial to improving your dairy herd, we are always looking to improve,” said Andrew, with a pregnancy rate of 23% and calving interval of 385 days.
“The vet comes out every fortnight for regular work which has encouraged us to get into a routine. Everything is inspected over 50 days and will be further checked two weeks later if they have not come into season.
“We occasionally do fresh checks depending on the cow if we know they have had a difficult calving or have produced twins, however we don’t tend to have a lot of problems that way, so we feel the 50-day check works well for our system,” added Andrew.
Everything in the dairy herd is AI’d with sex semen, Aberdeen-Angus or British Blue semen – depending on the cow and the yield. Nothing will get a third service of sex semen – if they are not in calve after two samples, they will generally go straight to the beef bull. Again, heifers are all sex semen or Angus however get three or four chances of holding, and if all else fails they will also be put to the Angus bull. Aiming to calve them at 24 months of age, being kept on a breeders’ diet throughout the whole AI’ing process and once they are PD’d in calf they go to the bull to chase them up. Calves will be born naturally, put into double pens and reared in these for the first two or three weeks of life. Both beef and dairy heifer calves are reared the same for the first six to eight weeks, with beef calves then being sold through the live ring at Lanark Auction Market.
Heifer calves are reared looking to achieve 0.85-1kg of daily liveweight gain in order to achieve this, the team will be feeding more than 1kg of a high protein milk replacer along with eight litres of concentrate milk per day. They are reared on calf pellets and straw.
At the age of two or three weeks old the calves will be batched into pens of eight to 10, with spanning taking place around nine to 10 weeks ideally. From here they go into a separate young stock shed and are kept on a 2.5kg high protein cake fed on straw.
They are kept in small batches for as long as possible for up to six to seven months. They are then taken to the other farm where they will be reared on either haylage or silage along with a 2.5kg of cake and barley blend that is mixed by Andrew and Euan. Calves will be kept on this diet right through to bulling and post bulling where they will then be put onto a general silage-based diet.
Another huge issue in the dairy industry is lameness and it can have a huge effect on the cow’s welfare and milk productivity. “Lameness is something we have tried hard to improve recently, although I wouldn’t say it was a major problem before, but it could always be better. We now have a foot trimmer come in every fortnight and everything is done five-six weeks pre drying off and 50-60 days post calving,” said Andrew.
Adding that: “We used to do everything at drying off, but we felt this was a stressful time for the cows between being dried off and going into new housing. Adjusting to that little bit earlier has made a huge difference, we used to do all our feet ourselves and in busy times it was something that got neglected a bit, so it is good to be in a routine to ensure everything is done properly.”
The Lawrie family have really tried to push their herd forward in recent years, having also heavily invested in a new milking parlour, new cattle housing, a million-gallon slurry tower, two new wholecrop pits, new calf shed and a youngstock shed. “You have to be willing to move forward and we have been fortunate to have the backing of our Muller Tesco contract to allow us to do this,” said Andrew, who believes the biggest recent investment has been the new dry cow housing.
Euan added: “This has significantly reduced early lactation status, along with the cell count. Currently the cell count on milk records is sitting at an average of 115 for the last 12 months.
“Not only this but it has also reduced bedding cost because everything is now on sawdust as opposed to straw. The ‘Just In Time’ pens have caught us out a few times, and we have had calves born on the cubicles but they are snatched as soon as we see them. We don’t feel this is giving us much of a problem,” explained Euan, who put in a raised floor at the feed barrier, which has helped increase intakes, so much so that when the cows were first put into the dry cow shed to start with, the team felt they had to up the ration by 10-15% for the first week.
Along with this investment, has been converting the old calving pens into a new fresh calved cow accommodation which also have easy fit cubicles.“The lying times have increased which has improved cow comfort – we think this is going to be a massive benefit to the fresh calved cows going forward. This all goes hand in hand to the cow comfort and the fresh calved cows and calving cows,” said Andrew.
This year has been an exceptional one for the family, being awarded the overall winner of the Transition Management System (TMS) performance trophy, staged at Telford.
Andrew was down at Telford at the TMS (Transition Management System) dinner because Grangehall were in the final six for the under 250 cow herd which was a great achievement in itself– however the team actually went and won the overall award.
“It is an award we never thought was possible. It really does mean a lot to us, and it just shows that our recent investments have made a significant impact on our business,” said Euan.