As part of my work experience on Street Farm Dairy, I had the opportunity to go to Birmingham on Wednesday 4th July to visit the livestock event, featuring National Dairy and Charolais Shows. After getting up at 4am, we arrived in Birmingham at 8am in a coach full of farmers and their families. I was with a friend and as we walked towards the National Exhibition Centre, the smell of cows greeted us and the sight of hundreds of tractors being promoted. This event was an opportunity for many different organisations, whose work related to dairy farming, to set up a stall and promote their product or business. During the day, there were also shows for many different cattle breeds, mainly featuring the huge charolais cows. As well as this, every hour or so, experts were giving lectures about different areas of farming. My friend and I spent the day wandering around and looking at the different stalls as well as listening to a few lectures. On top of this, we managed to spend lots of time visiting the huge number of cows, lined up ready to be showed, and petting the Jersey Calf which could be won as part of a tombola!
The stands in the exhibition were divided into 11 sections: genetics, slurry muck and irrigation, housing and storage, diversifarm, milkmade, animal health, business management, livestock equipment, machinery, feeds and forage, and milking. Many of these sections then featured lectures as well.
I found it most interesting that there was so much emphasis on genetics, suggesting the fast modernising world of farming. For dairy farmers, it is important that the majority of offspring are female and therefore it is becoming a necessity to have sexed semen. Many stands I saw were arguing and promoting their semen as being the ‘best’. They claimed to have the highest rate of female births and produce cows which produced good quality and large quantities of milk.
I also found it interesting that ‘diversifarm’ was suggesting that farmers undertake extra money making methods such as selling ice cream, this suggested to me that dairy farmers no longer have the demand and Street Farm Dairy has not been the only farm struggling with profit.
In addition to this, many stands were putting emphasis on introducing renewable energy into a farm. With lots of space and energy being used at a high rate, farming could be a good market to introduce solar panels and wind turbines into. But I felt that many farmers would rather spend their money elsewhere.
Another stand which suggested to me a waste of money was the idea of machinery milking cows. There was an example machine set up and the whole process, from cleaning the teats to the milking itself was done by machine without the need for a human to even be present. I didn’t think that this was a good idea. I couldn’t help but consider what could happen if the machinery went wrong and hurt not only the cow but also the milk yield, wasting the farmer’s money and damaging the farming business. It also seemed to take much longer for the machine to carry out milking as it had to use lasers to find the teats and position itself accordingly. It took up a lot of room, was very expensive and still only milked one cow at a time. The computing behind it must be incredible but is this the farming of the future? I hope that it is not, for one of the most amazing parts of the dairy farm I have seen during my experience is the relationship between the farmer and his animals. Machines cannot have relationships and will leave unemployment in their path.
I was particularly interested in the animal health area where there were many stands belonging to veterinary businesses as well as several vets giving lectures. We listened to one on calf health and although it was aimed at farmers and how they could change their methods of rearing young, I still found it very interesting and learnt a lot that I did not know before. One significant factor which inevitably affects the health of a calf is when the calf is separated from its mother and when it is weaned. Calves need colostrum, which is the milk produced by mammals just before giving birth. It is essential for the health of the animal because it contains antibodies, needed to build up an initial immune system as well as containing a high proportion of protein, aiding growth. However, there was some debate as to the best way for calves to sufficient colostrum before being separated from their mother. The obvious solution would be to leave the calf with its mother for several days, however, this milk may not have the highest proportion of colostrum and the longer the calf is allowed free reign on how much milk it drinks, the less milk being produced for the farm. One farmer spoke during the lecture to tell us how he dealt with new born calves. This farmer kept stores of frozen colostrum, which he chose using equipment to measure the proportion of colostrum in the milk. The milk which was the purest proportion of colostrum, he took and stored. When a calf is born, he immediately takes it from its mother and within the first hour, hand feeds it a large amount of defrosted colostrum. This needs to be repeated several times on that first day and then slowly the milk proportions can change and as soon as possible, the calf can be weaned as it has had a good nutrient intake. Whilst this is happening, the mother will be milked and the highest colostrum proportions will be stored and the mother can contribute to the milk yield. However, is it right to take a calf from its mother immediately? I ask myself this question and yet I still am uncertain of the answer.
Another question which arises to do with calf health is their housing. Is it better to keep calves separately or in groups? The vet suggested that there were a number benefits to both methods. When calves are kept by themselves, it ensures that they get all the food they need and are not intimidated or ‘bullied’ by larger animals. It also means that the farmer can observe the animals individually and will be more likely to spot any problems. However, research has suggested that keeping calves together can develop a stronger immune system and therefore have a positive long term effect on the herd for the calves have a better survival rate and live longer, having more calves and ultimately producing a greater milk yield. In addition to this, when kept in small groups, calves develop social skills from a very young age and will be more likely to be settled and happy when introduced to the main herd, making this stage of their life better and less stressful for both the cattle and the farmer. Because of these numerous pros and cons, the vet left it as an open question to which every farmer could decide upon an answer.
The vet also ran over a number of points concerning the lack of attention many farmers give their calves. She emphasised the need to investigate causes of death and find solutions to prevent diseases, such as calf pneumonia, damaging the future of the cattle. Finally she concluded that farmers often underestimate the importance of calf health despite the fact that it can have such a huge impact on the future productivity of the farm.
I really enjoyed my day at the NEC and although by the end I was tired and exhausted, I left clutching the official guide which is a fountain of knowledge from which I can continue to benefit as I look into the issues affecting dairy farming.