Currently, the ration consists of maize silage (20 kg fresh weight), grass silage (18.5 kg fresh weight) and pressed pulp (5.7 kg fresh weight) These forages are supplemented with dry maize meal (2.6 kg) and protein meal (3.1 kg). Other additional supplements include a specialised rumen buffer, sodium bicarbonate, limestone and the mineral containing OmniGen. The feed supplier takes samples of all forages, for analysis with ration adjustments made accordingly.
This basic ration at the feed fence is further supplemented with concentrates in the AMS/parlour fed to yield, including one to meet the requirements for the milk to be produced under the label of ‘methane reduction in dairy cattle’. Bert and Mieke are convinced that dairy farming should be done in the most socially responsible way possible and this includes cows going out to pasture for 3 hours a day throughout the summer.
Cows currently yield 31.1 kg of milk at 188 days in milk with milk quality of 4.58% fat and 3.61% protein. In the winter months, the contents are even higher (in October, cows gave 30 kg of milk with 4.8% fat and 3.9% protein)
Cows are typically dried off using antibiotics with dry cows kept in one group throughout the dry period. "That way there is no stress from group changes," says Mieke. The dry cow diet consists of maize silage (18 kg fresh weight), grass silage (7 kg fresh weight) and chopped barley straw (2.7 kg). In addition, cows are given the dry cow mineral pellet with OmniGen and are also vaccinated to prevent calf diarrhoea. Colostrum milk from the first milking is measured with a refractometer with colostrum quantity and quality typically good. Most colostrum from first milking has a Brix value between 25 and 30 with surplus colostrum frozen if the Brix value is more than 26.
The newborn calf receives adequate colostrum and then milk from its own mother for another 3 to 4 days. Bull calves continue to receive cow's milk (up to 12 litres per day) with heifer calves reared on CMR from four days old, building up to an intake of 8 litres per day to supply just over 1 kg of CMR per day.
One week after birth, chopped barley straw is provided alongside the calf pellet (which also contains OmniGen) with Mieke noting that straw as a supplement works better than hay, ensuring calves continue to consume sufficient concentrate in their early life.
Weaning occurs at 11 to 13 weeks of age when calves are consuming 2 kg per day of the starter pellet. Between 3 and 6 months, calves are fed the dairy ration, further supplemented by 2 kg of rearer pellet. Between 6 and 10 months, dairy concentrate is provided and there is a reduction to 0.5 kg of concentrates at that stage (to 1.5 kg per day). From 10 months of age, only grass silage is provided and depending on the quality of the silage, straw is sometimes supplemented. Bert and Mieke do not offer youngstock a separate mineral supplement to the young cattle until now, but recognise that supplementing this would definitely be useful to support fertility. "In cows, fertility is better than in young stock," Bert and Mieke say. Supplementation with a specific young stock mineral is therefore being strongly considered.
Bert and Mieke are convinced of the importance of engagement in discussion groups, to promote the dairy sector.
For example, Bert is chairman of the dairy farming circle Boerenbond in his local area of Oudenaarde.
We had a pleasant conversation with 2 enthusiastic people who continue to look positively at the future in the dairy sector.
We thank Mieke and Bert for their enthusiasm, their openness in the conversation.
Stefaan Vander Meiren