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FAR LEFT Wilder- ley Sman Bluebell VG has recorded the highest LDY at 37.8 kg, 3.86%F, 3.10%P totalling 80 tonnes in five lactations.


LEFT Security and observation CCTV was recently installed.


attention is paid to the stocking density of youngsters as it is to cows – Andrew believes that whilst overstocking is not something that is obviously a problem, freedom of movement is important to allow maximum development, particularly when aiming to serve heifers from 14-months-old. Calves are penned individually up to ten days old before joining a group of four or five. At 15 weeks, heifers are grouped in batches of 15 until reaching 11 months of age and two months after receiving TMR, they are moved into cubicles where they stay until moving to loose yards pre-calving. Wilderley heifers are strong and thrifty without carrying too much condition. Sexed semen is used on maidens and the Higgins’ achieve a 58% conception rate to first service. AI has been used for over 40 years with Bill Senior qualifying as a DIY technician back in 1978, with both Andrew and Bill following suit as soon as they were able. This means there is always someone on hand to serve any heifers and cows when required and Altamate is used to provide insemination lists after each classification visit. Current service sires include Shottle, Overside Dragon, Bolton, Garrison, Jeeves, Mr Minister, Baxter, Icefyre and Wildman with the intention of breeding cows that are not too big or too extreme. Andrew doesn’t get too hung up on type figures, but focuses on an all round, balanced package avoiding overly straight legs. And production figures are never really considered; the Higgins family all share the belief that Holsteins are the best tool in dairy farming doing exactly what is asked of them – producing large quantities of milk. Bill Senior is particularly vociferous when defending the breed and considers most problems are attributable to management issues, something that can be addressed. Once heifers and cows have calved, they are penned within the loose dry cow yard and provided with milking ration and tepid water – pumped into them if necessary to avoid dehydration. Fresh calvers stay in this system for at least a week with their temperature checked on day four and day seven and their dung consistency, intake, rumen fill and yield monitored. Once the Higgins’ are happy that the cow is up to speed, she is transferred into the milking group. 99% do not return to the loose yard once they leave and the Higgins family are happy to maintain high level management at this stage to avoid subsequent issues. Labour and time at Wilderley is always targeted at small groups of the most vulnerable in the belief that if they get this bit right, the main groups of cows and heifers will look after themselves. With that said, there are strict routines applied to looking after the herd’s feet. A professional foot trimmer visits once a month and takes care of routine jobs including a pre-drying off trim and another six to ten weeks post-calving, particularly in fresh calved heifers who have any bruising


dealt with early on, something the brothers believe sorts them out for the long-term. Three full-time Latvian staff are responsible for putting the dry cows through the parlour once a week and washing their feet before foot bathing. This also helps to train in-calf heifers to walk easily into the parlour after calving. Hot wash solution is used regularly in the footbath, which the milking herd go through every other day. Although the herd is managed as a single group, they are housed in three buildings meaning that from leaving the shed for milking to returning, the time taken for each group is never longer than an hour, further minimising foot stress. Andrew also mobility scores every month as an overall check for any problems, not just as a pre-requisite for the Tesco Core Producer milk contract that the Wilderley herd supply - Bill is a farmer rep and chair of the Tesco Centre of Excellence at Liverpool University,


A simple, holistic management approach is the best way to describe the Wilderley system and Bill makes no apologies about sticking to a dedicated routine day in, day out, something that he thinks may well be boring, but produces consistent results. The primary Key Performance Indicator is volume of milk produced per cow, per day (currently 40 kg at 3.98% fat and 3.07 protein) and this is clearly evident when one considers that the family’s herd have appeared in the top NMR listings for the last four years, finally topping it in 2009. A five year plan is in place and after achieving their previous goal, the next includes an increase in numbers to 300 by 2011, possibly replacing mattresses with sand and bringing all youngstock under one roof from the three smaller buildings in use now. As herd management science continues to progress, the Wilderley herd and its astute, far-sighted owners, the Higgins family, will too and it would be no surprise to see them at the head of the national rankings for many more years to come.


24 THE JOURNAL AUGUST 2010


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