Herd health top priority on German dairy farm

The farm uses a good dry-cow management plan and maintains a healthy herd to help reduce the use of antibiotics

At Markus Hubers’ dairy farm in the North Rhine Westphalia region of Germany near Rees, it’s all about tight management and paying attention to detail.

His farm, the Lima Holstein herd of 325 dairy cows, is in the top three percent of the largest dairy herds in Germany and has been in the family for 50 years. It extends to 175 acres owned and 130 acres rented and is used for grass and crop production.

The farm produces 3.4 million kilograms of milk per year.

“We are primarily a breeding stock farm with high emphasis on herd health and low antibiotic use,” said Hubers. “We breed on type and emotion here as well.

“I don’t want ugly cows; I want healthy, good-looking animals in my barn. I like the deep rump cows and that’s what I try to achieve.”

Hubers uses a good dry-cow management plan and maintains a healthy herd to help reduce the use of antibiotics on the farm starting with the calves.

Due to the restrictions of Germany’s Phosphates Directive, Hubers farms in partnership with another farming system a few kilometres away.

To comply with the phosphates application quotas, Hubers splits up his young stock and sends half to his business partner’s farm from around two weeks of age to be contract reared.

This keeps his farm under the phosphates quota levels and allows him to maintain the current level of cows.

“Herd health is hugely impacted by the social stress of the animal,” he said. “That’s why we also split the cows into groups to try and maintain some uniformity between the animals. I have one student on the farm that is in charge of visually assessing the cows each day looking out for any health problems.

“We use a large herd health board on which we record any problems and can then discuss the best method of treating that problem.

“We vaccinate and de-worm cows regularly and trim hoofs four times per year to ensure lameness is as low as possible,” he said.

The cows are kept indoors all year long and are milked by five DeLaval robots that are now nine years old.

The cows are split into three groups: high yielding, low yielding and fresh calved groups.

On average, the herd is yielding 10,628 kilograms of milk per cow per year at 3.47 percent protein and 4.04 percent butterfat. The high yielders are averaging 48 kg per cow per day, the low yielders 29.4 kg and the heifer group 30 kg each per day. Markus has a goal to calve the heifers at 24 months but his average currently sits at 25.7 months.

He also sits on the board of directors at Arla, the processor to which he supplies milk.

“Realistically, I need 34 to 35 euro cents per kilo to be able to run the farm. The payment I receive for sitting on Arla’s board pays for my one full-time labour.

“I try to keep a younger herd and in fact 89 percent of the herd are second or third calvers. Two weeks before calving we reduce the feed to the cows and vaccinate for clostridia. All emphasis here is on prevention rather than treatment.”

The average somatic cell count of the herd is around 210,000, which is quite high given all the precautions Hubers takes to ensure the herd is clean and healthy but he puts this down to one particular group of cows.

“We have a high SCC in the middle group of cows where animals are leaving and entering this group more frequently at drying off times and re-entering after calving.

“It also could have something to do with that particular part of the building, which has a lower roof structure which could affect air flow. It could be a number of reasons but I am still content with the overall SCC count.”

Asked if he would expand the herd again, Hubers was adamant that he would not go through it all again given the restrictions on farming from the European Commission and lack of land.

Given the increase in action from vegans against milk, Hubers believes dairy farmers need to understand them more.

“When at battle we need to understand our enemy more. Dairy farmers do not understand vegans and vegans do not understand dairy farmers. That must change in the future if we are to blend together,” he said.

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