Keeping a beady eye on milk recording data and the wellbeing of his cows, Charlie MacGillivray runs an award-winning Holstein herd, writes Robyn Joubert.
Charlie MacGillivray is awell-known figure in the Holstein Breed Society and a founding member of Midlands Milk. In 2008 he earned second place in the KZN Master Dairyman of the Year competition, for the second year in a row. Charlie is passionate about the Holstein breed and his own cows in particular.
Since he joined his father Neil on 430ha Gartmore Farm near Howick 36 years ago, the milk production of MacNeil Holsteins has increased in leaps and bounds. “When I started, we averaged 3 500kg in 305 days,” says Charlie. “Now, we average 8 995kg in 305 days on official milk recording. There are a number of reasons for this, including a better understanding of how and what to feed our cows and genetic improvement. It’s important to have more than enough good quality fodder to feed the genes.”
Getting to greatness
Charlie says milk recording has been central to the success of both herd and breed improvement. He’s kept a trained eye on bloodlines and traits in his breeding programme, selecting for milk production, hoof and leg conformation, udder conformation and, more recently, somatic cell count scores. He’s paid scant attention to butterfat and protein percentage, as that is paid as kilograms of milk.
Culling is most often based on factors such as mastitis and poor fertility and, to a far lesser extent, udder collapse. “The success of sire selection and cow classification is evident when considering the volume of milk produced and the fact that udders generally see out the cows’ productive lives,” he says.
Using Dairy Information Systems South Africa (DIMSSA), a comprehensive dairy management programme which records all aspects of performance, Charlie has been able to make informed daily decisions on a wide spectrum of factors, including genetic improvement. The biggest problem Charlie encountered when he started out was limiting short lactations to below 20% of the herd. “Today my biggest problem is drying cows off, even after 500 days in milk if they don’t recalve, when they’re still giving 25 a day,” explains Charlie. “Many lactate for over 305 days and the voluntary waiting period is 70 days.”
The steep increase in milk production is also thanks to the quality and quantity of fodder produced, and the use of supplementary concentrates.
Charlie can lose 15% to 20% of summer grazing to “duck ponds” in a rainy season, making fodder reserves essential. “Our overall pasture harvest, my apparent Achilles’ Heel, is often criticised by Kiwis and Aussies, but my weakness is a greater empathy for cows than for grass. I’ll ensure their needs ahead of pasture requirements. But I concede that with more emphasis on pasture management, I could improve profitability, and I have hired a manager.”
Charlie uses a pasture-based system with maize as a supplement. “We feed maize silage all year round, but sometimes, like in summer, we only feed a small amount,” says Charlie. “All silage is fed from a mixer wagon and measured out according to drymatter requirements.
“Other ingredients are added to the mix to ensure the protein and energy portions of the overall diet are correctly balanced. In mid-winter, silage mixes can make up about 40% of the daily drymatter intake.”
Maize silage is fed for its nutritional value, and the secondary benefits of structural fibre and drymatter. Cows are fed an above-average level of concentrates.
“Concentrates or bought-in feed make up 30,39% of total feed, a tad higher than the average of 27,6% achieved by subscribers to the Pasture Association’s Utilisation report, but a lot less than the report’s maximum of 36%,” says Charlie. “This indicates concentrate is fed on top of a full rumen of roughage and we don’t rely on drymatter only. Start with a full rumen and you’re 95% on the way to high production.”
Charlie says he runs 1 454kg of cows per hectare. Milk production is 38,2/ha/day, significantly above the Pasture Association average of 27/ha/day and its highest average of 36/ha/day. He sells 13 961 of milk/ha/per year, 1 000kg above high-end Pasture Association report averages. “The figures prove the wisdom of feeding cows optimally, using available resources with supplementary concentrates to make up the difference,” explains Charlie.
“A dairy cow has to be full every day to be happy, productive and reproductive. The one thing I’ve learnt in 36 years is that if you lead your cow numbers with enough food and the right cows, they’ll never disappoint you. Cows are the most honest creatures God ever made and they give us more than we deserve sometimes.”
Contact Charlie MacGillivray on 082 809 2590. |fw