Working smarter not harder is Matthew’s motto
Expanding a dairy herd from 180 cows to 500 cows inside six months was no small challenge but for Shropshire duo William Cawley and Matthew Ingram it was the right decision, despite having to milk a new herd of cows through the greatest downturn in recent memory.
Matthew was nearing the end of a 10-year contract farming arrangement running the dairy when William came home in 2013 to start to take over the management of his family's estate and, by 2014, he and Matthew had hatched the plan to expand the herd under a new 20-year arrangement. The Cawley Farms Partnership provided the new cubicle shed, slurry lagoon, milking parlour, cow tracks and grassland, and Matthew supplied the extra cows, machinery and staff – all built between August 2014 and March 2015.
“Unfortunately, the new parlour wasn't finished quite in time,” Matthew remembers, “we had to milk nearly 500 cows through our old nine aside herringbone parlour for six weeks. It was impossible to concentrate on the build and the herd, and we ended up milking them every 18 hours to get through.”
But now, some 18 months later, he’s looking back at this period as being a defining time in his career in farming, and his investment in the latest Tru-Test EID technology is making his job easier.
With autumn block calving, and 245 of the cows calving inside the first 13 days, technology plays a vital role – not just in time savings, but also by taking the worry out of the job.
“When you’re recording ear tag numbers manually across this number of cows, it’s obvious you’re going to make some mistakes. You go back to the office and check the records and realise 516 couldn’t be the cow you recorded, it has to be 615. I used to spend a lot of time chasing errors now, quite simply, there’s no room for them.”
Matthew invested around £3000 in his Tru-Test XRS stick reader, and a Tru-Test weigh platform, the EziWeigh 7i that is easy to move between buildings or units.
“To me, having this equipment is an absolute no-brainer. It saves valuable time and money – one person can do a job it used to take two of us to do. It gets rid of paper, is 100% accurate, and makes tedious routines such as TB testing, AI and general recording so easy.”
By autumn 2016, each calf, heifer and cow carried the button-style EID tag in its left ear, and soon got used to the wand being swiped across the front of their heads.
But what was the original motivation for investing in EID technology?
“Weighing accurately,” he says. “The first thing we did was weigh all our calves and, to be honest, we were horrified. They should have weighed 150kgs and a lot weighed 110kgs. We were bringing heifers into the herd when they were too small. At this point we had a clear out, as some were never going to catch up.”
He says the equipment paid for itself in the first six months. At the moment, the information on each cow is kept separately in Excel worksheets that can be run as individual reports. The next step is to marry up the wand information with his management accounts, which will be another labour-saving transition.
“We’ve tended to weigh a group at a time, and this gives a group average – even with the poor weights the group average was looking OK. So, it was easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. Now, each time an individual cow is weighed, we can see her daily liveweight gain, and keep a very close track on how she’s doing.”
Matthew uses the wand for his TB testing: “The vet would come with 48 pages of paperwork, and would have to find each cow by locating her number somewhere in those 48 pages. Now we can list the cows in the same way that they appear on his paperwork and it’s so easy to put in the skin readings. Again, it’s saving one person in terms of staff, and is 100% accurate, which is vital.”
Having failed a TB test, the farm has been locked up since July 2017, so all bull calves have been kept in a separate shed ready for sale. “We’ve had up to 180 in the shed, and they’re sold to a neighbour. Again, with the wand, it’s been so easy to record which ones are sold and match up their passports and records.
“Every cow that calves gets scanned into the herd – probably 25 cows a day – this used to be a nightmare. People get tired, and record the numbers wrongly. Now we’ve removed any margin for error.”
Every member of staff has the Tru-Test app on their smartphone, so record keeping across the farm is kept simple
“We’ve definitely got a lot smarter with this software. We’ve halved the amount of time we spend doing AI, certainly halved the time it takes to keep records, and quite honestly I don’t have to worry about the accuracy of what’s happening. It’s idiot proof and I would be completely lost without it.."