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Excellent performance figures on dairy farm thanks to attention to detail

Mark Truman, Hill Top Farm, Leicestershire

Mark Truman, Hill Top Farm, Leicestershire


Running a contracting business alongside a dairy farm means life is extremely hectic for the Truman family of Hill Top Farm, Leicestershire. Despite the many challenges, attention to detail is never compromised and the excellent performance figures are testament to this.

The herd of 208 Holstein Friesians at Hill Top Farm, Leicestershire, average a milk yield of 41 litres per cow per day and fertility rates are currently 2.5 services per conception. Nevertheless, they are always looking at ways to improve and so signed up for the Alltech Navigate service.

Alltech visited Hill Top Farm in April 2019. Mr Truman says: “Alltech arrived with a boot full of equipment so he could test our silage. “They took density and temperature measurements and visually assessed the silage.

“I was interested to see what he would find because our first cut silage is always very soft and we find the shear grab cannot cut it properly at the face.”

Mr Truman farms just over 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of which, more than 900ha (2,225 acres) is arable, but grass silage still forms the most important element of the partial mixed ration.

A silage cut is taken once a month and this year due to an early season, the first cut was taken on the 20th April.

“Normally we would take a first cut on May 5 but this year the grass was ready so we mowed and the bulk was similar to our usual first cut. The grass came into the clamp very fast so even though we compact it care-fully, it may not be entirely consistent across the whole clamp,” Mr Truman says.

Alltech’s assessment of the clamp revealed some losses, particularly at the top of the clamp and he made several suggestions during the visit which were reiterated in Mr Truman’s detailed Navigate report.

The main recommendation was to improve density down the silage clamp wall side, especially on the left-hand side. This could be achieved by using another tractor to compact throughout the process of clamp filling.

"Making a tighter, quicker seal over the clamp reduces aerobic activity and improves the quality of the silage"


Ensuring the layers of grass are no thicker than 15cm will also help to improve consolidation, Alltech advised Mr Truman to sheet the clamp overnight wherever possible and should use side sheets down to one metre in from wall on floor with end to end gravel bags down the sides and back. A tighter, quicker seal will reduce aerobic activity and improve quality.

Mr Truman acknowledges these measures will potentially reduce losses and he is keen to adopt what he has learned from the Alltech Navigate process to improve the quality of the silage made both on his own farm and for his clients. Mr Truman has robots, so he is able to assess a wide range of indicators demonstrating how the cows are performing on the ration.

“Cows visit the robots on average between three and 3.5 times-a-day and the robots record how many times they are ruminating,” says Mr Truman.

At the moment, the figure for the herd is around 425 times whereas the optimum we are aiming for is 475-500 times per day.

“This shows there is room for improvement in rumen function and the Alltech visit pointed to the lack of scratch factor in our ration. This is because our first cut silage and last year’s straw is very soft meaning the cows are not getting enough fibre in their diet,” Mr Truman says.

“Alltech suggested we discuss the protein balance in the ration with our nutritionist. He has advised that we look to include more fibre in the cow’s diet. This will hopefully improve rumen health and therefore cow health and yield.”

The figures show fertility across the herd is no cause for concern but Mr Truman is keen to identify measures which could improve it further. The Alltech Navigate report pointed to the need to reassess total mineral balance and potentially reduce and replace the inorganics in the diet, directing Mr Truman to his nutritionist to discuss the issue in more detail.

“The visit was much more detailed than I had expected but it was very interesting and it has given me plenty to think about so I can make small changes moving forwards”.

Herd statistics:

  • Milk yield averages 41 litres per cow per day.
  • Butterfat is 4 per cent and protein 3.37 percent.
  • Somatic cell count averages 130,000.
  • Alongside the partial mixed ration comprising of grass silage, straw and a blend, cows are fed about 1.5 tonnes to2t of concentrate a day to yield at the robots. The total ration cost averages 20p per 1kg of dry matter intake.

Farm facts:

  • Mark Truman farms at Hill Top Farm, near Old Dalby, Leicestershire. The farm extends to just over 1,000 hectares (2500 acres) including the land he share farms as part of his contracting business.
  • Most of this land is arable but 70ha (173 acres) is a mixture of permanent and temporary grass. The year of the report (2019), Mr Truman is growing 20ha (50 acres) of maize which forms part of the ration for the dairy herd – usually he will grow up to 40ha (100 acres) of maize in a year.
  • Most of the cereals are sold off-farm but some are milled and mixed on-farm and form part of the ration.
  • The dairy herd of 240 Holstein Friesians is all year round calving and of the total, around 208 cows form the milking herd and are housed throughout. Dry cows and some stale cows are turned out over the summer months along with followers.
  • Sexed semen is used selectively to provide herd replacements which are reared at Hill Top Farm. Heifers are also occasionally bought in. The remainder of the cows are served by a Belgian Blue or Limousin bull. The calves born to these cows comprise the 120 head beef herd and animals are usually sold as stores.