Dairy Herd Fertility and Milk Uplifts After Crystalyx Introduced

Offering dry cows and in-calf heifers free-access feed licks has lifted fertility and early lactation milk yields in a high performing Pembrokeshire dairy herd, with cows producing in excess of 40 litres within 10 days of calving.

Mark and Caroline Davies milk 250 pedigree Holstein Friesian cows in a robotic system at Newhouse Farm, Little Newcastle. It’s a 235-acre grassland farm where the focus is on producing high quality feed from a multi-cut silaging system. In 2022 five cuts of silage were taken, with the first cut analysing at an ME of 11.6MJ/kg, 17.8% protein, 42.1% dry matter and a D-value of 72.4%. The silage is fed in a total mixed ration (TMR) with lucerne hay, grass hay, brewers grains and an 18% blend.

With such good quality forage, heifers receive no concentrates but have access to a Crystalyx feed lick two months before serving. “They get all the minerals and goodness they need from Crystalyx Heifer 730, they really benefit from that build-up of minerals,’’ says Mark. “If heifers are licking the buckets then in our minds there is no doubt that they need what’s in them.’’

Crystalyx Heifer 730 supports gut health and immunity and can be introduced to dairy heifers from 100 days of age. The Davies’ first used it last winter and saw an immediate improvement in heifer fertility.

“It wasn’t that we had much of a problem with fertility before but there was a definite improvement, it helped to push the heifers on. We were using 1.9 straws per conception and now it is 1.4 – that saves money on straws and it means the heifers are getting in calf quicker.’’

Heifers are served at 15 months to calve at two years. The Tynewydd herd produces milk on a level profile, averaging 12,000 litres at 4.59% butterfat and 3.5% protein with milk sold to Muller. The focus is on increasing yields rather than cow numbers, while retaining butterfat and protein; the herd is now achieving 859kg milk solids per cow per year. “We have been selecting for fat and protein weight and percentage for years and it is paying off,’’ says Caroline.

While the milking herd is housed all-year round, the youngstock and far off dry cows graze during the summer months. How to deliver the mineral needs of the herd is an area the Davies’ had been researching before using Crystalyx licks to bridge any mineral gap in the cows. “They are a high performing, high yielding herd and fertility is always a bit of an issue that we are looking to improve, to get that little bit extra,’’ says Mark.

Minerals are not incorporated in the TMR because of the high level of concentrates fed in the robots – a 16% cake fed to a maximum of 14kg for cows producing in excess of 40 litres. “This supplies them with the nutrition they need but we introduce Crystalyx Transition 100 tubs for any extra minerals that might be required,’’ says Mark.

Crystalyx Transition 100Crystalyx Transition 100

This very high energy lick is designed specifically to provide selected key nutrients to help stimulate the appetite and dry feed intake in freshly calved cows.  It improves the energy balance in early lactation by providing a source of rumen-bypass energy for the cow.

Since Crystalyx Transition 100 was used at Newhouse, some cows are producing a milk yield of 40 litres-plus within 10 days of calving. “The time it takes for the cows to get to maximum yield has improved by almost a week,’’ Caroline reports.

And, as with the heifers, there has been a notable improvement in fertility, averaging 1.5 straws per conception – down from 2.2 straws. This has given the couple the confidence to use more sexed semen. “It is quite a lot to achieve, to expect a cow to produce 12,000 litres of milk and hold to sexed semen, but we are now getting a 50% success rate,’’ says Mark.

The herd is run as one group in the new cubicle shed because of constraints on other housing but with the Transition 100 tubs available all the time there is easy access for cows that need them. “Rather than buy mineral bags and provide it in the feed, providing the licks means that a cow can take what she wants when she needs it,’’ says Mark. “Some cows might not have quite the condition on them and they are the ones that we see using the licks, not the well-conditioned cows. It is there for them when they need it.’’

The robot milkers were installed in 2018 when the dairy infrastructure needed updating. The system eases the workload, allowing the couple to spend more time with their daughters, Mari, aged eight, four-year-old Evie, and Carys, who was born in July. “We are trying to build our systems to be less labour intensive,’’ Mark explains. The business employs two part-time workers, Aled James and Becky Young.

With a strong current milk price, Mark says there is no excuse to cut corners on nutrition but suggests farmers should never do that whatever they are paid. “Whether the milk price is good or bad, if the cows need it they have it, and that is the case with the Crystalyx feed licks. “It is no good cutting things out when the price is bad because the reason a farmer will be using a product is because the cows need it.’’