Richaven Holsteins: Breeding For Success With Crystalyx

Crystalyx Richaven Holsteins

Simple approach delivers exceptional results from top quality genetics.

Complexity and high-cost systems are not a prerequisite for milking some of the best cows in the country as Richard and Dawn Bown, their son Daniel and daughter Hannah are showing at Northfield Farm in Hanley Castle near Worcester.

When they formed the Richaven herd in 1993, the objective was to create a high yielding herd of pedigree Holstein which would be well-known throughout the UK and from which they could sell animals and embryos to other breeders and animals to commercial producers who would be sure they would milk efficiently.

Since then the family has delivered on all these objectives, achieved considerable show success and been awarded Holstein UK Master Breeder status in 2010 and 2021.  Having trimmed back the show programme, there is still great interest in stock and herd sales.  And all this from a herd managed on a very simple system with a focus on maximising contribution from forage.

“Our goal has been to breed good functional animals and to grow them into cows with the ability to consume plenty of forage and convert it into high quality milk,” Richard comments.  “At the same time we did not want an over-elaborate and complicated system.”

There are currently 85 all year-round calving cows in the predominantly young herd with 33% heifers as older cows have been moved on.  Milked twice a day, the herd is averaging 10950 litres at 4.19% fat and 3.20% protein.  Heifers are averaging 9493 litres, second calvers 12075 litres, third calvers 11662 litres and older cows 12771 litres. 

The herd averages between 35-37 litres per cow per day with an average of 160-190 days in milk.  Cell counts are running at 100,000cells/ml.

In the summer the cows are grazed, turning out in April.  They are buffer fed grass and maize silage and protein to help maintain high intakes and are fed dairy cake in the parlour.

They are housed in late October in straw yards and are forage box fed a mix of 60% grass silage: 40% maize, adlib hay or haylage and 1.5-2kg of protein depending on forage quality, again with dairy cake to yield in the parlour.  Overall cows are fed 3000kg concentrates/year.

The philosophy of a simple system is applied to the management of heifers and transition cows and Richard is a keen user of feed blocks.  He first used the Crystalyx Easy Breather blocks with calves 10 years ago and has used them ever since, recently moving to the new dairy range.

Crystalyx blocks are a dehydrated molasses-based block, manufactured in a patented process which slowly dehydrates the molasses.  Minerals and trace nutrients are added to produce what is often described as a ‘mineralised treacle toffee’ which is palatable and more durable than traditional poured molasses blocks.

“We look to calve heifers down between 24-26 months old as we need them to be able to come into the herd and compete with the cows as there is no heifer group.  We want them well grown and able to develop more.  The first lactation yields we are achieving show that the system is working.”

Calves are weaned at two months old and move onto an 18% calf rearer pellet.  For the first three months they are fed straw before moving onto coarse Timothy/ryegrass hay.  At 6-7 months old they move onto haylage up until pre-calving.  No heifer will have silage until three weeks pre-calving and nothing under 12 months old goes out to graze.

From five months old, calves have access to the Crystalyx Heifer 730 block which has been specifically developed to meet the requirements of growing heifers.  It is dehydrated molasses based to provide essential sugars to fuel rumen fermentation.  A blend of Linseed Oil and Palm Fatty Acid Distillate provide a supply of omega-3 fatty acids to enhance health.  A fat-encapsulated butyrate precursor encourages better development of the intestine promoting better nutrient absorption.

ß glucans (yeast cell walls) stimulate the immune system and MOS helps reduce pathogen binding to intestinal cell walls while encouraging proliferation of beneficial bacteria for better absorption of nutrients.  

Crystalyx Heifer 730, Richaven Holsteins

“The blocks work by stimulating an increase in the populations of rumen bugs,” explains Crystalyx Technical Director Dr Cliff Lister.  “This results in an increase in fibre digestion with trials confirming increased fibre digestibility and more nutrients available to the animal.”

Richard explains that feeding blocks is very simple and he just puts out one block per pen, replacing it when necessary.  No blocks are fed to heifers at grass.

Feed blocks are also an integral part of the dry cow and transition management on the farm.  Richard aims for two months dry.  Far off dry cows graze poorer quality grass.  In the winter they will be fed average quality silage.

Three weeks pre-calving, cows and any heifers due are moved into a calving yard and fed adlib grass and maize silage with hay plus 2kg of dry cow rolls and the Crystalyx Transition Dry Cow block.  The blocks are formulated to balance nutritional deficits in forage-based diets, providing a full supply of minerals, trace elements and vitamins.  They ensure cows develop a robust immune system to help withstand the rigours of calving and the challenges of early lactation.

Crystalyx Transition Dry Cow, Richaven Holsteins

“The challenges of transition are well understood,” comments Cliff Lister.  “A cow that transitions well will calve down with a low incidence of transition related metabolic diseases, will endure a short period of minimal Negative Energy Balance, building dry matter intakes quickly as she settles into lactation.  Then very importantly she will get back in calf again quickly.

“Transition management needs to focus on encouraging dry matter intakes to reduce the energy gap when appetite lags behind the demand for nutrients for milk.  At the same time it is important to maintain a strong and effective immune system to help reduce the consequences of metabolic diseases and avoid energy being diverted away from milk production.

“In trials where transition cows were supplemented with the blocks we saw better dry matter intakes and fibre digestibility.  They had fewer days to first service, improved conception rates and fewer services to conception.  Together these added up to a 21 day reduction in calving interval, worth around £85 per cow.”

Typical dry cow intakes of blocks are 200g/cow/day.  The blocks can be placed in the feed troughs and it does not matter if they get covered with straw or TMR as cows will soon uncover them. 

Richard says that since changing to the blocks cows have calved down well and settled into lactation quickly with little to no signs of ketosis.  As soon as an animal calves it gets 30 litres of a rehydration supplement.  Any cows three lactations or more routinely receives a calcium bolus.

“We are seeing cows milking well with a better appetite, peaking at 55-60kg.  Rebreeding is also good.  All cows get sexed semen as the results have improved.  It is very rare we have a cow more than 110 days in milk and not served and our calving interval is running at 397-400 days, helped by the fact we are doing less embryo work.  Flushing can greatly add to a herds calving interval.

“The blocks are a simple and effective way to supplement transition cows and heifers and fit well into our overall approach,” Richard points out.  “They are a low labour system and usage is easily monitored with blocks replaced as required.