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07/08/20, 05:00

Ambitious Devon young farmer embraces dairy career with the help of latest breeding technology

Jess Tapp

140-cow pedigree Holstein Chettiscombe, Chevithorne

With kind consent from the CIS - the article is written by Athwenna Irons Farming and Equestrian Editor, published on Aug 7, 2020 via Devonlive

Fresh from a study tour in the USA, Jess Tapp is embracing a career in dairy farming with help from the latest technology.

“It’s a difficult time for everyone in the dairy industry, it’s fraught with challenges, however I do have confidence in its future. I believe it’s a case of driving efficiency by taking up innovation and for me that includes genomics, a milk pregnancy checker and the latest in colostrum management,” she says.

Jess, who farms with her parents, Ian and Caroline, the 140-cow pedigree Holstein Chettiscombe herd at Chevithorne, near Tiverton, explains: “My objective is to breed a functional cow that both pays the bills and looks good. The herd is currently averaging 10,000 litres on twice-a-day milking and improving herd yield, whilst maintaining solids is amongst my goals, along with the highest standards of health and welfare.”

Following a foundation degree in agriculture at Cannington College, Jess’s ambition was to return to manage the herd and she says she is lucky to get the opportunity, particularly with such a plethora of innovation to hand to progress the business.

“I intend to continue to use genomically tested sires; 90% of our herd has been sired by these bulls, and together with management, they have helped to lift herd yield by 10% to just over 10,000 litres. I’m hoping to further improve yield by both increasing my focus on management and genomic test the heifer calves.

“I’m planning to improve the herd’s reproductive management in order to tighten the calving index already down from 420 to 400 days. I’m using neck collars which detect when a cow is on heat and I’ve introduced a simple complementary milk test from IDEXX that I happened to win in a CIS Dairy Day competition last year; it’s one of those tools I wouldn’t be without now.

“The test measures the level of Pregnancy Associated Glycoproteins (PAG) in the milk 28 days after service, and identifies any cows that are open and need to be served again. These proteins are only present if there is or has been an embryo or foetus, so the test is highly accurate. 

“PAG is so convenient, it goes along with our six-weekly CIS herd milk recording and it’s proving to be over 98% accurate for both positive and negative tested cows. Dad used to routinely PD every served animal at a time when it’s easy to upset a pregnancy whilst it is in the early stages of gestation and still very fragile.

“In contrast, the PAG test is totally non-invasive, and that’s positive for the herd’s welfare. It saves time and labour, and it’s hassle free. It’s a win-win.”

Cows and heifers which have yet to be confirmed in-calf are cross checked with the milk recorder and marked on the computer system to be tested when the milk recorded sample reaches the lab for analysis.

Jess receives a text message from CIS when the results are available to be downloaded on to an App or on line. Turnaround time is within 48 hours. If she needs to check any cows between milk recordings, then individual samples are posted for PAG test.

She says: “If a milk test comes back negative and isn’t in calf, then I can pick out the specific cow, particularly if she had a silent heat, and I can get the vet to have a look at her to find out why.”

Improving early calf management is also on the cards: “I’m planning to use a refractormeter to test our new born calves for blood proteins to ensure they are receiving sufficient colostrum and of high enough quality.”  

Focusing on the young stock was just one of Jess’s take-home ideas from her recent week-long study trip to the USA. A member of Highbridge Young Farmers' Club (YFC) and a committed Holstein Young Breeders’ co-ordinator, she was awarded the Louise Hartley Award for making an outstanding contribution to the breed, Holstein Young Breeders and her own Breeders’ Club. Jess is also took the Holstein Young Breeders’ champion showperson award at the 2019 Mid Devon Show. 

“We visited herds comprising 800 to 35,000 cows, all of which were managed to the highest standards,” she explains, adding: “We were encouraged to consider every cow is a microbusiness, regardless of herd size. Each one needs to be managed on an individual level from making checks during the transition period to looking at performance and making a breeding decision. Very well worthwhile, timely take home advice.”

Jess Tapp
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