Improving dairy herd health using Obsalim - 1st trial

A number of farmers have been using an observation technique originating from France called Obsalim. They wanted to share the approach with others and carry out formal testing to show how effective the technique can be at understanding failings in the distribution or composition of the ration.

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Field Lab Timeline

    3/29/2015 11:00:00 AM
  • First group meeting

    First group meeting
  • 4/11/2015 11:00:00 AM
  • First training session

    First training session
  • 6/19/2015 11:00:00 AM
  • Second training session

    Second training session
  • 7/10/2015 11:00:00 AM
  • Third training session

    Third training session
  • 8/28/2015 11:00:00 AM
  • Fourth training; trial planning

    Fourth training; trial planning
  • 11/17/2015 12:00:00 PM
  • Trial start; Manor Farm: first assessment and records

    Obsalim assessment, diagnosis and adjustments to feeding/ration suggested

    Trial start; Manor Farm: first assessment and records
  • 11/24/2015 12:00:00 PM
  • Park Farm: first assessments and records

    Obsalim assessment, diagnosis and adjustment to feeding/ration suggested

    Park Farm: first assessments and records
  • 12/2/2015 12:00:00 PM
  • Manor Farm; 2nd assessment post changes, records and discussion

    Obsalim assessment, review of changes and further adjustments to feeding/ration

    Manor Farm; 2nd assessment post changes, records and discussion
  • 12/15/2015 12:00:00 PM
  • Manor Farm; 3rd assessment post changes, records and discussion

    Obsalim assessment, review of changes and further adjustment to feeding/ration

    Manor Farm; 3rd assessment post changes, records and discussion
  • 1/19/2016 12:00:00 PM
  • Pidnell Farm: first assessment and records

    Obsalim assessment, diagnosis and adjustment to feeding/ration suggested

    Pidnell Farm: first assessment and records
  • 2/2/2016 12:00:00 PM
  • Manor Farm; 4th assessment post changes, records and discussion

    Obsalim assessment, review of changes and further adjustment to feeding/ration

    Manor Farm; 4th assessment post changes, records and discussion
  • 2/2/2016 12:00:00 PM
  • Pidnell Farm; 2nd assessment post changes, records and discussion

    Obsalim assessment, diagnosis and adjustment to feeding/ration suggeted

    Pidnell Farm; 2nd assessment post changes, records and discussion
  • 3/8/2016 12:00:00 PM
  • Pidnell Farm; 3rd assessment post changes, records and discussion

    Obsalim assessment, diagnosis and adjustment to feeding/ration suggeted

    Pidnell Farm; 3rd assessment post changes, records and discussion
  • 3/22/2016 12:00:00 PM
  • Park Farm; 2nd assessment post changes, records and discussion

    Obsalim assessment, diagnosis and adjustment to feeding/ration suggeted

    Park Farm; 2nd assessment post changes, records and discussion
  • 4/5/2016 11:00:00 AM
  • Park Farm; 3rd assessment post changes, records and discussion

    Obsalim assessment, diagnosis and adjustment to feeding/ration suggested

    Park Farm; 3rd assessment post changes, records and discussion
  • 4/12/2016 11:00:00 AM
  • Park Farm; 4th assessment post changes, records and discussion

    Obsalim assessment, diagnosis and adjustment to feeding/ration suggeted

    Park Farm; 4th assessment post changes, records and discussion
  • 5/3/2016 11:00:00 AM
  • Park Farm - final visit

    Final visit to assess and discuss cows now at grass, review impact of change over the last few weeks

    Park Farm - final visit
  • 6/13/2016 11:00:00 PM
  • Findings meeting

    Findings meeting
  • 1/1/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Field Lab progression

    Field Lab progression
  • 1/1/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Field lab progression

    Field lab progression
  • 1/1/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Field lab progression

    Field lab progression
For further information hover over the above milestone marks
  • Discussion

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  • Achievements

    July 2016

    Final findings meeting - farm conclusions (Manor Farm)

    Manor Farm
    Key changes: Splitting feed into two meals, providing more round feeders so better access for herd to feed together, adding straw to ration. This established a better rhythm of eating and ruminating. With calves and heifers, feeding concentrate in two meals and providing better access to forage through more feeder space allows them to feed together and spend more time ruminating.
    Milk records showed Manor Farm had a notable increase in mean production for the period of the trial on the previous year – there was a 6,000 litre increase in production by the end of December over what was expected. This was achieved on feeding less cake and silage, and not having to dry any cows off early (e.g. better overall health and production of cows). Calf and heifer coat condition and overall appearance improved following changes.

    Milestone: Findings meeting

    July 2016

    Final findings meeting - farm conclusions (Park and Pidnell Farms)

    Park Farm
    Key changes: Cut back silage by 20% which encouraged the cows to eat up and then lie down and ruminate, split concentrate into am and pm feeds. Cut back concentrate feed overall. Added straw to the ration to increase structural fibre and help the cows regulate their rhythm and improve rumen stability.
    Outcomes: Park Farm herd maintained production levels on significantly less cake and silage, so overall better efficiency and cows in better condition (e.g. shiny coats)

    Pidnell Farm
    Key changes: reduced wheat in the ration, split feed into am and pm feeds, added straw and hay to diet to increase structural fibre and help with rumen stability. With dry cows, shut them away from feed in the middle of the day to encourage them to ruminate, started feeding some wheat in addition to just adlib silage to improve protein levels in colostrum.
    Outcomes: Pidnell Farm was not such a clear picture as other factors with silage quality and ration formulation having an impact with cowpats very loose throughout trial period. It was more difficult to see benefits from efforts to establish better synchronisation of feeding and ruminating through splitting the feeds and adding more structural fibre. Improvements were seen in the dry cows with improved rumen stability and protein levels in colostrum.

    Milestone: Findings meeting

    July 2016

    Field lab learning

    Key learnings this field lab has highlighted:

    • The importance of establishing an eating and ruminating cycle in your herd, especially when housed when it is more difficult for them to establish their own rhythm. This helps prevent overeating, improves rumen stability and greater feed efficiency.
    • Allowing the herd to synchronise – where they can eat as one and lie down and ruminate as one and teaching this cycle to calves from the beginning.
    • Don’t disturb cows when they are ruminating, leads to over eating and rumen instability
    • The importance of structural fibre in the diet to improve rumination.

    Overall all farmers were very positive about using the Obsalim system and the benefit to the herd, they enjoyed spending more time looking at and understanding their cows. The main difficulty identified is having the time to learn the cards and then confidence to spot signs and act on them. Chris Gosling commented “it took her 3 or more years to feel really confident in using and applying the system unaided”. Therefore it is felt that this trial is only the beginning and the group would like to continue with a greater focus on training and learning with the cards. They enjoy having the group support as all felt it was easier to spot symptoms on other people’s cows, however also working with your own herd led to better understanding of the effects of making changes. There was also a great benefit in having a group of people to help resolve practical barriers.

    The success of the field lab has sparked a new group to continue investigating the technique. We are looking for new members to join the team so if anyone is interested in joining then please get in contact.

    Milestone: Findings meeting

    May 2016

    Park Farm assessment and changes

    The cows have been out at pasture during the day for last week or two which as expected has resulted in new Obsalim symptoms. The stand out value is fermentable Energy (fE), with the excess energy really being demonstrated in the symptoms identified (e.g. the excitable behaviour, red noses and liquid pats). This energy is being wasted with the lack of structural fibres in the diet allowing the rumen to digest efficiently. There is a need for more structural fibre (hay and straw) to slow digestion and improve rumination resulting in far more efficient utilisation of the feed available. It is suggested the cows are kept in the collecting yard for an hour or two after morning milking and offered hay in order to “line the stomach” with long fibres which will improve the digestion of the grass that then comes on top. Then when out at pasture it is suggested straw is made available to them (couple of round feeders).

    Milestone: Park Farm - final visit

    April 2016

    Park Farm assessment and changes

    We discussed the changes made: straw had been increased and put on top of the silage. Cows had been picking over the straw but some left over. General condition of cows is better with a real shine to their coats although Obsalim assessment shows they are still showing signs of excess energy; It is felt the cows have made good progress in regulating themselves with cleaner back ends and shiny coats but far too much energy. Edward (Farmer) commented that they ran very low of cake so the cows had very little in the parlour and as a result calmed down a lot however he returned cake to normal levels once he had a delivery. It is suggested to reduce the silage and increase the straw and reduce the cake in the parlour further.

    Milestone: Park Farm; 4th assessment post changes, records and discussion

    April 2016

    Park Farm assessment and changes

    Initially following the previous assessment the cake was cut back, this led to a drop in milk and so it was raised again but resulted in the cowpats becoming very soft so the cake was cut again, the milk went down but recovered within a few days. This reduction in concentrate plus the addition of straw had resulted in improvements in the cows. The cows looked much better with a nice bloom! Some signs had gone but some remain so more work to be done. Suggested to add more straw loose on top of silage to prevent over chopping in the mixer. The straw helps to slow the passage of forage down through the rumen resulting in better utilisation of feed.

    Milestone: Park Farm; 3rd assessment post changes, records and discussion

    March 2016

    Park Farm assessment and changes

    Following group assessment, the Obsalim diagnosis is showing too much energy and rumen instability. Silage quality is high making it very palatable, therefore the cows are overeating and the feed is passing through the rumen too quickly. It is suspected the silage is high in sugar therefore there the additional parlour cake is providing excess energy. Suggested to increase the straw content to increase course fibres but ensure cows still eat the ration. Add the straw on top of the silage loose. Additionally cut down the cake in the parlour to reduce the overall energy.

    Milestone: Park Farm; 2nd assessment post changes, records and discussion

    March 2016

    Pidnell Farm assessment and changes

    While assessing the cows there appeared to be a clear difference between the symptoms being shown by the large cows and that of the small cows (largely heifers). The large cows showed few symptoms. There has been change to the ration with new bought in silage being fed which has had improvement to the pat structure also resulted in increased yield overall. The small cows could be identified as showing many symptoms; with very high rumen instability. It is felt some crowding is a contributing factor to this. The cubicle house is currently at maximum stocking rate which is leading to space restrictions and the small cows rushing their food. The herd needs to be able to function as one unit – when they know they aren’t able to do this, such as if space is restricted then “strange” things happen regards herd function. The stocking rate needs to be reduced so that all cows can comfortably eat when they want for as long as they want. This will be happening over the next week as cows get turned out.

    Milestone: Pidnell Farm; 3rd assessment post changes, records and discussion

    February 2016

    Manor Farm - final visit

    This final visit leaves the cows at Manor Farm in a very good place, with improved synchronised feeding and ruminating, maintaining production on less concentrate and forage and the cows "looking better". No cows have been dried off early as all have maintained condition. The farmers have grown in confidence in both using the cards and observing the signs and having the confidence to act on them.

    Milestone: Manor Farm; 4th assessment post changes, records and discussion

    February 2016

    Pidnell Farm assessment and changes

    The adjustments to the ration following the last assessment included reduction of ½ kg wheat to 4kg, increase in straw by ½ kg to 1kg total fed per head and reduction in soya by 0.25 kg to 0.75 kg. There had also been a reduction in the mixing of the ration so the cows are presented with a feed that has longer fibres that moves more slowly through the rumen. This had benefited the cows with improvement in the cowpats; they were still soft but not as liquid as before. Mastitis cases had gone down, with only 2 cases in the last 7 days. The milk had stayed the same. The Obsalim diagnosis taken today is stating still too much energy, and a need to cut back further. There is an excess of fermentable protein and fermentable fibres, all resulting in poor rumen stability. It is felt a further reduction in wheat is not going to be accepted; therefore in order to improve digestion rumen stability needs to be improved. It is suggested to increase the straw content of the diet in order to have greater long fibres in the diet and slow down the ration passing through the rumen. Resulting in improved stability and absorption of energy and protein, also to reduce the total amount of feed fed per head.

    Milestone: Pidnell Farm; 2nd assessment post changes, records and discussion

    January 2016

    Pidnell Farm assessment and changes

    Using the cards the herdsman had made a diagnosis of too much energy on previous Obsalim assessments he had made (and the wheat had been dropped by 1kg one and half weeks ago) but again on today’s group assessment this remains the stand out factor. This suggests too much fast fermenting starch within the diet, the excess of energy causing a drop in the pH and negative effect on activity of rumen flora. It is suggested there needs to be a further reduction in energy. Therefore it is planned to reduce the wheat quantity within the ration further. It is suggested to cut by a further ½ kg straight away and then reduce by another ½ kg more steadily over a few days. The stand out factor within the dry cows was rumen instability suggesting a high amount of fermentable food (excessive eating) and an irregularity of feeding pattern between morning and evening. These cows are fed only once a day so it is thought they are over eating in the morning and not giving themselves a regular period to ruminate in the middle of the day. Additionally a negative global protein was noted an it was mentioned colostrum quality has been poor and lacking in protein. It was not possible to feed in two meals so it was suggested the cows were shut into their straw yard (away from feed) at around 11.30am and then let them have access to feed again around 4pm.

    Milestone: Pidnell Farm: first assessment and records

    December 2015

    Manor Farm assessment and changes

    Following assessment the stand out Obsalim criteria remains rumen stability although the symptoms showed signs of improvement, there are still improvements to be made to slow down the passage of food through the rumen and improve rumen stability. It is thought that increasing the course structural fibres has been of benefit (a wheel barrow of straw has been spread across all the feeders) however there has been a switch to a lower protein cake (24% protein to 20% protein) and it is thought that the effect has been less protein being available to the rumen bacteria for efficient rumination. Therefore instability is still occurring. In order to raise the protein level (and also provide some additional energy) it is suggested to increase the cake ration in the parlour. Initially adjusting by around ¼ kg and then adjusting further depending on the change (or lack) of symptoms in the cows. It was noted that some cows appeared to be chewing excessively – additionally indicating a lack of rumen instability it was suggested that looking at the more refined symptoms of counting the number of chews (cards 44 and 45) would help further with making the correct adjustments.

    Milestone: Manor Farm; 3rd assessment post changes, records and discussion

    December 2015

    Manor Farm assessment and changes

    Following assessment at this second visit the stand out Obsalim criteria remains rumen stability. Although the symptoms showed signs of improvement, with cows coats improving, less spinal chill and overall improved synchronising of eating and ruminating; cows collectively lying down and ruminating for a few hours in the middle of the day. There are still improvements to be made to slow down the passage of food through the rumen and improve rumen stability. It is thought that increasing the course structural fibres will slow down the rumen. Therefore introducing straw into the diet would improve stability and improve absorption of nutrients as there remains negative global energy (the amount of energy absorbed by the cow) suggesting the cows are losing weight even though the energy available to the rumen flora is positive.

    Milestone: Manor Farm; 2nd assessment post changes, records and discussion

    November 2015

    Park Farm assessment and changes

    Following learnings at the previous meeting regards the importance of establishing two synchronised feeding and ruminating periods; they had cut the silage back in the last week (dropped by 20%) to encourage cows to finish up the ration by 12.00 and then go and lie down and ruminate until milking (being fed again during milking c.16.00). This reduction in silage had resulted in no drop in milk, therefore would demonstrate the change had resulted in improved feed efficiency. Following a group assessment the symptoms identified suggests there is still some rumen instability so improvements can still be made. It is thought that increasing the course fibres will slow down the rumen therefore increasing the straw content would improve stability and improve absorption of protein correcting the current negative protein.

    Milestone: Park Farm: first assessments and records

    November 2015

    Change to feeding at Manor Farm - split ration into two meals

    In order to force the cows to establish this ruminating phase over lunch time and eat fewer meals it is suggested the current ration is split into two feeds.
    c.8.30 – feed half the ration with the expectation they will run out of feed by c.12.00
    12.00 – 15.00 empty troughs to force all cows to lie down and ruminate.
    c.15.00 – feed second half of ration with the expectation this will run out early hours am.

    Milestone: Trial start; Manor Farm: first assessment and records

    August 2015

    Fourth training session

    Lotmead Farm: Fourth full training session in Obsalim, initial discussion around what member of the group had done in the last weeks regards observing symptoms then observation of dry cows and heifers, calves and milking herd led by Edward, identifying symptoms, finding the cards and then discussing management changes. We also had a discussion regarding confidence in using the cards going into the trial and how people felt about being left to get on with it. Appeared to be a lack of confidence in knowing what changes to make therefore it was decided the trial will take more of a case buy case approach with the group working together to diagnose symptoms and decide on agreed changes the host farmer will implement.

    Milestone: Fourth training; trial planning

    July 2015

    Third training session

    Pidnell Farm: Third full training session in Obsalim, initial discussion around what member of the group had done in the last weeks regards observing symptoms then observation of dry cows and milking herd led by Edward, identifying symptoms, finding the cards and then discussing management changes.

    Milestone: Third training session

    June 2015

    Second training session

    Park Farm: Second full training session in Obsalim, initial discussion around what member of the group had done in the last weeks regards observing symptoms then observation of calves and milking herd led by Edward, identifying symptoms, finding the cards and then discussing management changes.

    Milestone: Second training session

    April 2015

    Second meeting

    Manor Farm: First full training session in Obsalim, initial discussion around what member of the group had done in the last weeks regards observing symptoms then observation of milking herd and calves led by Edward, identifying symptoms, finding the cards and then discussing management changes.;

    Milestone: First training session

    March 2015

    First meeting

    Berkeley Farm: Following introductions from group members of farm details and interest and current use of observation techniques and Obsalim, Chris Gosling discussed her experience with Obsalim and why she wanted others to learn from the system. Edward De Beukelaer gave a detailed introduction to Obsalim, the theory behind the technique and application. We discussed briefly what we wanted from the trial regards further case studies and more evidence of the benefits to the herd of using the Obsalim technique. But it was also felt as it is rather like learning a new language it was important to capture how easy members of group found learning the technique, recognising the symptoms and most importantly gaining the confidence to make changes based on a diagnosis.

    It was agreed that the first stage needed to be a training/learning phase where members of the group gained confidence in the technique therefore a series of training sessions were planned for over the summer and then the trial would start the following autumn once the cows were back in housing and herdsman had the closer control over what the animals were eating.

    Milestone: First group meeting

  • Findings

    September 2016

    Key findings

    Key learnings this field lab has highlighted:

    • The importance of establishing an eating and ruminating cycle in your herd, especially when housed when it is more difficult for them to establish their own rhythm. This helps prevent overeating, improves rumen stability and greater feed efficiency.

    • Allowing the herd to synchronise – where they can eat as one and lie down and ruminate as one and teaching this cycle to calves from the beginning.

    • Don’t disturb cows when they are ruminating, leads to over eating and rumen instability

    • The importance of structural fibre in the diet to improve rumination.

    Overall all farmers were very positive about using the Obsalim system and the benefit to the herd, they enjoyed spending more time looking at and understanding their cows. The main difficulty identified is having the time to learn the cards and then confidence to spot signs and act on them. Chris Gosling commented “it took her 3 or more years to feel really confident in using and applying the system unaided”. Therefore it is felt that this trial is only the beginning and the group would like to continue with a greater focus on training and learning with the cards. They enjoy having the group support as all felt it was easier to spot symptoms on other people’s cows, however also working with your own herd led to better understanding of the effects of making changes. There was also a great benefit in having a group of people to help resolve practical barriers.

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