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Must-attend immersive event for progressive producers (Sept 23)

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

TotalDairy Conference 2023 is set to share the latest technology and information focusing on ‘Meeting the needs of producers, consumers and cows’. We spoke to delegates to find out why it’s a firm date in their annual calendar.


Have you booked your place at this year’s TotalDairy Conference, which will be held on November 8 and 9 in Stratford-upon-Avon? Somerset-based producer Ollie Blackburn, who runs a 350-cow herd, plus 130 followers, on the Dillington Estate, has and is eagerly anticipating this year’s event.


“I’ve attended for the past two years. I wasn’t sure what to expect back in 2021. I knew there’d be a strong dairy focus and lots of technical information, but I didn’t know if it would all be accessible to me, as a producer. But it was.


“There was a colour-coded system that highlighted the sessions that were more producer-focused and practical – and not as ‘scientific’ as some of the more specialist vet presentations. In fact, I went along to some vet ones too, and they were of huge interest and I learned a lot.


“It’s great for improving my background understanding of some of the issues we face day-to-day on farm, learning about new approaches, ideas and techniques, and discussing issues with like-minded progressive producers.


“I learn as much from the other delegates as I do from attending the presentations and workshops. And I always come away with something I didn’t expect. It’s an invaluable couple of days and is full of surprises.”


Far from being the jolly that family and staff tease him about, Ollie says he comes home from the two-day conference worn out. “It’s a break from the day-to-day running of the farm, but it’s not a rest. It’s totally immersive – there’s no other event like it. There are no distractions and you’re surrounded by dairy producers, vets and other industry specialists for 48 hours. I revel in, and relish, the opportunity to learn as much as I can from the people around me while I’m there.


Exciting opportunity


“And I’m genuinely excited about attending this year’s conference. I go with no preconceptions or expectations. I don’t even look at the conference programme in any great detail until I get there. I just see what grabs me on each day – and listen to hear what other delegates are talking about and are eager to do and see. “It’s also at a good time in the dairy calendar. Silages are clamped and winter feeding and management systems are in full swing. It’s a chance to evaluate how the herd and business is performing and which areas require attention and fine-tuning. And ask some questions ahead of planning for the next 12 months – and beyond.”


Vet Graeme McPherson, from Dorsetbased Synergy Farm Vets, says his practice first took a group of clients to the conference in 2018. “Back then we invited six producers to join us for the two-day conference and it’s grown from there. We’re taking 18 producer clients this year and we could take more.


“There’s so much at the conference for our producers to engage with and be inspired by – a wealth of useful, informative and interesting research and new ideas they can take back and apply to their own teams, herds and units. It’s also a great place for them to meet other like-minded progressive producers and share ideas, issues and solutions with their contemporaries. The two-day event has a lot to offer on many levels.”


Social side: discussion with like-minded producers is invaluable


Marginal gains


He stresses it’s very much for the practice’s progressive clients – the top producers who are looking for what he calls ‘the next step’. “They’re absolutely in control of the basics of running their herds and businesses so they’re looking for the marginal gains and pointers for fine-tuning. Something that takes their herd from the middle tier to the top in all areas of herd performance.


“They’ll all have different aspects of their business that they’re looking to improve – some will be focusing on calf rearing and youngstock systems, others may have fertility or health on their list of interests. Or they may be looking for ideas on team management, motivation or staff recruitment and retention. I know it’ll all be there – in presentations, workshops, or during discussions with other delegates during coffee breaks or dinner.


“There’s also plenty of passion about dairying, so I see our role as vets as helping our producer clients get immersed in the interactive experience, and seek out what they’re looking for, and find a few things they didn’t know they needed. And also, that they have an enjoyable and inspiring two days away from the herd and unit. The social side is also important and it’s also restorative. Time away from the business gives a different perspective. They come back and see their own herd and set-up through fresh eyes.”


‘Up skill’ opportunity


Vet Ed Powell-Jackson also accompanied some producer clients in 2022 and plans to return with a group this year. “We all learn a lot and I see it as a way to ‘up skill’ our clients too. In 2022 we took 15 producers and a foot trimmer and they all really valued their time away from their herds and units – it was a rare opportunity for many of them. Some were reluctant at first – possibly even a little skeptical. They thought it would be too technical and that the lectures would go way above their heads. But they couldn’t have been more wrong.


“Not only was the content accessible, it was also extremely relevant and broad – there was something for everyone, in the presentations, the workshops, the networking at break times and the mid-event dinner.”


He says that clients were keen to find out more about heat stress at the 2022 conference – all had seen it impact their herds that summer. “And they certainly weren’t disappointed. This topic was covered in several sessions – the problems it causes and how to mitigate them. I know that some clients were ready to swing into action with what they learned when spring 2023 arrived, and implemented measures they’d heard about at the conference.


“One of our clients was particularly skeptical about going to the conference, but went anyway out of curiosity. He was the one who was the most excited about what he’d seen, heard and experienced as we drove home after the two days. And, when we asked who wanted to go again this year, he was the first to sign up and is bringing his herd manager with him. That’s quite the recommendation.”

TotalDairy Conference 2023 will be held at The Crown Plaza in Stratford-upon-Avon on November 8 & 9. Tickets for producers are available at a discounted rate. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit www.totaldairy.com/tickets. Keep an eye on social media and TotalDairy Conference’s website for more announcements on speakers, or sign up to the event’s mailing list and ensure the latest news is delivered to your inbox. For more information visit: www.totaldairy.com.

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