Doubling milk from forage

The all-year-round calving herd has maintained its 8,500-L average yield, but milk from forage has risen from 1,600 L to 4,000 L since 2016 and concentrate use has dropped by over 0.5 t to 2.1 t/cow.

“It has significantly improved the profitability of the farm,” says the owner. With no changes to maize or grass silage making, and despite an annual rainfall of just 800mm on greensand, he is confident that the improvements have come from improving grazing efficiency.

“We needed to increase farm profit, but didn’t want to risk expanding the herd due to our A/B pricing structure and increased risks around TB and Brexit, so we decided to improve our current operation. This meant reducing concentrate buying, while getting more from grazed grass,” he explains.

Changes included culling some low yielders (enabled by more use of sexed semen) to protect yield, investing in a more extensive network of pipes, troughs and temporary fencing, as well as improving the main cow track by levelling it and covering in Astro Turf. Reseeding and better weed control have also played their part. This March, the farm owner started plate metering weekly: “It has certainly helped us to get a bit smarter and get the most out of our grass platform,” he admits.

“We have extended the grazing season at each end. We used to turn out towards the end of April, now it’s the beginning of March and, historically, we were housed by the start of October, yet we are still grazing by day this year. Cows are now going out to grass at the right three-leaf stage to maximise the energy value for them. We are presenting them with the best grass possible and are making sure to top it to correct residuals.”

Taking it step by step to build up knowledge and confidence, plans for next year include swopping the topper for a mower to get a cleaner cut and taking an extra 4 ha out of the arable rotation to create two more grazing paddocks: “We will have extra flexibility in the rotation in the dry months with more grass paddocks – they will help extend the rotation a bit – we intend to get better at using the plate meter data for planning ahead.”

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