THE majority of dairy farms – including those with high yielders – could produce more milk from grass.
Grass is the cheapest form of feed and, according to Richard Simpson, development director at dairy specialist Kingshay, boosting milk produced from forage will benefit almost any dairy business, small or large.
He said: “There is a lot of potential for the majority of herds. What is needed is belief and confidence in your system and then training of the appropriate management skills.”
The main obstacles to getting more from forage, particularly from grazing, are insufficient farm tracks, inflexible fencing, and a desire to control the whole ration for management ease.
But Mr Simpson, who will speak at this year’s Grassland & Muck event at Stoneleigh, said there are ways around those barriers. “Most cows are turned out now, so the first stage is to look at how to get more from grazing this summer,” he said.
That involves growing good-quality grass and clover swards, with the best varieties, and making effective use of manures and fertilisers.
In a high-yielding herd, Mr Simpson suggested targeting grazing at lower-yielding cows producing up to 30 litres per day with appropriate concentrates fed in parlour.
He said: “That’s not to say that higher yielders can’t graze, they just need more supplementation. It’s about achieving milk from grass without losing significant yield.”
On average, Kingshay farmers produced 33 per cent of their milk from forage in the rolling year to February 2017. Yields across the average and top ten per cent of producers – analysed by their production from forage – were about 7,800 litres, but the top ten per cent produced 55 per cent of that milk from forage.
As a result, their margin over purchased feed improved to 19.69p/litre against an average of 17.25p/litre.
In contrast, the bottom quarter of producers had higher yields – at 8,122 litres, but only produced 16 per cent of that from forage, resulting in a margin of only 15.78p/litre.
Rotational grazing is a key part of getting the most from grass, which does require weekly monitoring of grass growth and often temporary fencing.
Mr Simpson said: “Good farm tracks will extend your grazing season, but at drier times of the year they’re not essential. However, grazing well does require flexibility and more day to day management.
“It can help to get one person to take responsibility for this – and don’t forget to cut back on concentrate usage to allow the cows to actually achieve more from forage, or supplement where necessary.”
Maximising the use of forage is also about making the best quality silage and feeding it well.
Mr Simpson said most herds should be able to achieve over 3,000 litres of milk from forage per cow. More than 4,000 litres is a good target for many, with a few herds achieving more than 5,000 litres. Herds stocked more heavily may have lower targets, which might have an impact on milk quality.
On costs, he said well-managed grazed grass and clover sward is 3.5p/litre; poorer-quality, older grazed pasture, 5.6p/litre; good quality first-cut grass silage, 6.1p/litre; maize silage 6.8p/litre; third-cut grass silage, 7.5p/litre; and 18 per cent high-energy parlour concentrate, 9.8p/litre.