The Forage Watch series is sponsored by Micron Bio-systems
Our two Forage Watch farmers update us on how they are faring with stretching out existing maize crops and how they have got on with third cut silage.
Milking cow diets at the Bridgwater College farm are being rebalanced to stretch out maize stock until this year’s crop is ready to be harvested.
The low yielders are no longer receiving maize silage and the plan is to replace moist feeds with caustic treated wheat in all of the milking diets, explains farm manager, Steve Jones.
“We will have to feed more grass before the [new season] maize is available. We will use the wheat to get the starch up and make the diet more alkaline as it is relatively cheap this year,” says Mr Jones.
The high yielders will move onto 32kg grass silage, 4kg maize, 5kg caustic wheat and 5kg of blend at the end of August. One field of maize may also be taken early and clamped separately to provide a bridge before the main crop is ready.
“We have at least two month worth of maize left now [August 18]. We have to have maize in the high yielders and dry cow ration so we will take one six- to seven-acre field which was drilled under plastic a bit earlier and clamp it separately,” says Mr Jones.
The farm’s two sided clamps means this maize can be clamped at one end of the clamp where last year’s maize is ensiled. The rest of this year’s maize will then be ensiled in a separate clamp meaning the majority of the crop will have longer to be left to ferment.
Mr Jones says generally this year’s standing maize crop is looking good, but he is disappointed with the amount of cob variation.
“The tonnage looks good but I would be surprised if we get the same starch as last year. The plus is wheat is cheap so if needs be we can continue to use caustic wheat. I’m not too worried,” he says.
About 92 hectares (228 acres) of fourth cut grass silage was cut on July 28, combining the farm’s acreage with two lots of 24ha (60 acres) of bought-in standing Italian rye-grass. Some of this fourth cut was ensiled on top of 20ha (50 acres) of wholecrop which yielded about 22-24t/ha (9-10t/acre). The plan is to use this mix to stretch out maize stocks in March.
Herd fertility and milk butterfats have improved with cows averaging 30 plus litres a day and butterfats at 3.9 per cent.
“Since we introduced second cut silage to the ration the dung is better and butterfat have gone up. We should get to 4 per cent soon,” says Mr Jones.
It was all hands on deck for third cut silage making at Lawrence House on 16 August, with nine tractors working to get the crop in ahead of the rain.
Overall, Forage Watch farmer Jonathan Mason was pleased with the results, with the crop yielding better than second cut at about 17 tonnes per hectare (7t/acre).
‘We had seven weeks between second and third cut. We cut it a week later than we would have liked because of the rain, but it wasn’t brown at the bottom and it has come off well,” he says.
About 36ha (90 acres) were taken for second cut, including 3ha (nine acres) of ground from the grazing platform which had a surplus. 24ha (60 acres) cut on the Thursday (August 14) were rained on that night, but tedded once and picked up on the Saturday.
“We mowed 30 acres on the Saturday and picked it up on the same day as the weather was not looking good for the Sunday. We tedded that out twice to help dry it,” says Mr Mason.
Grass is chopped at 4-5cm (1.5-2in) as Mr Mason believes this gives a good balance between milk butterfats and dry matter intakes. The innoculant Micron Advance Grass is used on all cuts as standard to help encourage successful fermentation. On the clamp, the farm uses a black plastic sheet weighted down with gravel bags round the outside and a green, heavy net on top.
“I will now (August 19) have to make the decision whether to put fertiliser on to take a fourth cut at the end of September. Without it we will have enough, but you do not know what is going to happen next year so it could be a good safety buffer,” Mr Mason says.
Calving is underway for the 240-cow autumn block calving herd, with the first calves born on August 6. In all 26 had calved by August 19, with all of last year’s cows dried off. Everything calves outside, with the aim to just feed fresh calvers grazed grass and concentrate.
“It has been a bit wild and windy so we have been feeding the big baled silage we took off three re-seeded fields. This will help supplement the grass and carry the concentrate,” he says.
On August 19 fresh calvers were receiving 7kg concentrate a head a day with the aim to increase to 9kg in a month’s time.
“I want to push them a but harder, but fertility is key to the system so I will be monitoring the closely to make sure this is not compromised,” says Mr Mason.
Thanks to a good growing season, many maize crops are looking as if they may yield 20 per cent more than last year and could be ready to harvest two weeks ahead.
High yields can increase temptation to go early, but make sure the crop has reached full maturity and target dry matter and starch levels of 30-35 per cent.
The early season may mean you need to start thinking about whether the crop is ready a few weeks earlier than normal. Go 10m (32ft) into a field and look at 10 random cobs. Break the cobs in half and squeeze your thumb nail into the corn. If they are ready for harvest they should have the consistency of a ‘cheesy brie’.
Timing is also a crucial factor when thinking about planting winter cereals. An exceptionally early harvest means many farmers have got time on their hands. But rather than drilling the following cereal crop early, it is worth waiting until the first couple of weeks of October.
If you plant cereals in September you are at increased risk of barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) and take all. To prevent BYDV, drill later and looking at using a seed dressing along with applying an aphicide with a post-emergence weed killer.
In some cases, take all can reduce yields by 50 per cent, so again drill later, consider using a seed dressing on second wheats and adopt a suitable crop rotation.
With a second flush of grass growth likely at the end of August/beginning of September, now is also a good time to consider making some big bale silage. Big bales can be a useful management aid to prevent going into the winter with too much grass. If you do leave grass covers too long, you could see more winter kill and reduced grass quality next spring.
Assess grazing ground and shut up any fields for big bales where there is a potential surplus. As grass sugars are lower at this time of year, it is worth using a crop specific additive on these big bales to help fermentation.
Now is also a good time to think about cropping plans for next year in line with CAP reform. Think about whether you could use nitrogen fixing crops such as field beans or lucerne as part of your ecological focus area (EFA). They could also help reduce bought in protein costs and fertiliser use.