Jonathon Mason is ‘hedging his bets’ in case of a potential grass silage shortfall by ordering in more fodder beet for the winter ahead.
Rather than sticking to his usual 350 tonnes of fodder beet, he has opted for 600-600t to help save silage stocks and push milk constituents.
“I would like to feed more than the 8kg of fodder beet a head we fed last year and maybe go for 12-14kg. That will help save silage and also it is a good feed which helps with milk fat and protein and feet and fertility,” he says.
Mr Mason’s milk contract with Dale Farm in Kendal means he is paid for volume, but rewarded for milk quality. As a result, he plans to push the herd of 220 autumn calving, cross-bred cows that bit harder this winter.
“When I have fed 12kg of fodder beet in the past we could do 4.5-4.7 per cent fat. We hit 5 per cent fat in the first week of April last year so it is possible,” he explains.
Good overall cow body condition as cows approach drying off from mid-June onwards means cows should be fit enough to achieve targets.
In general, Mr Mason says grass growth at Lawrence House has been up and down due to variable weather. However, speaking on June 16, he said grass was in abundance.
“We did take 13 acres back into the grazing platform after first cut as we were short at the time. In hindsight we could have made do without it and cut it for second cut,” he says.
About 31 hecatres (76 acres) will be taken for second cut around the start of July, with about half of the ground due to be sprayed for weeds about two weeks prior to cutting.
“If you leave docks, they will only get worse. The more ground taken up by them the less room for grass and the lower the feed value. And if they get to the seed stage, they will go through the cow and get seeded again,” says Mr Mason.
He hopes for grass yields of about 15-17t/hectare (6-7t/acre) at second cut. The reseeds planted in May will also be brought into third cut.
“The reseeds look really good. They are three to four inches high at the moment and look even and have greened up nicely. They got 50 units of N/acre about 10 days after they were drilled as well as about 45 units each of phosphate and potash.”
Introducing second cut silage into the ration has helped push yields further at the Bridgwater College farm, but milk quality figures are still behind where manager Steve Jones wants them to be.
Having incorporated first cut into the ration in May, yields had started to increase, but introducing second cut in mid-June resulted in an even bigger boost. Cows now average more than 30 litres.
“We had taken all of our second cut by the end of May. At the end, we had 30 acres left to pick up but two days of rain meant we decided to shut the pit and big bale it instead.”
The 240 high quality big bales have proved useful. With a D value of 76 and 12.2ME, they have provided a boost to the ration and helped save costs.
“First cut silage fed well, but analysis was not as good as we wanted it to be. Energy is down at 10.8ME which is a bit disappointing,” he says.
“We are still juggling diets to make sure forage stocks last. We were putting bought-in haylage in the ration, but we have reduced that by adding in second cut big baled silage to try and save money.”
In terms of milk quality, the herd is averaging 3.86 per cent fat and 3.2 per cent protein with a target of 4 per cent fat. In mid-June, Mr Jones was waiting for milk recording results to assess whether quality figures were linked to stage of lactation.
“We have got two different diets running so I want to see if low milk quality is coming from end of lactation or early lactation cows,” he explains.
Following results he will then tweak the appropriate diets accordingly. This may involve adding more straw into the highs ration or introducing straw into the low’s ration, although at present, dung looks good.
Mr Jones says grass growth has been ‘phenomenal’, meaning the farm is on track to take third cut at the end of June – under five weeks since second cut on some leys.
“One or two Italian rye-grass leys which were cut four weeks ago are almost ready to head (June 16) so we will have to cut or D value will go down,” he explains.
Eight hectares (20 acres) of spring reseeds will also be ready to be included in third cut, as well as 40ha (100 acres) of additional Italian rye-grass which Mr Jones has bought as a standing crop. This brings total third cut to 80ha (200 acres). “I think I’ll sleep easy if I get all that off,” he says.
It is important to keep monitoring your forage situation so you can make decisions – you can’t plan early enough. Get your nutritional adviser to do a core sample of first cut after a four to six week ‘curing period’. You can then work out how many tonnes you have in combination with dry matter figures to help you plan for the year. Don’t hesitate to take more grass and replenish the forage ‘larder’ if you can.
Selecting an inoculant which includes an enzyme will also be crucial to get the most from drier, later season cuts. An inoculant with enzyme capability will aid digestion of more lignified grass crops, helping to release energy. Research has seen benefits of up to 1MJ of energy per kilo of dry matter by using an enzyme based inoculant across all cuts.
It is important to select a crop specific inoculant to meet the demands of the crop. For example, Advance WholeCrop will help increase energy availability in fermented wholecrop silage. When cutting wheat or barley for fermented wholecrop silage, it is also important to monitor crops closely to ensure they are cut at the optimum time.
Some farmers can take wholecrop when it is too dry so there is not enough sugars and moisture for a successful fermentation. That means it is difficult to consolidate and an additive is even more crucial. Ideally it should be 40-50 per cent dry matter for fermentation.
Keep a close eye on it. A difference of four to five days can mean a missed opportunity.
When using an inoculant, also ensure you prepare your drums and pressure wash then out with hot, soapy water beforehand. Any residue can kill the bacteria in the inoculant so it could be a waste of time if you don’t get the preparation right.
Keeping an eye on how maize is progressing in the field is also important to get an estimate of germination and plan for the year ahead.
Speak to an advisor so you can make contingency plans if maize is not looking as good as you want. You can then secure alternative forages early at a more preferential price or make more grass silage.