We spoke to five farmers for whom grassland management is already a primary focus to see what kind of benefits they are achieving.
Dairy farmer Steve Cox has not only made substantial savings on his feed bill by increasing the amount of silage he feeds his cows, but also believes the herd is healthier and the quality of the milk has improved as a result. Based at Manor Farm, Marston in Staffordshire, Mr Cox started the farm about 45 years ago with his father. He and his family now farm 346 hectares. They have a 530-strong dairy herd, breed their own replacements and also sell store cattle. They have taken a conscious decision to move to a more forage-based diet for the dairy herd, with silage now making up 60% of the ration.
He says: “The main driver for the change was financial. With the recent dip in the milk price, we had to make changes. Moving to 60% forage has certainly met our objectives as we are now saving about £17,000 in feed costs every month. I also think the cows actually look healthier as a result and the quality of the milk is better – we are getting 4.2% butterfat and 3.48% protein. At the same time our yields, which are about 11,200 litres per cow per year, have not altered with the change in feed regime.”
In order to provide sufficient forage to make the change, Mr Cox moved his first cut date forward and is now cutting roughly every five weeks. He aims to produce high energy silage and says an ME of at least 11.5 is required to produce milk.
“Fortunately, we have the store cattle business as well,” he says, “and that has proved useful as they take up any silage with a lower ME. It has also proved to be a good hedge for us when the price of milk has gone down.”
Getting the final part of the process right is also critical for Mr Cox. Good clamp management and using an additive are viewed as integral to maximising silage quality and quantity, and an Ecosyl treatment is already planned in for this year’s grass harvest as he believes the cost of an additive is relatively minor compared to the overall cost of producing silage.
The business has invested in its own silage-making equipment and he says this is the best investment they have made as it enables them to turn around silage much quicker.