Grass growth has turned a corner for Freddie Lawder, herd manager at Dynamic Dairying’s contract farming business, Park Farm, Hampshire.
He has seen an improvement in daily growth rate towards 50kg DM/hectare (20kg DM/acre), higher crude protein and metabolisable energy, reducing the need for buffer feeding.
Mr Lawder says: “It has been a difficult spring. Despite being on the south coast, many of our grazing fields have been waterlogged. This has impacted on grass growth, quality and the ability to simply get cows out.”
Poorer ground conditions led to the decision to reduce stocking density and open up larger areas for each of the 12-hour fresh feeds to reduce the risk of poaching.
He says: “We finished our first grazing round across the 150ha platform in 47 days on April 10. The next round will be shorter, possibly 40 days, depending on how grass growth catches up.”
Fortnightly AHDB fresh grass analysis shows how quality is improving. A mid-March analysis showed a crude protein level of 23 per cent and ME of 11.6 MJ/kg DM. This has improved to 27.6 per cent with an ME of 13.0 MJ/kg DM in late April.
Mr Lawder says: “What it means is we have to put out less buffer feed of both grass and maize silage.
“Being an autumn-calving herd, our aim is to use spring grass to carry peak production for as long as possible. So far this year, this has not been particularly easy.
“But I am able to start tightening up the grazing area as grass growth and quality improves, taking each day on its merit.”
Damp ground conditions also mean the desire to apply fertiliser immediately behind the 320-cow herd has had to be tempered.
Instead of going out several times a week, the equipment has had to play catch-up between showers, he says.
“Fortunately, all stock are now outdoors, which has reduced our workload. The aim over the next few weeks is to train youngstock to electric fencing, mend and improve areas of fencing we simply could not get a tractor to over winter, and carry on infrastructureimprovements of placing water troughs for better cow access.”
Elsewhere, thoughts are also turning to this year’s maize crop. “We will grow about 60ha again on an off-lying support block. Varieties include Laricio, MAS O9P, Tekni and Rianni.”
Other tasks include monitoring replacement heifers for weight gain during routine handling, such as TB testing.
Mr Lawder says: “As we have such a diverse genetic pool with Montbeliarde, Jersey and Friesian bloodlines, it is difficult to give a target bodyweight at which we would serve heifers. The aim is to calve all heifers down at two years old.
“Overall, I feel we are turning a corner with grass growth now supporting the herd since mid-April, rather than relying on the feeder box. Our milk budget for March was not good, but indications for April and going into May look better.”