While many paddock enthusiasts look to begin building a grazing wedge in preparation for next spring, herd manager Sophie Vance Kinnear is instead focusing on using grass growth to maintain the body condition of freshly calved cows in early lactation at Waterside Farm, Dunblane.
“After a fairly poor, wet July and August the rain has finally stopped and grass growth is now 41kg DM/ha/day. We started to block calve 130 cows and 40 heifers on September 1, aiming to finish on November 20. So we have cows in early lactation averaging more than 20 litres a day. Maintaining body condition, milk yield and fertility is the priority,” she says.
To help achieve this, cows are not being pushed too hard to clear out each of the two-hectare (five-acre) day paddocks. Covers are being grazed down to 1,600kg DM/ha. The aim is to achieve a daily dry matter intake of circa 15kg/cow, of which, 7kg is concentrate.
To help maintain condition, some cattle had been brought indoors overnight in recent weeks and given baled silage as a top up.
She says: “The weather has been quite nasty, so steps had to be taken. A group of 80 dry cows came in at night which were just milling around a field.
“The average cover across the farm was 2,500kg DM/ha at the start of this month. I am using what grass we have now to support production rather than save it for an early turnout next year, of which, we have no guarantee,” she says.
With temperatures falling, no additional fertiliser is being applied by farm owners Robin and Barbara Young. It is thought it would be late October before any growth would come and too late to be of real benefit when all costs of production are under scrutiny.
Current income to the farm is good, with milk sent to Graham's The Family Dairy returning 23.75ppl. And while somatic cell counts have increased slightly with a number of fresh calved cows, contributing to the tank, butterfat levels are 4.5 per cent.
Carefully managed autumn grass, though often undervalued, has the potential to provide high-quality grazing, allowing savings on feed and housing costs, according to Piers Badnell, AHDB Dairy technical extension officer. So, he says, there is a real opportunity to get milk from grazing in autumn, in addition to saving housing costs and setting up the 2016 grazing season.
Mr Badnell says: “Autumn usually provides good growth rates to provide quantity, and, if well managed, good quality. The key is to calculate what the cow is actually eating against its requirement. There is plenty of evidence to suggest if you overestimate this, the potential for body condition loss is there, with the knock-on effects of yield and fertility in next lactation.
“This is especially the case for more Holstein-type cows. Grass-based genetics will tend to look after themselves far better. So to be sure, measure how much your cows are eating and balance where necessary.
“Herds with grass-based genetics are more robust to the challenges of fresh calving and autumn grazing. Managers of these herds I have spoken to are generally keeping their cows out for as long as possible, day and night, to complete the last grazing round and then supplement with concentrate in the parlour.
Autumn calving herds, which are Holstein or Holstein-type, will either have fresh calved cows in or out in the day and in at night, to make sure dry matter intakes are achieved.
There is an opportunity, but whatever the type of animal, body condition is king in terms of the cow and residual in terms of grass. Scoring of cows’ body condition should be done regularly to detect changes.