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Profit from grass: Focus on utilising grazing rotation on Cumbrian farm

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With calving now complete at the Craig family’s 425-head dairy herd based at Cairnhead Farm, Ainstable, Cumbria, herd manager George Brown says the focus is on utilising fresh grass.

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The aim now for Cumbrian Profit from Grass farmer George Brown is to use the grass to support fertility and the production of milk solids after a slow spring, which saw more concentrate and silage fed to maintain cow condition.

 

Last year, the 135-hectare grazing platform yielded 14.6t DM/ha with utilisation sitting at more than 85 per cent. Across the whole 213ha, grass utilisation sat at 10.8t/ha. This season sees demand for fresh grass increase with the introduction of more replacement heifers.

Mr Brown says: “To accommodate the extra mouths, we have rented 30ha nearby allowing young stock to be taken off the grazing platform.”

 

With calving at an end, the next challenge is to ensure fresh grazing can carry the largely New Zealand Friesian cross cows through early lactation and the breeding programme. At an anticipated 12.5ME, fresh grass is supporting a current yield of 27 litres/cow/day at 2.19kg milk solids.

 

As grass growth accelerates, the grazing round has already fallen from 35 to 18 days. Currently, the herd has a daily allocation of 5.5ha (12.35 acres) split between the two fresh breaks post-milking.

 

“We started mating the cows on May 20. The herd was tail painted five weeks out and any cows not showing signs of heat were put before the vet. In all, 18 – or 4.5 per cent of the herd – received a CIDR [controlled internal drug release]. Some may see this as unnecessary but we need to keep a tight calving pattern. Three weeks of AI to dairy sires will be followed by nine weeks of beef semen.”

 

Eight home-bred dairy bulls from the herd’s top 20 cows went in with the 120 replacement heifers on May 10. These were split into two management groups to avoid inbreeding.

 

The fertility of grazing paddocks has also been a priority to date. He explains: “We have top dressed all the platform behind the cows with two applications of Single Top 27:0:0 plus 12 of sulphur at 150kg product/ha.

Slurry

“Slurry has also been applied across the whole farm at 25,000 litres/ha following the first grazing round. In early May all 80ha shut up for first cut silage received 40kg/ha of nitrogen, the grazing paddocks slightly less.

 

“As surplus grass becomes available we may take anything up to six cuts. It sounds elaborate but it is a management tool. Should we run short during a dry summer these fields can be brought back into the grazing round offering a range of covers.”

 

Current grass growth is 85kg DM/ha/day on the platform; higher on the silage ground.

 

“Our aim is to carry stock into the autumn on good covers and reduce the overall amount of concentrate fed. We will also aim to save some machinery costs this season by not pre-mowing paddocks as we have done is previous years,” says Mr Brown.

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