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Profit from grass: Warm damp weather creates grass surplus

Farmers Guardian’s Profit From Grass series continues as we speak to Sophie Vance Kinnear and Piers Badnell, AHDB Dairy technical extension officer.


Too much grass for too few stock is allowing Sophie Vance Kinnear to bale surplus forage at the 121-hectare (300-acre) Waterside Farm, Dunblane, Perthshire, where the 152-cow dairy herd is being dried off ahead of calving which starts on September 1.


“While we have too few stock for the grass we have currently got we do have the right numbers for the building on the farm and that’s more important,” she says.


Grass covers are currently around 2,600kg DM/ha which is in excess of the herd’s needs but has enabled cow body condition to hold up well.


Drying off

Drying off

“We’ve begun drying off small groups of cows 15 at a time to suit our milk buyer’s requirement (for a more level supply). We shall only give the cows a six week dry period as they’re in good condition. We stopped feeding concentrate in June. The current average milk yield is 14 litres/cow/day.”


With daily grass growth rates topping 100kg DM/ha - 107.2kg DM/ha in mid-July on the back of damp, warm weather - several 2ha (five-acre) grazing paddocks have been taken out of the grazing round and baled by a contractor.


“Recently, two paddocks yielded 114 round bales. These were wrapped and will be used for youngstock over winter or held through to spring and fed to the cows if we run low on clamp silage,” says Miss Vance Kinnear.


First cut taken off 36ha (90 acres) in mid-May went in to the clamp dry reducing risk of effluent run-off. It has yet to be analysed but will have second cut laid on top later this month as the herd’s main winter forage.


Miss Vance Kinnear says: “I will not top this with lower quality third cut as it will then be first to be fed out when our cows are in early lactation.


“To ensure a decent second cut is achieved a top dressing of 22-4-14 fertiliser at 200kg/ha plus 7kg/acre of sulphur has been applied. We have been pre-mowing some paddocks in front of the cows which has helped improve intakes and removing a need to graze aftermaths.”



Animal health

Several health-related tasks have been carried out for both the herd and youngstock. Magnesium flakes have been added to drinking water for the dry cows in a bid to avoid mineral deficiencies. As cows dry off the plan is to seal teats rather than dry cow tube them.


Youngstock have been wormed, in-calf heifers freeze branded and weighed and the heifers are on course to achieve the target weights for breeding and calving.


The focus is to keep control on matters in which she can exert an influence, unlike current milk pricing. Supplying Graham’s The Family Dairy, a standard litre in August is priced 23.75ppl but surplus milk - so called B litres - halved to 8ppl.


“I can do little about milk prices so I try not to worry about them. Time is better spent keeping costs down on the farm.”


Reduce the need for buffer feeding

Reduce the need for buffer feeding pic

Grazing success depends on two things, a trained herd manager and a trained cow. Get this right and the need for buffer feeding is substantially reduced, says Piers Badnell, AHDB Dairy technical extension officer.

Buffer feeding can be used during severe reductions in grass supply to meet the animal’s requirements for nutrients.


However, the need for this can be massively reduced by well-managed rotational grazing, because the system allows for greater control over pasture management.


For example, it allows for the accommodation of fluctuations in grass growth throughout the grazing season and allocation of how much grass you want your cows to consume based on demand and supply. This means only small changes to grazing are necessary, rather than a boom/bust situation, where there might be a need for expensive buffer feeds, he says.

“There are two drawbacks to buffer feeding if grass is available. Firstly, cows will not graze as intensively. Because of that, it becomes more difficult for the correct residual herbage mass to be achieved of 1,500kg DM/ha.


This results in reduced quality and growth in subsequent rounds, leading to a need to buffer feed – a self-fulfilling prophecy. This ‘lazy cow syndrome’ should not be under estimated. When she realises there is only grass and no filled trough waiting for her she will surprise you by learning how to graze. 


Rejection areas

“Secondly, the dung from a buffer fed cow can be far coarser and takes longer to break down, increasing the amount of rejection areas, than that from a cow on a grazing diet. As manure from a grazing cow is far looser it spreads further, providing a larger surface area on which bugs can break it down and for rain to wash it in.


This will result in fewer rejection sites, leading to far better pasture utilisation. While issues around coarser manure can be alleviated, this requires tractor, rake, topper, etc, which is wasteful in terms of time, grass and cost.”

Avoid buffer feeding, as it will add cost, reduce a cow’s desire to graze and as she is away from grass for longer it reduces her time to graze, compounding the problem.


Buffer feeding is only an option if you are very short of grazing. Otherwise, train the cows how to graze and save money.

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