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Profit from grass: Grass growth recovers as rain arrives

Reseeding a portion of the milking platform has been the focus for Richard Tucker, who farms near Tiverton, Devon.

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Recent rainfall has seen grass growth recover from the mid-summer lull to exceed demand for the 240-cow herd Richard Tucker runs with his parents Nigel and Brenda.

 

He says: “Mid-August, our average cover was back up to 2,450kg DM/hectare, having fallen to 2,000kg DM/ha in early July as conditions became droughty and average daily growth fell away to just 40kg DM/ha.

 

“I ended up supplementing grazed grass with up to six round bales of silage per day and increasing concentrate fed through a snacker out at grass from 1kg/head/day to 2kg to protect what little regrowth we were getting. At that point, the herd was averaging just more than 21 litres/head/day.”

 

As rainfall returned in early August, both silage and concentrate were reduced in line with rising covers of grass.

 

Silage

Richard says: “I had the opportunity to take out some ground for silage, but as our stocks are already good, we took the decision to reseed a small area instead.

 

“And good job we did, as figures taken off the Agrinet software showed targeted paddocks had yielded just 8.5 tonnes DM/ha this season to date, compared with 11t/ha for those which had been reseeded earlier in the year.

 

“Again, we have used a local contractor and have gone with a mix of Abergreen, Abermagic and Aberavon topped up with Lofa Festulollum.”

 

The herd is currently yielding an average of 19 litres/head/day at 4.47 per cent butterfat and 3.65 per cent protein.

 

Richard calculates daily grass growth needs to hit 60kg DM/ha to support production. As current growth rate is above this, at 80kg DM/ha, the family plans to top up the open air silage pits later this season with third and fourth cut silage.

 

He says: “While this will exceed demand, it will be a useful buffer stock should next season get off to a poor start. As they say, it will be needed at some point in the future.

 

“Cows look to be in good condition and have not suffered for the recent fall in grass dry matter due to summer rain.

 

“The herd will be pregnancy tested and TB tested later this month, once I have returned from having a break on a beach in Portugal, so fingers crossed.”

 

Prospects for autumn grazing also look promising. Tiverton has missed the deluges which have affected some parts of the South West recently, to the detriment of ground conditions, and paddocks are holding up well.


Assessing silage stocks

The late spring and early summer drought saw silage stocks being used on many farms to fill the gap between supply and demand.

 

Silage is the single most important winter feed on most dairy farms, yet in most cases, it is also the least accurately assessed.

 

Siwan Howatson, AHDB Dairy scientist, says: “To ensure forage stocks are sufficient, it is vital to carry out an accurate assessment which will help you manage stocks throughout the coming winter, and allow strategies to be implemented to help address any potential shortfalls.

 

“Assessment of forage stocks are vital for well-planned feeding and feed purchasing, helping ensure sufficient supplies are always on hand and secured at the most favourable price.”

 

For clamped silage, available stock is calculated by working out clamp volume (in cubic metres), then multiplying this by silage density (kg/cu.m).

 

Calculating the volume of clamped material involves: length (m) x width (m) x height (m) of the clamp.

Ms Howatson says: “Once the volume of the clamp has been calculated, a good estimate of the density of grass silage can be derived from the silage DM and clamp height.

 

“Silage density varies with DM, clamp height, the degree of consolidation and position in the clamp, with deeper material being compressed by the weight of silage above it.

 

“The next step is to estimate your herd’s daily silage requirements: number of stock in each particular group being fed silage x silage DMI of this group [in kg/head/day].

 

“Totalling all the groups’ grass silage intakes will give you the total daily grass silage DM requirement. Estimating the number of days of supply available involves: total clamp silage DM available to feed [kg] divided by the total daily requirement [kg].

 

“It is important to note these calculations only provide an estimate, as it is difficult to accurately predict length of winter and actual animal intakes. It is therefore helpful if a small surplus is achieved to allow a buffer if winter is prolonged.

 

“Calculation of your current grass silage stocks will help give you an estimation of the performance required from other forage crops which may make up the forage component of the winter diet.”

 

Further information, including worksheets to calculate forage stocks, requirements and feed costs, is available for AHDB Dairy Feeding+ and Grass+ on dairy.ahdb.org.uk

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