12 April 1996

£4400 bonus for an early turn-out

By Jessica Buss

PRODUCERS turning out early can earn £1.25 a cow for each extra days grazing. That is worth £4400 for the average Genus costed herd.

So claimed Wiltshire Genus consultant Neil Adams speaking at the companys national forage conference. He cited a study of five Somerset and Wiltshire herds that turned out early in April last year.

Earlier turn-out at a standardised milk price increased the April margin over feed and forage cost by £43 a cow. The benefit was achieved by reduced concentrate use and lower forage costs. The early turn-out also increased milk protein.

"In winter forage accounts for 10% of the milk output yet in spring only 2% of milk value is consumed by forage costs," said Mr Adams.

"Delaying turn-out forgoes profit and often impairs the swards. When sward height increases lower tillers are shaded out and die." He advised aiming to turn-out when grass height was 9cm (3.5in). That way older leaves would be removed and new faster growing tillers encouraged.

Roadways must also be in good condition. They need to drain and should be built above the height of the field, he added. He also recommended avoiding set stocking cows (see box). The system made it difficult to match grass area to stock requirement when grass growth was fluctuating. Stocking too lightly left stemmy grass growth, this had low digestibility and was rejected by stock.

Instead Mr Adams advised paddock grazing for it allowed cows to keep moving to new grass. This need not be expensive. He suggested temporary fencing could be useful so when there was excess grass to cut for silage fencing could be removed.

Staffordshire-based Genus consultant Ian Browne agreed that a flexible approach to grazing was best. He advised setting up paddocks that allowed grazing for one day or strip grazing with a backing fence to allow grass regrowth.

"Return to the first paddock as soon as it is ready to graze again otherwise the grass will become stemmy. Forget the other paddocks. These can then be cut for silage," said Mr Browne

When excess grass was big baled it could be fed to cows when grazing ran short without opening the silage pit and risking wastage.

Mr Browne also advised making an early silage cut to allow the aftermath to recover quickly for grazing in the traditional period of shortage.

Genus regional consultant Derek Gardner concluded that: "While sunshine is free and it rains regularly in this country we have scope to make the first 4000 litres of cows yield from forage."

He claimed a weakening milk price and rising costs will make forage the key to profit.

levels, whatever the production system. "High forage systems make an extra £100 a cow profit," he said. "Legumes and white clover will become a crops of the future."

One Staffs milk producer who has seen the benefits of paddock grazing is Stephen Brandon. His 150 cows grazed three-day paddocks for the first time last year.

As a result yield from forage over the last year is 1100 litres higher than the farms six-year average. Forage accounted for 3458 litres of the 7610 litres of milk sold a cow. This was achieved despite last summers drought and a shortage of winter forage.

"Turn-out was on April 11 last year, 10 to 14 days earlier than usual," said Mr Brandon. "Cows were shut in for winter on November 11 after two wet days. So last year the cows grazed for 214 days, 35 days longer than the six-year average with no detriment to yields."

&#8226 Turning out late.

&#8226 Set stocking.

&#8226 No decent roadways.

&#8226 Too much buffer feeding.

&#8226 Growing stems.

Early turn-out to grass could earn an extra £4400 a year for producers.