3 November 1995

CHALLENGE TAKEN & WON

Improved milk from forage on one Cheshire dairy unit has helped secure an extra margin a cow, net of the milk price increase, of £137. That is well over the £40 a cow target set in the Genus Consultants Challenge. Jessica Buss reports

MILKERS on one Cheshire dairy unit have been challenged to milk from forage instead of concentrates to use available quota more efficiently.

Alongside the milk price increase this left an extra annual herd margin of over £20,000 for the 75 cows at Green Farm, Crewe.

The extra income has enabled producers Robert and Marjorie Dodd, and their son Chris, to invest in more land and milk quota.

The Dodds secured an extra margin a cow of £137 (net of milk price increase) from improved efficiency and were helped by Whitchurch-based Genus consultant Philip Clarke.

"Consultants have a wider vision than farmers," says Mr Dodd. "There is so much going on – you cant possibly keep a grip on everything so our consultant is important to keep a check on what needs doing."

Taking up the Genus Consultants Challenge to raise margins by £40 a cow, Mr Clarke started to visit the farm every month from June 1994, instead of alternate months. They focused on improving cow margins.

They set an initial target to increase the yield from forage by 500 litres up to 3200 litres a cow. However, this was exceeded quite quickly and after 12 months had risen to 3630 litres a cow.

"We examined the figures every month and changed the amount of concentrates fed to meet the targets set at the start of the challenge," says Mr Dodd.

Initial increases in yield from forage began when instead of making fourth cut silage in the autumn of 1994, the grass was zero-grazed. This was fed with grass silage through the forage box. Zero-grazing was possible because the equipment needed was available on the farm already.

In winter, cows were fed 50% maize and 50% grass silage with a mid-day feed of wheat and soya. Mr Dodd ensured plenty of forage was in front of the cows to achieve high feed intakes. To reduce waste he offered feed left by the high yielding group to the low yielders each day. That left by the low yielders was fed to the young stock.

Cows were fed to yield in the abreast parlour. Mr Dodd found that each time he reduced feed rates in the winter to keep milk production within quota, yields held level. The cows compensated for the reduced concentrates by eating more forage.

Zero-grazing from 20 days before turnout the next spring also helped increase milk from forage. Some of the grass for zero-grazing had been grown between maize crops and was fed before maize drilling.

Genus Milkminder costings show 15 litres from forage for April before the cows were turned out, explains Mr Clarke.

At turnout the grazing system was altered. "The fields were split to give four paddocks so that cows would always have fresh grass in front of them," he says. "Buffer feeding with grass silage through the summer held the cows peak yields."

Mr Dodd feels the new grazing regime works well. "We had the same amount of ground but made a better job of using it," he says. "This meant grass was available until mid-September."

Another area focused on in the Consultancy Challenge was dry cow management. "Cows were getting over-fed and too fit especially at grass, with some calving a bit too fat," admits Mr Dodd. "So in the winter they were fed restricted silage and straw and in summer the stocking rate was kept tight and straw offered ad-lib."

He also fed the dry cows minerals. Two weeks before calving they joined the milking group and were offered pre-calver compound in the parlour.

This helped increase cow performance in early lactation with cows coming to milk sooner. Difficult calvings have reduced and there have been fewer retained cleansings, adds Mr Clarke. &#42