Dont buy feed, you can grow plenty
Why buy-in concentrate when
output a hectare suggests
the farm can grow enough
food to support its cows?
Jessica Buss finds out
about one producers plans
for a concentrate-free year
FEEDING fresh calvers no concentrate and grazing them by day in February may sound extreme, but it is a policy one west Wales partnership is confident will succeed.
Kevin and Lynwen Greens confidence is based on feeding little concentrate last spring to their herd which now calves mainly in February and March.
Mr Green told a local BGS discussion group that Cwm Farms low output a hectare, after having taken on more rented land, means buying in feed for cows is unnecessary. His Carmarthenshire farm should be able to grow enough grass to support them.
"When the milk price was good, we were producing 6700 litres from 1.2t of concentrate. But we would not be doing well today on that system," said Mr Green.
"Four years ago we started addressing costs and getting more from grazing, rather than buying concentrate. We extended the grazing season and changed the way we grazed cows."
That involved putting in tracks for rotational grazing, accepting a lower yield a cow, keeping more cows and selling machinery.
"Now we produce more t/ha of grass than ever before and it is a simple system with a far lower labour requirement. The peak requirement for labour is at calving and service."
The Greens run the farm, employing casual labour only when they want time away. But Mr Green now believes one person could run the farm for three months without them there, even though they now milk 230 cows.
Cows average almost 5000 litres, not that he has ever chased yield a cow. "What is important is litres produced a hectare," he said. His target is to produce 15,000 litres/ha (6000 litres/acre) in four years time.
"I know producers producing more a hectare, but getting that extra milk a hectare is tough."
He believes 15,000 litres/ha (6000/acre) is possible on his farm, but it will need a higher stocking rate of about three cows a hectare (1.2/acre) and he is considering buying more cows to help achieve this.
But this years predicted output is about average at 8200 litres/ha (3300/acre), with a stocking rate of 2.35/ha (0.95/acre).
BGS grazing consultant Paul Bird added that buying in concentrate is bringing extra dry matter on to the farm. He believes it should be possible to produce 8500 litre of milk a hectare from grazing, without concentrate, although Mr Green may need more cows.
But with a strict spring calving block essential to high reliance on grazing, Mr Green can understand why group members were concerned about conception rates with no concentrate being fed.
Last year cows held well to service, despite having little concentrate, he added.
But this year cow condition at calving is about 0.25 body condition score units below the ideal and maintaining condition score at service will be critical, said Mr Bird.
While he hoped not to feed concentrate, Mr Green stressed that he would feed it if cows were losing too much condition. "But if I put feed in now and take it out before service it will be worse for conception rates." It is also difficult to feed concentrates without any parlour feeders.
But feed supply to cows will soon increase. Cows will soon receive 100% of their feed requirement from grass and no grass silage, which is lower in energy, he added.
In mid-February, cows were producing an average of 25 litres from grass, supplemented with grass silage at night and with no concentrate.
In mid-February, Kevin and Lynwen Greens cows were producing 25 litres from grass, grass silage and no concentrate at Cwm Farm.
• Cut concentrate.
• Increasing stocking rate.
• Rotational grazing.