16 June 1995

Forage option

boosts yield and cow health

By Jessica Buss

FERMENTED whole-crop wheat has helped one Yorkshire dairy herd boost milk proteins by 0.15% and yield from forage by 1400 litres in 12 months.

The claim comes from Ian Burton, farm manager for the 160-cow, mainly Friesian herd on Gledstone Estates 146ha (360-acre), Marton Hall Farm, Skipton, North Yorkshire.

"Fermented whole-crop analyses well and feeds accordingly," he says. "Although the starch is of lower quality than that from maize it has helped us to increase milk from forage by 1400 litres to 2700 litres, and protein from 3.35% to 3.50%.

"Weve also seen improvements in cow health, such as better rumen digestion and less weight loss. Conception rates of over 70% to first service have also been seen," he claims.

Last winter the cows were fed a total mixed ration of 7kg of fermented whole-crop, 38kg first-cut grass silage, and 4.5kg of a 24% crude protein concentrate to provide maintenance plus 25 litres. In addition a 21% crude protein blend was fed to yield in the parlour.

Forage intakes increased to 13-13.5kg of dry matter, he claims.

Eight young Holstein Friesian bulls were also fed whole-crop which was offered ad-lib as their only forage, in addition 1.5kg a head of a rearing concentrate. The recorded liveweight gain was 1.6kg a head a day. "The response was impressive," says Mr Burton. "The bulls stayed clean, grew frame and killed out well."

Fermented whole-crop was made last year after four years of harvesting wheat as urea-treated whole-crop but finding that it failed to produce the responses he expected from a mixed forage diet.

Mr Burton is convinced that two forages are essential after five years experience of feeding maize to dairy cows when he was herd manager at the Cheshire College of Agriculture, Reasheath.

"Grass silage quality is too variable to rely on that forage alone, and maize cannot be grown at Marton Hall due to the high rainfall and altitude," he explains.

"Whole-crop provides us with an alternative forage that is 99% reliable and cheap at £42/t of dry matter, without arable aid," he says. Last year the wheat yielded 5t/ha (12t/acre).

The wheat is drilled after permanent pasture. "A two- to three-year break from grass helps to improve soil structure," he claims.

He grows the variety Riband. It is treated as a normal crop, except for missing the last fungicide spray, says Mr Burton.

The crop is harvested as fermented whole-crop at the cheesy dough, "soft brie" stage. That tends to be four weeks before the normal combining date at about 40% dry matter. The crop is direct cut by the contractor, who also harvests the grass silage, but uses a self-propelled forager with a combine header for the whole-crop.

"It is essential to use an additive at this dry matter, to reduce waste," claims Mr Burton. Last year he applied Biotals Goldstore, at a rate of 4 litres/t through the forager.

"The contractor prefers the additive to urea treating the crop, as it takes one less man and is less hassle," he says.

Very little spoilage occurred last year even though the clamp face was 9m (30 ft) high.

"We started feeding the fermented whole-crop to the milking cows after four days, and even though later in the winter the beef were only fed every other day, the crop was stable and we didnt see any mould," he says.

Mr Burton believes that including a higher proportion of fermented whole-crop in the ration will improve herd performance further. This year he has increased the area grown from 10ha (24 acres) to 16ha (40 acres) and is planning to harvest for next year. &#42


Fermented whole-crop growing costs

£/ha (£/acre)

Spraying off

existing sward35.80 (14.50)

Ploughing,

drilling

and seed170.99 (69.20)

Sprays78.57 (31.80)

Fertiliser8.50 (7.50)

Foraging113.60 (46.00)