24 May 2002

Good forage, good protein

By Robert DaviesWales correspondent

ONE of four Welsh dairy demonstration farms has boosted milk protein content by 0.11% to average 3.29% over the past year, using technical advice to improve cow management, forage quality andwinter rationing.

All four demonstration farms supply the farmer owned co-operative South Caernarfon Creameries, which turns 85% of the 91m litres it collects from 186 farms into a range of cheeses. To maintain quality the company wants suppliers to increase milk protein, particularly in the first three months of the year.

Help to achieve this is being provided through the Welsh Dairy Development Programme, which is part of the National Assemblys EU funded Farming Connect initiative. Consultants believe a series of open days on these demonstration farms will help provide guidance for other producers to follow.

At Tynllwyn, Llanilar, Aberystwyth, Mair Jones and son Elgan have already managed to increase milk protein. During the critical months this year protein averaged 0.13-0.2% higher than in 2001 (see table).

At an open day on the 60ha (150 acre) severely disadvantaged holding, visitors heard the secret was good cow health, plus a combination of genetics, excellent silage and a well formulated mixed ration.

In the last year, the 81 pedigree Holstein-Friesians at Tynllwyn averaged 6637 litres at 4.10% butterfat and 3.29% protein. This represented a 521 litres/cow year-on-year improvement in yield and a boost of 0.11% in protein.

Concentrate use rose from 0.24kg/litre to 0.31kg/litre and its cost went up from £125 to £138/t. But improved milk quality helped push up the price from 17.61p/litre to 20.97p/litre. This allowed the margin over purchased feed to increase by £168 to £1064/cow.

Good silage was a factor in achieving these improvements, although local ADAS consultant Huw Owen said it was not easy to make good quality silage at 180m (600ft) above sea level. "But getting it wrong could have a big adverse impact on milk quality the following winter."

The critical window of opportunity to take a high quality silage cut under good harvesting conditions was narrow, so timing closing off of fields and application of fertiliser to crops was also vital.

By getting it right, the partners managed to make first cut silage last year with 21% dry matter, an ME of 11.9, an FME of 8 and 15.3% crude protein.

Last winter, cows were fed 40kg/cow a day of this silage, mixed with 5kg of a by-product of maize processing, 1.6kg of sugar beet pulp, 0.8kg of soya and 1.6kg of wheat. This provided for maintenance plus 22 litres of milk/day. Feeding an 18% protein high energy compound in the parlour covered additional milk produced.

But David Peers, the senior ADAS consultant working on the protein enhancement project, said silage quality was only one key to getting good yields and enhanced milk protein during winter.

There must be enough dietary energy for rumen organisms to function properly, or silage protein would end up being wasted rather than turned into microbial protein which the cow could use.

Milk protein could also fall when cows which were well fed over winter were turned out, unless they received adequate energy to use the protein in spring grass.

But in winter dry matter intake was crucial and he urged milk producers to try to make high dry matter material in good weather.

"Fermentation should be rapid, when grass has plenty of sugar and clamp management is good I would rather see money spent on diesel for tedding than on an silage additive," said Dr Peers.

Asked about chop length, he conceded that increasing it could improve winter butterfat results and please contractors. But he warned that the release of sugars needed for fermentation slowed as chop length increased and material became harder to consolidate effectively. &#42

Making high quality silage last year has helped Elgan Jones Holstein Friesian herd increase milk protein output and push up milk price.


2002 2001

Jan 3.26% 3.07%

Feb 3.18% 3.05%

Mar 3.24%. 3.04%

&#8226 High quality silage.

&#8226 Balance ration.

&#8226 Ensure good intakes.