24 July 2002

Grant buys new machinery for grazing system

Higher milk yields, higher

quality forage and a more

flexible farming system

are deemed to have been

the benefits derived when

two neighbouring dairy

farmers switched to a

Zero Grazing system last

year. Andy Moore takes

a closer look

NEIGHBOURING dairy producers Martin Whell and Ian Higman made use of a government grant last year to invest in new machinery to start a zero grazing feed system.

Located three miles apart, the Cornwall-based farmers ran dairy herds at high stocking rates and considered they both needed a new feeding regime to improve milk yields.

Mr Higman runs 150 Holstein Friesians on 101ha (250 acres) of pasture and Mr Whell 300 cows of the same breed on his 168ha (400 acres).

The grant funding, known as Objective One, enabled them to jointly invest in new machinery and start the feed system last year.

Awarded by DEFRA from the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF), the grant amounted to £27,130 – roughly half the value they needed to finance the new machinery.

The machinery shopping list included a new mower with blower unit from Cheshire-based manufacturer Zero, an 8t Harry West silage trailer, an 18cu m RMH diet feeder wagon and a 6m Einbock grass harrow.

"Before signing on the dotted line, we tried out the Zero mower and looked at a range of diet feeder wagons to evaluate the whole system," says Mr Whell who is based at Luxulyan near Bodmin. "After crunching the numbers with our financial consultant, the machinery fitted all the costings criteria for the Objective One feasibility study."

Satisfied the system worked, the grant was awarded and the farmers entered into a legal contract – a contract which requires each piece of kit to be costed carefully over five years.

At the heart of the system, the 2.25m wide Zero mower cuts the crop using two bladed discs. The grass is then discharged unchopped into the trailer via a paddle blowing unit.

Powered by either a 100hp Valmet or 90hp Deere tractor, the Zero mower takes about 20mins to fill a load, before grass is taken back to each farm, loaded in the feeder and mixed with ingredients.

"The only teething trouble the Zero mower has had is a cracked discharge chute caused by excessive vibration," says Mr Whell. "We were supplied with a box of spare reversible cutting blades which we replace about every three weeks."

To reduce soil and grass compaction, the Zero mower and trailer were fitted with wider tyres.

Mr Whells herd is fed with up to 8t/day of fresh grass including a Total Mixed Ration (TMR), while Mr Higman feeds up to 12t/day with fewer concentrates.

The farmers started the Zero Grazing system last April with grass mown right up until November, while this years season kicked off in mid-March.

Small quantities of silage are mixed with the ration throughout the cutting season, and the late autumn and winter months sees the cows fed on a silage-based diet.

"The zero grazing system is a vast improvement on the age-old munch in the field method," he insists. "When our herd grazed outside, cows used to reject a lot of grass because ground was heavily poaching from muck and urine. As a result our milk yields suffered severely."

Faced with a similar problem, Mr Higman had to walk his herd up to 1.5 miles a day in search of greener pastures.

"The procedure could take up to an hour and a half each day which would lose the cows valuable time for eating and milking," he explains. "The herd suffered from foot problems and milk yields were down by about 2 litres/day a cow."

The new system allows the herd to be kept off the fields in wet weather, preventing pastures from being poached and over grazed.

And, because the Zero Grazing machinery is reasonably light, Mr Higman says soil compaction and rutting is not a problem even on sticky ground.

"We can save up to 4t/day of silage by feeding freshly cut grass," claims Mr Higman. "We have also reduced protein inputs by about 300kg/day which has saved us £30-£40."

The farmers also claim grass quality is much higher because the crop does not have a chance to go to seed; pastures are mown every 3-4 weeks in the peak-growing season.

Regular mowing, says Mr Whell, also helps to keep weeds at bay, and a reduction in herbicide sprays has encouraged natural clovers to grow.

"The Zero Grazing system has increased our overall grass yield by about 30% in the first year of operation," claims Mr Whell. "We have since taken on more land which should enable us to feed more grass and TMR and hopefully increase our dairy herd." &#42

Field to farm… Cut grass is mown and blown into an 8t silage trailer.

Dairy farmers Ian Higman (left) and Martin Whell says Zero Grazing has achieved a more flexible and viable farming system.

ZEROGRAZING

For

&#8226 Higher quality forage.

&#8226 Increased milk yields.

&#8226 Flexible farming system.

&#8226 Pasture preservation.

Against

&#8226 Higher dependence on machinery reliability.

&#8226 More labour intensive.

&#8226 Better grassland management required.

The 18cu m RMH feeder wagon is used to feed the herds with freshly cut grass mixed with concentrates.