Grass can be the key to the success of herds yielding almost 8000 litres, says one
producer who has travelled the world seeking the best bits of different management
systems which will suit his Welsh family farm. Robert Davies reports
MAKING the decision to expand the herd and alter breeding and feeding policies in the mid-1990s is allowing one Powys farm to cope better with the squeeze on milk price.
Dairy herd management at Great Hem Farm, Forden, was transformed as a result of Richard Trows visits to Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
Until the mid-1990s the family farm, run predominately by Richards father, Colin, milked 140 Friesians with a 5500 litres a cow herd average. Now they milk 240 Holsteins that average 7800 litres and are convinced expansion has equipped them to survive better with lower prices.
"In 1996 milk price was good and it was very much a case of throwing concentrate at cows," says Richard Trow. "But things have certainly changed since then and we would be in dire straits now if we had not decided to expand, increase yields and maximise output from forage. "At least now we have the capacity to move forward, reduce costs and increase output. We are planning to go up to 300 cows within two years."
When he returned from his trips, he managed to convince his father and brother, Jonathan, that they could push for higher yields, while still exploiting the grass. There is 121ha (300 acres) of land suitable for grass around the buildings.
With another 81ha (200 acres) 18 miles away, they were also able to plan an arable rotation to provide maize silage, barley and wheat to form the bulk of a total mixed ration.
The emphasis on optimising forage use remains strong and this is encouraging the partners to go for medium-sized Holsteins. This year they are also trying Jersey sires on some cows to breed more robust replacement heifers which can make full use of an extended grazing season.
At the end of May costings showed rolling production from grazed forage stood at 2474 litres a cow and production from all forage of 3802 litres a cow. This compared with 1553 litres a cow from grazed grass and 2771 litres a cow from all forage in May 2001.
The improvement has been achieved despite increasing stocking rate from 2.12 to 2.53/ha (0.86 to 1.02/acre). Concentrate use fell year on year from 0.30kg/litre to 0.24kg/litre and total concentrate costs fell from £218 a cow and 3.16p/litre to £180 a cow and 2.38p/litre.
Cows are not fed in the parlour. The cost of the total mixed ration used, typically containing grass and maize silages, barley, soya, rape and maize gluten, fell from £105/t to £101/t. But Mr Trow believes most of the improvement in performance comes from better grass management.
The September to mid-December calving cows go out much earlier than they did a few years ago. This year they were turned out from Mar 7 during the day and completely from Mar 13. This has been made possible by laying more than one mile of tracks.
Mr Trow is keen on grass budgeting and keeping plenty of high quality grass in front of cows. Cows are dry by the time grass supplies typically become a bit tight in mid-July.
A lot of money has been invested in cubicle housing for 240 cows and the Trows have replaced a 7:7 herringbone parlour with a 24:24 rapid exit design. This will easily cope with an extra 60 milkers. Cubicles for the new cows are being installed in a shed previously used for heifers.
Great Hem is one of 10 Farming Connect demonstration farms. Visitors to the first of a planned series of farm walks recently heard that members of the Trow family felt that regular contact with other progressive milk producers was very important.
Tom Phillips, the Australian Pasture into Profit consultant, said the familys keenness to learn from others was a sign of true professionalism.
"They are rightly proud of what their business has achieved already, but they are still swapping ideas with members of a local discussion group," said Mr Phillips. "They want to optimise grass use by being in full control of grassland management at all times."
This required planning, good cow access to grazing areas, and a water supply to every paddock. The aim was to increase profits by extending the grazing season and monitoring costs and he thought that the partners were well on the road to achieving their objectives.
A bull beef system that finished cattle at 12 to 14 months old, weighing about 550kg, also shows that they were equally determined not to waste the potential of their surplus dairy-bred calves. *
May 2001 May 2002
kg/litre 0.30 0.24
Cost p/litre 3.16 2.38
Cost £ a cow 218 180
Jonathan, Colin and Richard Trow now have a rapid exit parlour suitable for milking 300 cows. It replaces a 7:7 herringbone parlour.
Richard Trow persuaded his family that they could push for higher yields and exploit their grass more, too.
• Moved into Holsteins.
• Crossing with Jersey.
• Use of grass improved.