31 March 1995

Grassland tasks are tackled after wet weather break

The Nicholsons are gearing up for higher milk protein levels. Tim Relf reports

AN END to the wet weather has allowed fertiliser application and other grassland management tasks to proceed at Briscoe.

Fertiliser spreading began in earnest last week. Many of the fields destined for silage-making have received nitrogen at a rate 125kg/ha. The grazing fields, meanwhile, have been given 86kg/ha (69 units/acre).

Keeping the cows out longer last autumn has also meant that some of the grassland is very poached, and new seed will be broadcast with the spreader on the worst-affected areas. With the application rate intended, the cost is put at £34/ha (£14/acre).

The Nicholsons plan to roll the badly poached fields. "Were also currently aerating every field," says Eddie Nicholson.

And with the seasons grassland management in mind, Eddie is currently costing hay tedders.

"Silage composition is an important factor in milk protein levels," he says. "If we can increase protein from 3.22% to 3.30%, then with Northern Milks current pricing policy (4.45p per point of protein), returns should improve by about £29/cow."

The dry matter of silage has averaged 20% over the past five years. "Increasing this to between 25 and 30% would go a long way to improving the protein levels.

"Ideally we want a three-row tedder that can keep up with two foragers."

Eddies inquiries show that this type of machine will cost about £15,000. "It could pay for itself within two or three years," he says. "And the cost would probably be at 0% finance, payable over two or three years, anyway.

"Because of the system we have, alternative ways of improving protein levels, such as switching to whole-crop silage, or out-of-parlour feeding, are far less practical and therefore more expensive."

Butterfat levels are another key area which Eddie plans to concentrate on. "We will be aiming to average 4.04%," he says.

Once again, he sees grassland management as crucial. "The best way for us to reduce butterfat will be to decrease the amount of silage fed as a buffer feed.

"Over-production has been due to the herd being above its 4.04% butterfat base, rather than because of any actual liquid surplus."

"We predicted butterfat to average 4.20% this year. Up until the end of February, it was running at 4.12%. Im expecting the March level to be about 4.09%." (See facts box)

Controlling butterfat will be even more important in view of the small planned increase in herd size to 245 head, from this years 233.

"Weve allowed numbers to nudge up partly because of the extra 46ha (114 acres) of land we acquired last year. Half of it will be grazed, and half cut for silage. Weve chosen to keep this in permanent pasture and relieve the pressure on grassland elsewhere."

This takes expected output for next season at 6,500 litres/cow to 1,592,500 litres. "At that level we will be over-producing by 138,000 litres (9.5%)," says Eddie.

"We still dont know what this years super-levy is going to be. Until the Intervention Board tells Northern Milk how much we have leased, we are technically 7.5% over quota. But hopefully when this is taken into account, well end up about 2.5% above.

"And, although it may not be the final rate, Northern Foods has told us it will allow the first 6% of any liability to be delayed."


Milk Year 1993/94 1994/95

Apr 4.25 4.31

May 4.19 4.21

Jun 4.20 3.96

Jul 4.01 4.06

Aug 4.09 3.93

Sep 4.13 4.19

Oct 4.27 4.18

Nov 4.17 4.06

Dec 4.19 4.24

Jan 4.20 4.11

Feb 4.27 4.09

Mar 4.25 4.09*

AVERAGE 4.19 4.12

*Predicted

Aerating the pastures prevents panning and poor root development.