27 July 2001

Grazing/silage balancing act

This summers unpredictable

grass growth is challenging

the management skills at

Camarthenshire Colleges

Gelli Aur farm.

Robert Davies joined the

team for an update on the

high margin/litre and high

margin/cow herds

A CALCULATOR was much in evidence when the team managing Gelli Aur Colleges spring calving high margin/litre herd went on its monthly farm walk.

The key question, for visiting MDC Pasture To Profit project consultant Paul Bird, was what area could be safely set aside for second cut silage. John Owen, farm manager, explained that the drought had limited grass supplies and the 117-cow herd had grazed the silage land.

"The rain came and the following humid spell produced tremendous growth, but all paddocks are more or less at the same stage," said Mr Owen. "We now have areas of grass which should be conserved as they are going over the top for grazing, but we do not want to cut until the end of July or early August because we want enough yield to justify silage making costs."

Grass was growing at the rate of 60kg of dry matter/ha/day, but slowing down. The cows needed 16kg DM/head/day so, with a stocking rate of 2.65 cows/ha, daily growth needed to be 43kg DM/ha.

Deciding exactly what area was needed to provide this for the rest of the season was a balancing act, so Mr Owen and project assistant Arwel Davies must monitor growth regularly and be prepared to be flexible. During the farm walk the team agreed that the cows should not move into the 1.2ha (3-acre) paddock next to the one they were grazing. They also decided that about 10ha (25 acres) of the 43.3ha (107 acres) allocated to the high margin/litre herd should be cut.

Mr Bird was impressed by the condition of the 6.6ha (16 acres) of reseeded land grazed at the beginning of July. To cut costs the existing sward had been destroyed chemically and the mixture of perennial ryegrass and white clover direct drilled.

"The extra production from this area will be important as the planned increase in stocking rate takes place," said Mr Bird.

The aim is to grow the herd to 130 cows stocked at three cows/ha (1.2/acre) and produce 5000 litres/head. The management team agree that profitability depends on good cow fertility and low replacement costs. To achieve this, Jersey cross cows with good hybrid vigour are being bred, and there is prudent but well targeted concentrate feeding in the spring.

This year, when 300kg of concentrate/cow was fed, there was a 100% submission rate to first service and 64 cows are now confirmed in calf. Many others probably conceived to second service, and the Limousin sweeper bull had served 20 cows. With 80 heifers due to calve next February, these would be sold as down calvers.

Mr Bird emphasised the importance of managing the pregnant heifers well to ensure that they are well grown and fit at the turn of the year.

The herds rolling average yield to June was 5140 litres, with 4378 litres coming from forage. Concentrate use averaged 0.07kg/litre and total purchased feed 0.99p/litre. The improvement in milk price to 17.74 boosted the rolling average margins over purchased feed to £861/cow and 16.75p/litre.

&#8226 Next month the key topic will be planning to start creating a wedge of grass for early turnout.

MANAGEMENT ISSUES

* Must reserve enough grazing.

* Decide second cut area.

* Monitor grass growth.

MANAGEMENT ISSUES

&#8226 Must reserve enough grazing.

&#8226 Decide second cut area.

&#8226 Monitor grass growth.

Systems compared


High margin/litre High margin/cow

Cows in herd 121 96

Target yield 5000 litres 7500+ litres

Calving period Feb-May Aug-Dec

Allocated area 43.3ha (107 acres) 43.3ha (107 acres)

Cropping Grass Grass/maize/wheat