Herd thrives under multiple forage system
Despite a lower milk price, one dairy herd has
increased its herd margin by about £20,000 by
relying less on grass and more on economically
produced alternatives. Robert Davies reports
DECIDING to reduce dependence on grass and grow a number of alternative crops is paying off at Rodbaston College of Agriculture in Staffs.
Farm manager Ian Sanday surprised many local producers when he elected to give up the struggle to grow enough grass on the farms light sandy loam soils with poor water retention.
"Our paddocks burn up in mid-summer and we cannot grow enough grass for the expanding dairy herd. When I can grow a mixture of forage crops reliably and economically, I am relaxed about buffer feeding cows when others are relying on grazed grass.
"We were also aiming to reduce spending on fertiliser and purchased protein, which made the use of nitrogen fixing legumes and pulses and low input triticale look attractive."
But the evolution of the farms now successful multiple forage system was not smooth. Mr Sanday had a good track record with forage maize and silage made from red clover/Italian ryegrass swards. But when he experimented with fodder beet, soya, bi-cropped sunflowers and maize, whole-crop wheat and kale the results were disappointing or there were too many growing or harvesting problems.
"Red clover/Italian ryegrass mixtures have always done a marvellous job for us and we were confident about being able to grow and ensile good crops of maize. Our dry conditions prevent us getting a good yield of whole-crop wheat, but we can grow whole-crop triticale cheaply."
Because only cow slurry is applied to the crop, he calculates that last year it cost him only £19/t of tricale whole-crop dry matter before claiming arable aid payment. Similarly, the pre-subsidy cost of whole-crop peas was £24/t DM, for maize it was £23/t DM and the figure for red clover/Italian ryegrass silage was £10/t DM. But the quality of the material was superior to white clover/perennial ryegrass silage.
But with arable aid the triticale was free and he was left with £4/t DM in hand, peas cost £2/t DM and the maize £15.60/t DM.
However, the 10t DM/ha/year that a five-year white clover/ perennial ryegrass ley could be expected to produce under conditions on the farm cost £8/t DM.
Mr Sanday decided to go for a high protein pea cut just before the triticale in mid-June. There was slight pod shedding, which he attributed to the use of a mower conditioner. The material was wilted for 48 hours, while triticale was harvested and clamped at about 55% dry matter.
Whole-crop peas were layered using a suitable legume additive on top of the triticale. This year, the cereal yielded 30t/ha (12t/acre) of fresh material and the peas 25t/ha (10t/acre).
This autumn, Mr Sanday plans to have 130t of whole-crop peas, 450t of whole-crop triticale, 800t of maize silage and 700t of grass silage in store to be fed in a total mixed ration with soya, rapeseed meal and rolled cereal.
A large tonnage of home-grown fodder is needed because spring calvers will get a blend of forages at grass until they are in calf. Maize silage, fed until July, buffers poor mid-summer grass growth.
"We must be able to get the cows back in calf and I was not happy with our conception rates. Cow are being crossed with Jersey bulls to improve hybrid vigour and perhaps time will show that the crossbreds will require less supplementary feeding," he says.
No special machinery or storage facilities are needed to store whole-crop and triticale and pea crops, and their early harvest allows a catch crop of stubble turnips to be sown for finishing bought in store lambs.
Mr Sanday is convinced that feeding a mixture of forages brings synergetic benefits by providing rumen organisms with a range of carbohydrate types. Herd performance has improved since the policy was adopted.
In mid-August, the 144 cows in the herd had a rolling average yield of 7424 litres/head compared with 6535 litres in 2001. Yield from grass was up from 2144 litres/cow to 2271 litres/cow and yield from all forage was up 1217 litres to 3706 litres/cow.
"Although milk price had dropped by 0.388p/litre, margins over purchased feeds have increased by 0.22p/litre to 15.1p/litre and by £148/cow to £1121/head. Total concentrate use is down from 1.895t/cow and 0.29kg/litre to 1.7t/cow and 0.23kg/litre."
Total feed costs are also down by £15/cow and 0.61p/litre, while the rolling whole herd margin over purchased feeds stood at £161,389 or £22,337 up.
Mr Sanday is pleased with the year on year comparison, but he is even happier when he benchmarks Rodbastons figures against data published by Promar Consulting.
"Our yield from all forage is 1154 litres higher than the average and 1020 litres higher than the top 10% of herds. The feed cost is 0.97p/litre less than the average and 1.14p/litre less than the top 10% and the margin over purchased feeds is £18/cow higher than average." *
• Variety of crops grown.
• Costed carefully.
• Cow performance improved.
Colllege herd performance
Herd size 142 144
Yield/cow (litres) 6535 7424
Yield from grass 2144 2271
Yield from forage 2489 3076
Concentrate/cow (t) 1.9 1.7
Concentrate/litre (kg) 0.29 0.23
Rodbaston crop costs
Before arable With aid aid (£) (£)
Triticale whole-crop 18.90 -4.04
Pea whole-crop 24 1.84
Maize 22.68 15.06
Red clover/Italian 10.08 Same
White clover ley 8.44 Same