22 November 1996

Cheshire unit wants

lot more from forage

Achieving a yield of 4000 litres from forage is the target on one Cheshire dairy farm. Jeremy Hunt reports

SETTING a target to increase herd average from 7500kg to 9000kg within a year and achieving it alerted Cheshire farmers Roy and Peter Willis to the "untapped potential" of their dairy herd, which has now hit its latest goal – a margin a cow of more than £2000.

The first target was set in July 1994. The 180-cow herd at Mouldsworth Hall, Mouldsworth, near Frodsham, was switched to three-times-a-day milking and the response was immediate.

"Summer calvers that normally peaked around 40 litres were suddenly giving an 10 extra litres. At the time leasing quota cost only 6p, so we decided to pursue the level of improvement to see just how far we could go," says Peter Willis, who runs the herd with his father, Roy.

Two years ago the margin a cow was about £1600. That rose to £1800 in line with yield improvement but the Willis family were not satisfied. "We felt there was more we could exploit. The genetic potential was there and we felt we must continue to set even higher goals; instead of asking for six litres from forage we needed to be asking for eight litres," he says.

Cows are fed a forage-box mix of grass silage, maize silage and molasses down the feed passage at about 52kg a head a day. Milkers are fed to yield in the parlour at a rate of 0.3kg/litre. Top yielders – two cows have given nearly 16,000 litres this year – will eat about 16kg a day offered at three milkings.

"Because of the layout of the farm it is difficult to manage cows in groups. We are calving all year round and feel the only way to feed efficiently for yield is in the parlour." Although concentrate use has increased by about 0.75t a cow since starting to milk three times a day, the 1500-litre yield improvement has more than compensated for higher feed costs.

At an open day, organised by Genus, NWF Agriculture and Farmplus, visitors were told the herd average was now 9514 litres from a concentrate use of 2799kg a cow. Concentrate feeding is now being cut, as Mr Willis aims to get more milk from forage, a figure which now stands at 3610 litres. MOPF a cow is £2072 and MOPF and fertiliser is £5490/ha (£2196/acre). The 134ha (330-acre) farm is on heavy clay and sandy loam. Stocking rate is 2.7/ha. This year 109ha (270 acres) were down to long-term perennial ryegrass plus 17ha (42 acres) of maize and 6ha (15 acres) of winter wheat.

The herd has just moved into a new timber-frame Farmplus building with 200 cubicles. Welfare and easy management were top priorities in its design. Cubicles are 8ft long and divided by a single rail with ample room for cows to lunge forward.

Automatic scrapers have not been installed after past problems. The building is now manually scraped twice a day. Passages are extra wide to allow for any build-up of muck but mainly to create a stress-free environment.

"It is all part of the way we want to manage the herd. Our cows are much like anyone elses, but we have seen what potential can be unleashed with the commitment of dedicated farm staff.

"Contented cows in comfortable, dry cubicles, with space to move around without getting bumped and with no competition at the feed barrier will out-perform cows under stress."

Silage is on offer to cows all year round and great care is taken to ensure the herd always has some fresh grass to graze. "It is little things like a regular bite of fresh grass that we have found keeps the edge on yield."

And the next target: To achieve 4000 litres from forage. "We have gone just about as far as we can go now on feed; we are pulling our concentrates back a bit and asking more of the forage. That is where we will be looking for extra margin to keep us over £2000 a cow." &#42

Achieving 4000 litres from forage is the next aim, says Peter Willis.

Cows are fed a forage-box mix of grass silage, maize silage and molasses at Mouldsworth Farm, while milkers are fed concentrate to yield at 0.3kg/litre in the parlour. Top yielders will eat about 16kg of concentrate a day.


&#8226 Three times a day milking.

&#8226 Concentrate use 2799kg a cow.

&#8226 Ensure fresh grass available.