26 July 2002

Sheep improve grass quality for dairy herd

Grazing cattle and sheep on the same farm can be

complementary, even where theres a dairy herd,

producers visiting north Wales were told. Robert Davies

completes his report from the British Grassland Society summer meeting

WINTERING tack sheep has a beneficial effect on pastures BGS members heard when they visited an Anglesey dairy farm.

Harri Evans insisted that without running 600 ewe lambs from Snowdonia until March his 100 cows would not produce half of their milk from forage.

"I dont like sheep, except when they put a significant amount of money in my pocket and clean up my swards. I believe this gives us a fresh start each spring and it improves the quality of grass available."

His high yielders could not be turned out very early and early season poaching could be serious. But when they went out in late April there was plenty of regrowth. And running sheep did not prevent him taking a substantial May silage cut from over half of the 95ha (234 acres) at Rhosbadrig Farm, Ty Croes.

Normally silage was clamped and had an average of 29% dry matter, 18% protein and an ME of 12.4MJ/kg DM. However, this years bad weather forced a change when, rather than risk losing quality by waiting for his contractor, all first cut was made into big bales.

Mr Evans said he did not differentiate between milk from grazed and conserved grass. The bottom line was that 5050 litres of the average yield of 10,000 litres a cow was from forage. He believes that compares well with herds run on New Zealand management principles.

His cows were strip grazed with the fence moved morning and evening. Good quality silage was buffer fed throughout the grazing season. This made the cows less loose and, in his experience, helped keep protein and fat % up.

The rolling average was 3.94% fat and 3.21% protein. A specially blended 18% concentrate was fed in the parlour. It cost £145.80/t and the average consumption was 2.27t/cow, making the cost £331/cow or 3.39p/litre of milk.

Visitors heard that the unit was marginal for maize growing, so the total mixed ration fed to housed cows was based on grass silage and whole-crop wheat. Wheat was sown after the tack sheep returned to their mountain home.

But he was looking for alternative bulk feeds. A trial crop of red clover and Italian ryegrass had performed "brilliantly" this year, and would be grown again. In contrast a small area of Jumbo sorghum he intended to make into big bale silage was a complete disaster.

BGS members were told that rolling all feed cost was £372/cow and 3.8p/litre. Up to the end of April, rolling average milk price was 19.95p/litre and the margin over all feeds was £1610/cow.

When asked about getting the very high yielding cows in his multi-award winning Ceinwen Holsteins back in calf, he said he was not obsessed with the idea of conception by 120 days.

Sales of pedigree cattle, especially bulls, were important. In the last 11 months he had sold 32, including two to Genus. The herd was graded up from British Friesian and there was a deep gene pool that allowed him to supply customers with a wide range of bull types.

But he had plans to reduce heifer sales, as he felt he had no alterative but to expand the herd. A new parlour had been installed and in five years he hoped to be achieving 12,000 litres/year from more cows, all classified VG or better.

Who would buy that milk, was a question he could not answer. He believes in co-operation and currently supplies Express Dairies. However, with five children to feed, clothe and educate charity must begin at home. An extra 1p/litre on 1m litres of milk was a big sum of money.

&#8226 Half milk from forage.

&#8226 Aiming for 12,000 litres.

&#8226 New parlour installed.