19 June 1998

Straw yard switch is milk yield booster

LANARKSHIRE farmer Jim Currie has boosted annual milk yield by 600 litres a cow simply by switching housing from cubicles to straw yards.

"We have increased our average yield by 1000 litres in the past year. Some of it has been due to better feeding and management of grass and some to improved genetics, but more than half of the gain has come from the straw housing," Mr Currie told visitors to Carlinside Farm last week.

"The cubicles were too short for modern cows and it was going to be a huge expense to replace them, so we cleared the cubicle shed and turned it and other accommodation into straw yards.

"We have had more contented cows without lameness or feet problems and less mastitis. We know that the move has made the biggest contribution to our increased yields," said Mr Currie, who is expanding his herd from 120 to 180 milking cows.

The visiting farmers were there as part of a technology transfer programme for which the Scottish Agricultural College is being paid by the Milk Development Council to publicise MDC-funded SAC research

The programme will cover the whole of Scotland and a variety of topics. Following a summer break, the programme will resume with extended grazing, winter feeding and milk quality during September, calving management and fertility during October and November and planning for grazing next February.

SAC grassland specialist John Bax told the Lanark meeting that there was a growing realisation that maximum use had to be made of grazed grass. "Silage is expensive and efficient use of grazed grass will be the key to profitability," said Mr Bax.

New Zealand specialists had done much to raise the profile of grazed grass in Britain and there are a growing number of farmers who now used the NZ technique of measuring dry matter yield of a grazing field, he said.

However, Alistair McIntyre, of Renfrewshire, pointed out: "You get a New Zealander up here in the month of March and let him try to tell us then about turning cows out early." And a female delegate who works for a silage additive company added: "I know of one farmer in England who lost five cows recently through listening to New Zealand advice. The cows were pushed so hard at grass that they died of hypomagnesaemia."

Mr Bax said that the steady increase in genetic potential was creating new challenges in managing cows at grass.

"Increasingly, they do not have sufficient grazing or ruminating time to maximise milk production and supplementation with concentrates or buffer feeds will be needed for animals yielding in excess of 25 to 30 litres a day," he said.

Mr Bax also urged the dairy farmers to consider extended grazing this autumn and quoted his experience at SACs Acrehead Farm in Dumfries where he was gaining an extra two litres a day and extra milk protein from extended grazing.

"It is top quality grass and it should be reserved for the highest yielding or freshly calved cows," he said.

Theres a growing realisation that maximum use must be made of grazed grass, said SACs John Bax (left). Jim Curriess herds average milk yield has increased by 1000 litres in a year because of better grass and feed management, improved genetics and a move to straw yards.