5 February 1999

February calvers react positively to intensive grazing

By Jessica Buss

TESTING intensive grazing techniques for spring calvers using only February calving cows has proved the system is successful on one Hants farm.

Chris Martin separated 60 Feb-ruary calvers from his 300 January to July calving cows at Manor Farm, Exton, last spring. This was to see how they would respond to extended rotational grazing, with February calvers believed to make the best use of grazed grass.

As a result of this trial, Mr Martin plans to tighten the herds calving pattern nearer to February as quickly as possible without buying in stock. Cow numbers will increase to 400 this year. This will allow him to produce his 2m litres of quota at a lower cost/litre, increasing profit.

Herdsman Martin Rowell explains that February calvers were turned out soon after calving, a month ahead of the rest of the herd which stayed in until mid-March. The trial group were allocated 23ha (57 acres) of grass for rotational grazing. Other cows were also rotationally grazed.

In mid-March, February calvers were out day and night and received no silage buffer. Concentrates were flat-rate fed at 5kg/cow from calving until July, after which it was stepped down.

Trial cows remained separate from the main herd until early August, when the labour force was reduced to lower production costs. The herd is now run by two full-time staff with part-time help equivalent to half a person. This has been made possible by investing in a new 40 point rotary parlour, with a potential throughput of 220 cows an hour, cutting milking times.

"February calvers performed well and got back in calf. They stayed out even in the wet spring weather, and although they lost condition in spring they regained it quickly," says Mr Rowell. Unfortun-ately, the entire herd suffered some embryo reabsorbtions this summer and February calvers were also affected.

Keeping these early spring calvers separate from the rest of the herd also allowed Mr Rowell to learn more about managing spring calvers at grass, without having lower yielding cows in the same group.

"February calvers must go into paddocks with a higher grass cover than mid-lactation cows and not graze it down as tightly, right through the grazing season." He hopes this will achieve higher grass intakes to maintain yield and body condition.

Mr Martin adds: "We were fascinated that these cows kept their heads down and continued to graze well even in the worst weather." During bad weather, the main herd would be back at the gate waiting to come back in for silage.

"The trial has given us confidence to try more extended grazing this year and to tighten the calving pattern." Mr Martin plans to cut concentrate use to 500kg a cow and although yields are expected to drop to 5000 litres, keeping more cows will maintain farm output. Currently, cows average 6700 litres from 1t of concentrate.

Mr Rowell adds that this year concentrates will be targeted more carefully and silage use reduced to 3t a cow. He also plans to grow forage turnips so that dry cows can be over-wintered outside. Maize will not be grown this year so that the farms whole 160ha (400 acres) available to cows can be grazed.

Mr Martin believes that because production costs a litre will be far lower, with lower concentrate, silage making and labour costs, the herd will be more profitable. Keeping extra cows should not require more labour with the faster parlour, and calving in a tighter block should reduce the labour needed to 2.2 full-time equivalents, he adds. &#42

CONCLUSIONS

&#8226 Calve cows in a tight block.

&#8226 Feed less concentrate.

&#8226 Need to enter paddocks with enough grass.

&#8226 Body condition losses regained quickly.

T-sum dates break records

IT is a remarkably early year for T-sum, especially in East Anglia, with many squares reaching T-sum 200 on a record early date.

Forecasts suggest that 47 squares will be green by Feb 5, which is more than those recorded at a similar date since T-sum began.

Warm temperatures have been accompanied by heavy rainfall and in most areas it will be some time before land is fit to take a tractor. Those in a green square can now have confidence that once land is fit to travel it will be warm enough to fertilise.

Once land is firm enough to take a tractor equipped with standard tyres, any lingering doubts about nitrogen leaching can be overcome by using a fertiliser which has most of its nitrogen in the leach resistant ammonium form.

For further information please call the farmers weekly/Kemira T-sum hotline on 0151-357 5594 or consult the Farmers Weekly interactive website at http://www.fwi.co.uk