TURNING cows out to graze for the past four years has resulted in increased profits for one Pennsylvanian milk producer.
Until 1994 Titus Martin, Fayetteville, grew maize and lucerne to feed his 65 Holstein cows that only went outside for exercise. Now, he believes he has found the route to increased profits and reduced his workload by rotational grazing from April until November.
He has reduced labour and feeding costs. Cow health has improved, especially feet and legs and cell counts, in turn reducing culling rates, and he himself suffers less stress.
Mr Martins 1996 net farm income was above the top 10% compared with costed farms in Pennsylvania state in 1996. He doubled that net farm income to £250 a cow in 1997, after deducting family labour. Income is now generated from 90 cows, averaging 8030 litres.
Before grazing, 22% of the herd were culled each year; that has now reduced to just 14% a year. Getting cows outside has also allowed him to increase cow numbers, because housing is limited.
Dry cows and in-calf heifers were first grazed and strip grazed rape in 1993. This made him realise the value of grazing and how much dry matter animals could harvest.
So, in 1994, Mr Martin direct drilled a mix of oats, perennial ryegrass, cocksfoot and clover on 13ha (32 acres). He then fenced around it and a further 8.5ha (21 acres) of lucerne and cocksfoot. Lanes were installed to access pasture. In total he spent £12,000, but believes this investment was worthwhile.
Cocksfoot is the main grass grown in the US because ryegrass is less tolerant of its cold frequently snow-covered winters, and cocksfoot is more drought tolerant.
"Cows were turned out in 1994, and in-calf heifers and dry cows followed them in their rotation," he said.
In 1996 he committed more to grazing and eliminated maize from the 65 acres that he could graze. But in 1997 he reintroduced some maize into the rotation, and because of the dry summer he grazed some of the lucerne instead of taking a third and fourth cut from it.
Heifers and dry cows did not follow cows onto cow grazing blocks because of the dry summer. In September, 40 cows were sold following an increase in numbers, because feed was in short supply.
Grazing cows not only increases profits, it also reduces the workload, says Titus Martin.