15 November 1996

Top quality all year round key to litres from forage

Producing over 5000 litres a cow off forage depends on providing quality forage all year round. John Burns reports for the first of a series on maximising use of home-grown feed

PROVIDING high quality forage every day of the year, and plenty of it, is one of the secrets behind John and Jackie Daviss achievement of over 5000 litres a cow from forage.

The other is hard work. In March, for example, the cows at Tadhill Farm, Leigh-on-Mendip, Somerset, went out on to rye sown after maize on land half a mile from the farm buildings. Despite the long walk, the cows appreciated the rye and concentrates could be cut.

After two weeks on rye they moved to Italian ryegrass, which lasted until mid-April, when the herd started on the main pasture block, where a flexible set-stocking system is operated. When grass is growing away the Daviss shut off a field and take it for silage while its quality is good.

The first grass cut for silage is 5.3ha (13 acres) of Italian ryegrass – not the piece used for early grazing. Then comes the official first cut of 10.5-12ha (26-30 acres) of longer-term leys, and in June the second cut of IRG is taken. The second week of July sees the second cut, followed at the end of the month by the third cut of IRG. Later on a third cut is taken from the longer-term leys, and a fourth cut of IRG in mid-October. All but about 50 big bales goes into clamps.

The Daviss make all their own grass silage. Mr Davis mows it with a 3m (9.8ft) mower conditioner and leaves it untouched for 24 hours. Mrs Davis picks it up with the Pottinger MX3 forager, while Mr Davis hauls the grass to the clamp and buckrakes and rolls it. In a day they can clear 6ha (15 acres) as well as milking 55-60 cows.

They prefer to make their own silage because it means they can make quick decisions and take small areas to keep the grazing grass at the right stage.

Stubble turnips have played a big role in pushing the milk-from-forage figure over the 5000-litres-a-cow threshold. Last year they direct-drilled the turnips and were disappointed with their performance. But this year grassland was ploughed out and the Barkant turnips sown conventionally mid-April – 1.8ha (4.5 acres) lasted the herd eight weeks. "We put the electric fence up to the turnips and the cows reach underneath. To ensure they clear up the roots we move the fence twice a day," he says.

The importance of having a good crop of turnips is shown by the July production from forage. In 1996 it averaged 19 litres a cow, 15 litres in 1995 when the turnip crop was not so good, and only eight litres in 1994 without turnips. Next year they will grow the same total area of turnips but in two lots, three weeks apart so quality does not fall during grazing.

Seeds mixtures for new leys include more clover to improve forage quality and possibly cut fertiliser costs in the longer term.

The 11.3ha (28 acres) of maize allows them to feed a 50/50 grass/maize silage ration throughout the winter, and also a small quantity of maize silage each day once the turnips are finished and until the new crop is in.

Milking at Tadhill Farm is through an old abreast parlour. "It might not be very fashionable, but we are happy with it, and spending £50,000 on a smart new one would not make a penny more profit," says John Davis (inset).

5000 litres from forage depends on providing high quality forage all year.


Genus Milkminder results

Year to Year to

Sept 96Oct 94

Cows5451

Stocking rate

(cows a hectare)1.712.13

Milk (litres a cow)6,8945,657

Milk from forage

(litres a cow)5,1302,948

Milk fat (%)4.154.20

Milk protein (%)3.383.24

Milk (p/litre)25.13721.524

Milk value (£ a cow)1,7321,217

Concentrates

(kg a cow)8511,323

Concentrates

(kg/litre)0.120.23

Concentrates (£/t)151138

Other bought feeds

(£ a cow)12

Feed cost (£ a cow)130185

Margin over paid

feed (£ a cow)16031032

Margin over paid

feed (p/litre)23.2618.25

Nitrogen (kg/ha)207162

Fertiliser cost (£/ha)11785

Margin over paid feed

+ fertiliser (£/ha)26312109