10 April 1998

Turn-out pays off despite cold winter

ROTATIONAL grazing has helped one Pennsylvanian Jersey milk producer cut feed and labour costs, and overcome labour difficulties.

Unlike most milk producers in the county who keep cows inside all year round, Tom Williams, Bryncoed Farm, Harrisburg, has responded to pressures by turning out cows to graze, so reducing production costs.

His 140-cow Jersey herd averages 5574 litres at 5.96% fat and 4.97% protein from 2t concentrate. Cows calve all year round producing a level milk supply, and are managed as a single group.

They are grazed from mid-April until early November; spring begins about one month later than in the UK. This year, he hopes to start grazing cows a few weeks earlier for just two hours a day because more grass is available after the mild winter.

Rotation length tends to be 30 days, extending to 35 days later in the year, but Mr Williams hopes to increase fertiliser use in order to grow more grass and be able to graze it at a less mature stage. He uses about 63kg/ha (50 units/acre) of nitrogen a year

Grass growth rates are high in spring and then fall as drought takes hold and temperatures increase in summer. This complicates grass management, so Mr Williams grows lucerne for rotational grazing during droughts.

Harsh winters mean the type of grasses which survive are lower in quality than ryegrass; much of the pasture is fescue, with some cocksfoot, brome and blue grass.

A total mixed ration is fed to supplement grass throughout the grazing season, because concentrates cannot be fed in parlour. Typically this ration includes 9 to 14kg of silage and 5.5 to 7kg of concentrate. Concentrates are kept fairly constant and silage is altered to reflect grass availability.

"This ration is put out after the afternoon milking and cows can access it again the morning, when we hold them in until it is cleaned up. I accept that this is restricting cows appetites for grass."

Pasture is managed on a rotation with 30 to 50 paddocks available for the milking cows. A fresh area is normally offered after each milking, and when Mr Williams has the time, the fence is also moved again between milkings.

A total mixed ration is fed throughout the grazing season because concentrates cannot be fed in the parlour, explains Tom Williams.