New feed system boosts milk yield

Roger Lewis, who runs the Poyersfield Holstein herd, is achieving 3,864 litres from forage compared to the 2,837 litres he was getting last year.

Mr Lewis has changed the autumn calving herd’s diet by adopting a system that uses a slow release urea in conjunction with a blend specifically designed to match a farm’s forage inputs.

The Optimum MP system is based on American research and is widely used on large dairy farms on the continent. Ken March, of Countrywide Elite Nutrition, who developed the system, says feeding less crude protein means cows don’t waste energy processing excess protein into milk urea. This, he says, has a positive effect on health and fertility.

Most of the protein supplied is rumen degradable, which feeds the rumen bugs and drives the production of amino acid – otherwise known as true protein.

“You don’t need to chuck crude protein through a cow when she doesn’t have a requirement for it. What she does have is a need for are amino acids, the building blocks for protein. All we are doing is matching this need to her yield,” says Mr March.

Amino acids are the nutrients cows need for milk yield, fertility and milk protein.

“Both of the feed components of the TMR diet, Optimum MG Blend and Optigen from Alltech, are synergistic both in relation to dry matter intake and increased milk proteins,” adds Mr March.

“If a cow isn’t using an excess of energy to process protein her fertility is going to be improved and she will have a better immune system.”

At Poyerston Farm, near Pembroke, Mr Lewis is achieving a milk form forage figure of nearly 4,000 litres from a ration of 41% grass silage, 38% maize silage and 20% wholecrop silage. The analysis of last years’ first cut silage was 12.4 mj/kg/dm, 17.6% protein and 30.3% DM.

The cows get a high specification mineral with a good level of vitamin E and biotin. The cows are fed in the parlour to a maximum of 3kg a day and the total concentrate intake is 2.7 tonnes.

Mr Lewis, who farms in partnership with his parents, Philip and Sheila, says he is not feeding any less purchased feed than he had before changing the herd’s diet but his milk yield is now 9,300 litres with 3.3% protein compared to 8,600 litres. “I am delighted with the extra milk yield and I feel that there is more to come,” he says.

Another benefit Mr Lewis has seen since changing his system 12 months ago is higher milk protein levels. Although he is on a First Milk liquid balancing contract and is therefore not rewarded for protein levels, he says the increased percentages reflect the health of his cows.

“At our peak production between November and January I was averaging 9,300 litres with 3.3% protein. In the past our protein has fallen to 2.98%,” he says.

“It doesn’t mean a financial gain because it doesn’t influence our milk price but who is to say that our contract won’t change? This system could help fully housed or high yielding herds to exploit their milk contracts.”

Mr Lewis’ system has consistently focused on the production of quality, home-grown forage. “Forage is what keeps a cow healthy and this feed system helps her to get more from that forage,” he says.

Managing his own crops gives him total control of the pedigree cows in the first six months of lactation. Formulating his own herd ration means he can get more milk from less feed.

“Changes to the diet over the last 12 months has had a massive effect on our milk production from homegrown forage. It is the cheapest system for us, to focus on what we grow here on the farm. Our feed costs this year were exactly what they were last year,” says Mr Lewis.

The Lewis’ own 230 acres and rent a further 120 acres of off-lying land for growing silage and forage crops.

The cows are housed throughout the dry period to give control over their intakes but grazing is important to the system too. “We turn the whole herd out to grass in late March and they can pretty much be managed in the same way as a spring calving cow. It’s all about challenging them because the quality of the grass is so good,” says Mr Lewis.