Good management can lift returns for grass-based dairy farmers

Grassland management can lead to better returns for the grass-based dairy farmer, says Research Assistant Hannah Kent, The Andersons Centre.

Grass is one of the cheapest forms of forage available to dairy farmers so why aren’t we doing more to maximise its output?

With exception to the indoor milk production systems, evidence suggests that profit is directly related to forage use. Better grassland management is key to lowering costs as bought-in feed prices have rocketed.

Insufficient plant nutrition, soil erosion and weed management are all factors which affect the performance of grass and hence the profitability for the dairy farmer. If all the correct factors are achieved, grass has the potential to produce 10-11t/ha dry matter (DM) with 13-14 t/ha DM from silage according to EBLEX.

The current drought-like weather in some areas of the country, doubled with high temperatures has done nothing to aid grass growth. In some cases grass has scorched leaving undesirable patches for the grazing dairy cow. Fertiliser planning for grass must be taken into consideration as careful planning will guarantee no wastage of nutrients and accurate applications will ensure optimum grass performance in order to achieve the best returns on investments.

Knowing the components of the soil (N, P, K, Mg and pH) will give a greater idea of what elements are missing and what nutrients need to be added in order to gain sufficient grass growth.

The pH of the soil should be between 6-6.5. When the pH is more acidic or alkaline than this, the grass simply won’t grow as well. Investments in a soil test every three to five years will prove economically viable when gaining optimum yields from grass. Compaction is also an issue as soil structure will affect root depth which will ultimately limit plant activity.

Plate meters are a key tool for the grass-based dairy farmer to establish which paddocks are most suitable for grazing and help maximise milk yield from forage, hence cutting costs and increasing profitability.

Leicestershire farmer Paul Eggleston describes the use of his plate meter as the most valuable time of the week.

“I bought my plate meter two years ago and the investment of £400 has saved me thousands. Not only does it show the potential for grazing, it also gives me the opportunity to assess weed cover, trough leakages and breaches in the fences”.

In the current economic climate can the cheapest form of forage for dairy cows be left to go to waste when lower costs through better use of forage leads to increased profit?

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