5 practical ways to lift milk from forage

Volac and Germinal have launched a new initiative to help UK dairy farmers increase milk from forage by 500 litres.

Dairy costings from Promar show that milk from forage has stagnated around 2,000 litres a cow on average over the past 10 years. In comparison, the top 25% of Kingshay-monitored dairies are achieving nearly 4,000 litres from forage.

There is huge scope for dairy producers to improve this, say Volac and Germinal, who have joined together to launch their “Five from 500” action plan.

See also: Pre-mow grazing helps cows yield 70% of milk from forage

The plan, which sets out how improvements can be made across five key areas of grassland production and silage-making to help achieve this, has been launched following a survey of 200 dairy farmers that showed there was an overwhelming desire among most to increase milk from forage.

However, less than half (47%) actually knew their milk output from forage.

Revealing the findings of the survey, Peter Smith of Volac said:   

“People see milk from forage as being critical to the future of their business. The desire [to boost milk from forage] is there but we don’t seem to be achieving it.”

He added stocking rates had remained fairly static over this period so that wasn’t a reason for low levels of milk from forage being produced on farms.

Many farmers simply weren’t measuring it and needed guidance, he added.

He believes 500 litres is a realistic target for most farms and is easily achievable by making small improvements in a number of areas.

Survey results showed:

  • 98% of respondents wanted to achieve higher milk from forage
  • Less than half (47%) actually knew their milk output from forage
  • Less than one-third (32%) had set targets to increase milk from forage in the next 12 months
  • One-third are setting targets, with the vast majority of these wanting to produce an additional 500 litres from forage.

Below, Mr Smith and Germinal’s Helen Mathieu set out how to raise milk from forage:

1. Plan your grass silage budget:

  • Work out how many tonnes of grass dry matter (DM) and total metabolisable energy (ME) requirements to feed the various groups
  • Set a clear target for forage intake
  • Cut concentrate to accommodate extra forage
  • Aim to make achieve the best possible ME. For example, increasing the ME by 0.7 from 10.3 to 11 and increasing intakes from 8kg/DM a cow a day to 9kg/DM a cow a day equates to an additional 16.5MJ ME/day. This is the equivalent of 1.5kg concentrate at 12.8ME.

2. Assess your grass yield and quality

  • Keep a record of how your fields are performing. If you’re rotational grazing, record how much grass each field is growing or when cutting silage, ask your contractor to record how much grass is coming off each field. If the forager isn’t able to record this information, ask the chopper driver to count the number of trailers filled in each field in a notebook.
  • Visually assess fields for weeds. A 10% dock infestation can result in a 10% yield loss.

See also: Step-by-step guide to assessing weeds

3. Improve grass yield and quality

  • Reseed regularly
  • Use top-performing varieties from the Recommended List. There are an extra 10,000 MJ of ME/ha to be gained from using the best variety based on yield and D value (the content of digestible organic matter in the dry matter).
  • Target a minimum D value of 69 to 70
  • Use varieties with a narrow heading date range (five days to one week maximum).

See also: Advice on selecting new varieties

4. Reduce field losses

  • Ensure grass is cut at the third leaf stage and before ear emergence (seed head can be seen). Once ear emergence begins, the crop loses 0.5 units of D each day. Over a week this amounts to 3.5 units of lost D value.
  • Leave 7.5cm of stubble when cutting to avoid soil contamination and allow for rapid plant regeneration
  • Ensure tyre pressures are correct on machinery
  • Ensure all equipment is set up correctly, including tedding machines and rowers
  • Don’t cut grass with dew on it in the morning or early evening. It’s like hanging washing out on a foggy day when the air will be saturated with water
  • Cut in dry conditions, ideally in the morning and spread it so it wilts rapidly
  • Target 30% DM within five to six hours
  • The stomata of the plant closes after six hours, reducing wilting.

5. Reduce ensiling losses

  • Calculate how much weight is required to roll the pit effectively. For example, 100t/hour of grass silage at 30% DM requires 25t of machinery constantly rolling. A well-rolled pit can accommodate 10% more silage.
  • Use an additive to stabilise the pH and reduce losses.

See also: Guide to choosing and using silage additives