Grazing keeps TB at bay

Cutting costs and reducing TB reactors are among the key things on many dairy farmers’ wish lists. But achieving these under current milk price cuts almost seems impossible.

For Tim Mayo of Harescombe, south-west Gloucestershire, the cost of 15 TB reactors in 18 months is forcing him to look for alternative cost-saving strategies both to sustain the business and reduce incidences of TB.

Attending an evening organised by the Milk Development Council on identifying the risk of TB from badgers gaining access to maize stored on farm, Mr Mayo decided to act proactively and switch from feeding maize and grass to an exclusively grass-based system.

“Watching video footage showing lesion-riddled badgers jump into feed troughs, it suddenly hit me how difficult it is to remain biosecure,” he comments.

So, instead of inviting maize-hungry badgers on to the farm, Mr Mayo decided to remove temptation and switch to a grass-based system.

Running 70 cows, on 50ha (120 acres) Mr Mayo has plans to expand the herd to 100 cows and invest in a new parlour, showing a positive view for the future.

“Because we run a relatively small herd, it is important to concentrate on getting a system which suits our resources,” he adds.

“When you make good quality grass silage, this provides sufficient forage,” explains Mr Mayo. “We take two cuts of mostly permanent pasture and to raise proteins levels, slit and sow white clover.

“We try to ensure optimum grass cover, as this leads to a better recovery rate after cutting, if we overgraze we could lose up to a third of grass yield.”

Growing 4ha (10 acres) of red clover, Mr Mayo uses this as a cutting mix and avoids grazing in case of bloat (see box). “This year red clover produced 18% protein, which boosts the overall protein in the mix.”

Using the MDC’s Grass+ system has helped Mr Mayo improve the grassland across the farm. “Regular advice sessions and workshops help to make the most of the resources we have, both in terms of manure use and grass.”

These sessions not only provide a forum to share information and increase profitability, but also act as opportunities to share the burden with other farmers.

“When the pressure is on, you need support from meeting other farmers facing similar issues. We used to get this from going to market every week, however now attending things such as farm visits gives us a chance to share ideas and worries.”

And not only has this switch enabled him to rid some of the burden of TB, costs saved from using manure efficiently are starting to add up as well.

“We have saved an average 12/ha (30/acre) from using manure at key growth stages. For too long, artificial fertilisers have been relied on to boost grass performance, which hasn’t been needed.

“Splitting muck in winter and pumping dirty water out in July via an umbilical system, we stack manure in silage clamps during the winter and spread after first cut.”

Referring to Kemira recommendations, muck spreading in July allows ground to take the weight of hired muck-spreaders, explains Mr Mayo. “This year we were fortunate in that spreading was followed by thunderstorms, which helped incorporation.”

Silage ground is grazed after first cut, with FYM applied throughout the rotation replenishing grassland. “An unexpected bonus of the switch has been the reduction of milk fever to only one case – and this was in a 12-year-old cow,” Mr Mayo adds.

Rearing all replacements, the herd is fortunate in having a high percentage of heifer calves and bull calves are fattened, selling at 12-15 months.

“With the increasing demand for black-and-white calves, fattening is becoming more profitable and certainly something to boost income.”