Increasing milk from forage helps two Cornish farmers

Increasing forage dry matter intakes to keep feed rate at about 0.26kg/litre has helped two medium-output systems feeding total mixed rations (TMR) through rocky times.

By working hard to improve forage quality and presentation, the cows of Martin and Karen Andrews, Goviley Farm, Truro, and Quentin Thomas, Carharthen Farm, Truro, are consuming 15kg dry matter (DM) from forage daily.

Both farms call on the expertise of independent nutritionist Steve Chapman of SC Nutrition. The Andrews’ TMR ration is formulated to do maintenance plus 20 litres, with Carharthen’s calculated to do maintenance plus 18 litres.

See also: Milk from forage limited by grass production and quality

Through making better forage, aiming for quality rather than bulk, and chopping grass silage to lengths of 25mm, Martin and Karen have increased MFF from 39% to 50% and Quentin Thomas has seen MFF lift from 29% to 41%.

And while yields have edged back, the margin for every litre sold has increased and components and fertility performance have held.

Both farms are good at producing high-fat milk with low bactoscans and are hoping to move over to Rodda’s from Dairy Crest to try and secure more value from their milk fats.

However, some cost cutting has retrospectively been viewed as a false economy, namely experimenting with summer grazing at Carharhten and cutting herbicide use by almost 100% at Goviley, but these decisions were taken with an 18p/litre milk price.  


Martin and Karen Andrews

Karen and Martin Andrews

Goviley Farm milks cows twice a day through a 12:24 herringbone parlour incorporating maize, grass silage and wholecrop barley in a TMR ration fed and mixed twice a day.

Summer grazing starts in the second week of March for a couple of hours with everything out by the end of March. Cows are then usually housed on 17 October.

The milk herd of 102 would be greater had it not been for the farm’s first major experience with bovine tuberculosis, which has forced the culling of 38 animals in 18 months.

More litres have come from forage by making more of the grazing platform and moving cutting dates forward a week to ten days. This has included paddock grazing and pre-mowing.

The result has seen first-cut D-values lift from 65 to 72 and ME lift from 10.5-11ME to about 12ME.

Three years of concerted effort to split fields into smaller paddocks has coincided with the farm’s contractor Barrett’s investing in a silage compactor.

Meanwhile, Martin and Karen have seen monthly concentrate use plummet from a historic level of 18t of cake and 10t of blend to 12t of cake and 7t of blend.

Farm facts: Goviley


March 2013

2016-17 winter

Average lactation


7,228 litres

Milk from forage litres and (%)

2,967 litres (39%)

3,624 litres (50%)

Concentrate use/litre



Cost of bought in feed/litre



Intakes of forage DM a cow/day




4.33% Butterfat, 3.33% protein

4.45% butterfat, 3.25% protein


Quentin Thomas

Quentin Thomas

At Carharthen, the herd of DC and WA Thomas is managed by Quentin Thomas, which installed two Lely robots milking 60 cows each seven years ago.

Cows are milked 2.9 times a day on average, with the feeding philosophy being “keep the feed bunk simple” with parlour cake topping cows up thereafter to a peak yield of 60litres at 0.4-0.45kg of cake/litre.

Quentin’s current goal is herd expansion and is looking at adding a third robot to take numbers from 120 to 180 cows.

The current TMR is 23kg each of maize and grass silage and 150g of minerals a cow.

Before expansion, Carharthen is trying stamp out Johne’s and optimise housing and management, including installing a new foot-bath and a sick bay area. 

Farm facts: Carharthen


December 2012

2016-17 winter

Average lactation

7,545 litres

8,239 litres

Milk from forage litres and %

2,216 litres (29%)

3,440 litres (41%)

Concentrate use/litre



Cost of bought in feed/litre



Intakes of forage DM a cow/day




4.39% butterfat, 3.33% protein

4.23% butterfat, 3.22% protein

Pros and cons of strategy


  • 80ha
  • 120 Holsteins and two Jerseys
  • Growing pasture, maize, wholecrop barley

Cutting herbicide

Something I have regretted is cutting back on herbicides as its led to dock problems, particularly in one field we’ve reseeded as grass.

There’s also chickweed which we are trying to solve.

Our rotation of grass ley (five to six years), maize (two years), one year of wholecrop and back to grass helps control the weed burden.

Silage compaction

Our contractors bought a silage compactor three years ago that is led by the tractor. This is now a must for me. It produces a much more consolidated clamp that does not slip at all.


Pre-mowing keeps pastures tidy and clean. Martin now keeps the mower on the back of the tractor all summer and follows the cows with a urea application.

We used to get a bit of E coli mastitis that Kenwyn Vets advised us could be partly down to long wet lush grass.

We learned our lesson there and keeping pastures shorter and more even has stopped this.

Paddock grazing

Switching to paddock grazing three years ago was something I was a bit sceptical of but it has worked. Pastures are in better condition.

Goviley is suited for paddock grazing, with many small fields and the biggest being 5ha. Cows typically visit each paddock twice before moving on.  

Fertiliser savings

Through changing to a “little and often” approach with fertiliser and making more use of slurry, Goviley has saved 9t/year of fertiliser, now buying about 26t.

The new fertiliser programme starts in mid-February with an application of 30 units of nitrogen across most of the farm.

Martin and Karen used a total of 15t of nitrogen in 2016, the rest being 27:5:5 or after-cut applications at 20:0:11.

Drying off cows

When the milk price was at 20p/litre we cut back on parlour cake at 200 days in milk when they were giving 20 litres/day.

This dropped daily yield by 2 litres but that milk came back again after a week. We just give them a mouthful of cake to keep them quiet.




  • 160 Holstein-Friesians
  • Growing maize and grass silage

Making more from maize

For several years, the Thomas family processed their maize silage at harvest.

Carharthen’s maize kernels have been obliterated with a corn crusher.

This particularly helps the high-yielding cows by making the nutrients in the maize more readily available to the rumen microbes.

Cutting rumen-protected urea

We were feeding 100g of optigen a cow a day to save 1kg of soya.

It looks expensive at more than £2,000/t and it appears on a different bill but since I’ve removed it my feed rate has increased from 0.26kg/litre to 0.28kg/litre and I am looking to put it back in soon.

At a cost of 22p a cow a day, the slow release urea is designed to keep the rumen bug “ticking over” throughout the day, thus improving ration use.

Feed pusher

We’ve had the feed pusher longer than we’ve had the robots and we wouldn’t be without it. It is so important to keep forage DMI’s high. Running it is a cost but so is producing forage.

Opening the gates

Previously I have grazed staler cows or pregnant cows before but this summer I grazed the lot.

Early summer this wasn’t a big an issue but in July and August we were about 1.3-1.7 litres down as I ran out of quality grazing.

I was prepared to live with this as when litres were worth 18p they weren’t worth chasing.

Grazing the entire herd wasn’t really a good move but I tried it. When you turn them out you lose the control you had over their energy and intakes but I may graze staler or pregnant cows again.

I found that after a walk around a lot cows were back inside after half an hour, with some of the pregnant cows having just sat on the grass and not eaten.


We installed the robots seven years ago and we maybe didn’t train the cows well enough at the start.

We have gained 200-250 litres a cow each year for five years and recently this has been coming from forage.

I want to keep my feed fence as basic as possible, which is why the cows get 50:50 grass and maize silage with minerals.

I can then draw my graphs up and target concentrate at the high yielders through the robots. The out-of-parlour feeders helps to get added concentrates into them. 

Steve Chapman, SC Nutrition

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman

“Underpinning our philosophy is the belief that swapping 1kg DM of concentrate for 1kg DM of quality silage is not a concern if silage quality is good.

“If we lose 1kg of concentrate at 13MJ/kg DM and replace it with 1kg or silage at 11.5MJ/kg DM, we obviously reduce dietary energy intake on the total ration by 1.5MJ.

“Our question is whether the fresh cow producing 40-50 litres of milk, with a daily energy requirement approaching 290-340MJ really notices such a small reduction in energy. We believe and have the evidence to suggest not.

“To achieve 15kg of forage DM intake we need to present the ration well. This means chopping silage finely regular push ups. 

“Clients have recently increased kernel processing in maize alongside reducing chop length to increase use of the maize starch by presenting a more processed material to the cow and rumen bugs. 

“Increasing the surface area of the harvested maize kernel is particularly important for high-yielding fresh cows, where passage rate of the ration though the cow’s intestinal tract is faster and therefore the gut has a limited amount of time to absorb nutrients.”

Increasing milk from forage in a medium-output system

  • Increase the amount from forage as a percentage of cow’s total diet
  • Kernel processing of maize
  • Silage quality of ME 11.2-11.5MJ or more
  • Regular push ups at the feed bunk
  • Small particle size for grass 22-25mm and maize 12-18mm
  • Target maintenance plus 16-18 litres a cow a day from conserved forage

Grassland and Muck: Find out how to make profitable milk from forage 

Grassland and Muck logo bearing the words 24-25 May 2017, Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, Partnered with YaraThis year’s Grassland and Muck Event is taking place on 24 and 25 May at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire. In addition to the 250-plus exhibitors, live machinery demos and grass plots there are a range of seminars, designed to help farmers make the most from grass.  

One of the seminars at the event is Milk from forage – realising the true value. Richard Simpson from Kingshay, will talk about how to achieve profitable milk from forage. You will be able to hear how farmers are optimising milk from forage to improve margins and hopefully take home some tips on how you can make the most of

You will be able to hear how farmers are optimising milk from forage to improve margins and hopefully take home some tips on how you can make the most of forage on your farm.

You will be able to hear how farmers are optimising milk from forage to improve margins and hopefully take home some tips on how you can make the most of forage on your farm.

Visit the Grassland & Muck Event’s website for more information