Farmer Focus: Dry weather allows good-quality February grazing

We breathed a sigh of relief after passing the annual TB test, knowing the cost, complication, workload and stress have potentially been dodged for another year.

However, two years ago, a cull cow was sent away two weeks after passing the skin test and was found to have lesions, so we’ll always keep that in the back of our minds.

See also: Safety advice issued as calving in full swing

About the author

Jonathan Hughes
Livestock Farmer Focus writer
Jonathan Hughes and family run a 650-head organic autumn block-calving dairy herd with followers on 435ha (1,075 acres) in Leicestershire, selling milk to Arla. Livestock are intensively grazed throughout the growing season, with all forage crops grown in-house.
Read more articles by Jonathan Hughes

We’re 80% calved through the group of 100 spring calvers we kept in addition this year, and it has gone well.

It’s been made simple by only having a short four-week block. We sold 40 tail-end calvers privately to one farm.

Superb ground conditions in February have allowed residuals to be hit easily on the grazed paddocks. We’ve achieved intakes of 7kg dry matter (DM) a head a day and have grazed 45% of the platform at the time of writing.

Grazing autumn-calving cows on heavier soils can make hitting residuals in the early grazing months tough. But high overwinter covers were built through the mild autumn/winter.

As a rule, we house autumn-calving cows three weeks before breeding – in late October – to ensure a stable diet is achieved.

This allows grass covers to build through the winter, so while we don’t graze them then, we have been able to gain this spring.

The herd is in good condition and milk solids have increased from 2kg a cow a day to 2.1kg, with butterfat at 4.6% and protein at 3.65%. 

We have cut out 1kg of concentrate a cow and reduced cake protein to 16%, saving £28/t. Cows are on 6kg of concentrate overall (parlour cake and through the forage box), with some concentrate being home-grown oats.

Recent grass samples have come back at 29% DM, 26% crude protein and 12.6MJ/kg metabolisable energy (ME) – rocket fuel!

The in-calf (R2) heifers are grazing silage land before we apply slurry at 20cu m/ha with the tanker.

We will aim to split slurry application over two doses before first cut, and clover will take over to boost growth when soil temperature increases.

Disappointingly, there are patches of poor establishment in the autumn reseeds following wholecrop, caused by chickweed.

We blame this on the warm autumn, and we delayed drilling to mid-October and increased seed rate by 10%, to no avail. So, reluctantly, we may have to revert to the plough to bury weeds.