Farmer Focus: Once-a-day milking controls dry matter demand

We head into July and a moisture deficit has started to affect grass growth after a dry June. Average farm cover is down to 2,000kg dry matter (DM)/ha and daily growth has dropped to 11kg DM/ha.

At the same time, we have shut up 18ha (45 acres) of standing hay for our autumn calving herd to calve down on.

To avoid supplementing with concentrates or silage, we have put 300 cows on to once-a-day milking, which has enabled us to walk them off the platform to silage fields 2.5km away.

See also: How a dairy farmer manages challenging grazing conditions

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

Doing this has dropped demand on-platform below 30kg DM/ha and increased the rotation length. Milk solids have increased, while yield has dropped by two litres a cow.

However, it’s not all savings: the energy demands of our cows work out at about 3MJ of metabolisable energy (ME)/km walked, so walking this distance demands 15MJ ME/day.

The main downside has been the logistics of another road to cross, but everyone is benefiting from a later start in the mornings.

July is also the start of drying off, which will cut demand on the platform further.

The dry weather sees the grass going into its reproductive stage (going to head) more rapidly, causing it to lose quality.

The grass is not the only thing that does this, of course: weeds like the dreaded dock and thistle are bolting and coming to seed.

So, following this round of grazing, we are topping with a disc mower behind the cows.

We prefer to do this as it can be done as needed by a part-time staff member, whereas pre-mowing would be a daily job.

Topping also avoids the grass drying out in the paddock on hot days.

During recent periods of hot weather, the water system on 32ha (80 acres) of grazing platform struggled to keep up with the demand of 300 cows.

After concluding it was not the bore-hole pump, we found that water flow was restricted through a hidden length of 25mm pipe.

So, in June, we upgraded the water supply by extending the existing 50mm ring main.

We also took this opportunity to install a six-inch irrigation pipe and hydrants to the centre of that block, allowing us to irrigate dirty water more efficiently.