Profitable dairying, by
maximising use of grass
to produce healthy
milk, was the focus of an
MDC meeting at SACs
dairy unit in Dumfries.
Allan Wright reports
GROWING demand for "healthy" milk will persuade more and more dairy farmers to extend their grazing season, says SAC researcher Dave Roberts.
"There is now enough research evidence to say with confidence that fresh grass gives the most healthy fatty acid profile in milk," he told farmers at an open day at SACs Crichton Royal dairy unit near Dumfries.
"That will mean more interest in extended grazing and how to get the most from grass throughout the year."
Interest in "healthy" milk had led the Milk Development Council to fund further work on extended grazing, said Dr Roberts, who outlined what was being done with the Crichtons Acrehead low-input herd, which has been used for extended grazing trials for a number of years.
"We have moved the whole herd of 60 cows to spring calving. That seems logical if you are to get the most from grass. We told ourselves that we had no silage fields and would graze all the grass if needed.
"However, we have made first and second cut silage and finished up with only about 15% less in the clamps. We will graze now instead of taking a third cut. Its the expensive one and there is an important message there if you cost out your silage production."
Cows would be housed in early October and strip grazed for two hours a day in a field which had been rested for a full month, he said. It would last the cows until early December. "The switch to spring calving is important when considering extended grazing. These animals are in late lactation and any production swings will be small. We dont need to worry if they are going a little bit hungry."
Dr Roberts said the farm enjoyed existing tracks to the late autumn grazing field and warned that the current milk price climate did not justify capital expense.
"You must look at fixed costs and consider whether a feeder wagon is justified if grass is the main feed and where, like here, you are down to half a tonne of concentrates a cow. Instead of the feeder wagon, we are now delivering blocks of silage into the feed passage and making a major saving.
"We dry all cows off in mid-December and have a month of low labour costs and no cooling of milk. You should think about how much it costs to cool a small amount of milk in a big bulk tank."
Dr Roberts criticised the grassland enthusiast who never lifted his head to look at the cows. "You have to watch for those going hungry and becoming thinner and thinner. We tend to talk about maintenance plus so many litres from grass when what we really mean is from grass plus the animals reserves. You must be ready with a little extra concentrate for those losing too much condition."
Fresh grass produces the healthiest milk for people to drink, says SACs researcher Dave Roberts.
• Produced from grazed grass.
• Best to spring calve.
• Strip graze in autumn.