forage

3 November 2000




Cows for system and good use of

forage

Maximising use of the two

most popular dairy forages,

grass and maize was the

subject of a recent BGS and

MGA joint meeting

held in Sussex last week.

Marianne Curtis reports

BREEDING a suitable cow for his system, able to make good use of forage but maintain reasonable yields and remain healthy, is the objective of one Sussex producer.

A cost/litre of 13p was achieved by George Holmes 190-cow herd this year, in part due to 4200 litres of its 6700-litre average coming from forage.

Two years ago, the herd, based at Withypitts Farm, Turners Hill, Crawley, was ranked number 23 on PIN and breeding was heavily influenced by the Holstein, he told producers attending a British Grassland Society and Maize Growers Association joint meeting.

"But we were losing an awful lot of cows before the end of their first lactation. In 1992 we lost 14% but by 1997, this figure had risen to 30%."

Poor fertility and health problems are largely to blame, he said. "Although we block-calve between early September and Christmas, cows are allowed a reasonable chance to get back in calf.

"Despite this we have had 20 cows empty this year and there would have been 20 more if we insisted on calving before Dec 1."

Downer cows are also a recurrent problem, according to Mr Holmes. "We lose more cows at calving than we used to; I believe the Holsteins longer legs make it more difficult for it to rise. Also it carries less condition making it less able to surmount health problems."

Keen to continue with block-calving, which depends upon achieving good fertility, Mr Holmes is introducing New Zealand Friesian semen.

"I want a cow that fits my system and dont want to have to redesign my system to fit the cow."

Cows receive 1.2t concentrates a year which includes caustic treated wheat, soya and rape. Maize and grass silage is offered at a ratio of 2:1. Turnout is in early March and Mr Holmes has built tracks to extend grazing.

But wet weather means maize harvesting has only just been completed and has put an end to grazing. "Although tracks enable us to get cows in and out, we are currently limited by wet fields."

Milk yields are also slightly down this year compared with last and wet grass silage may be an influencing factor, he believes.

"Last year cows were averaging 28 litres/day compared with 25 litres this year. Wet grass silage could be a problem; we have just started to feed some whole-crop wheat which should lift yield.

"There are also a large number of heifers this year; 58 out of the 135 milking are heifers. New Zealand Friesians also mature more slowly than Holsteins, doing better in their second lactation."

Dry cow management may have had a further influence on yield, he said. "Dry cows have received only grass or silage and magnesium supplementation rather than concentrate to prevent them from bagging up too much.

"This may have had a negative effect on yield but we have had far fewer cases of mastitis."

A move from straw yards to cubicles last winter also significantly reduced mastitis levels, said Mr Holmes. "We used to have trouble with Strep uberis occurring at levels of 100 cases/100 cows but this virtually disappeared last year once we were through calving."

Straw costs are also a fraction of what they were since moving to cubicles, he said. "Straw cost was £8000 a year and fell to £1490 last year. We use one-fifth of the amount of straw that we used to."

MAXIMISING FORAGE USE

&#8226 New Zealand Friesian.

&#8226 Use of tracks.

&#8226 Maize, grass and whole-crop.

Set in panel pls

Comparable Farm Profit, Withypitts Farm.

Income p/litre

Total 17.52

Expenses

Purchased feed 1.96

Labour 3.61

Vet/med 0.47

Breeding 0.38

Fertiliser 0.6

Seeds and sprays 0.43

Straw 0.15

Sundries 0.33

Power and machinery 2.69

Depreciation and leasing 1.48

Sundry overheads 1.12

Total 13.23

Comparable farm profit 4.29

Comparable farm profit

p/litre

Total income 17.52

Expenses

Purchased feed 1.96

Labour 3.61

Vet/med 0.47

Breeding 0.38

Fertiliser 0.60

Seeds and sprays 0.43

Straw 0.15

Sundries 0.33

Power and machinery 2.69

Depreciation and leasing 1.48

Sundry overheads 1.12

Total expenses 13.23

Comparable farm profit 4.29

Moving away from Holsteins to New Zealand Friesians will hopefully result in healthier cattle, more suited to a forage-based system at Withypitts Farm, says George Holmes.

MAXIMISINGFORAGEUSE

&#8226 New Zealand Friesian.

&#8226 Use of tracks.

&#8226 Maize, grass and whole-crop.


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