Have confidence in your forage

20 March 1998

Have confidence in your forage

The good news for dairy farmers is that spring is here. That should mean no more yards to scrape and feed mangers to fill. The milder winter should see plenty of grass on most farms – and any producers keen to reduce production costs will have had cows out harvesting their own feed for some time by now.

Indeed, UK farmers are finding that grass saved in October and carried over winter for early spring grazing is of high dry matter at 18%, with ME levels of 11-12 and with a low nitrate content. Contrary to popular opinion, spring grass can offer a top quality, high dry matter feed.

The advantages of maximising use of this grass are cheaper milk, with less need for costly silage and purchased feeds. For instance, it costs about 3p to grow a kg of grass DM. This compares with grass silage at 10p/kg DM, and concentrate at 19p/kg DM.

Add to this the expense of feeding out concentrate or silage, as opposed to letting the cow harvest the feed herself, and it becomes apparent why some farmers in the UK are now keen to increase the percentage of grazed grass in their cows diet. In their experience, the more milk their cows produce from grazed grass, the more profit they make. Recent research on grazing is encouraging in this respect. It has shown that it is possible to produce 30 litres off grazed grass alone in spring without the need for a buffer – provided sufficient grass is available.

Improving grass utilisation in this way will be invaluable in the months ahead, given the continuing downward pressure on milk price.

Clover can also help to boost profits – it is saving £6000/year in fertiliser costs for one farmer featured in this Supplement. It is all about having confidence in grass and clover – and believing that cows will perform off these grazed forages.

But although maximising use of forages will be fundamental to future profitability, survival in the market place will also depend on producing a high quality product to a high standard of welfare. Dairy companies are already visiting farms inspecting all aspects of the business – from standards of cow welfare to feed storage and traceability. It will pay to make sure your business is fully compliant with your buyers needs. As this Supplement also reveals, traceability of farm produce now means that producers can ill afford to be without product liability insurance, too.

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