Spring is on its way and, feed costs remaining firm, all dairy producers will be well advised to make the most of available grass this spring where farming system and infrastructure allow.
Increasing milk from forage; both grazed and as silage, has positive association with gross margin per cow. In fact every 1,000L increase in milk from forage is equivalent to £100 extra gross margin per cow. Efficient utilisation of available grass this spring will help producers offset high feed prices and promote increased production of better quality forage.
Grass is at its best between March and June. This year already we have seen fresh grass samples analysing out at over 12ME and over 20% CP (Image 1). With a structured approach to grassland management there is no reason why any producer cannot provide this quality of forage for their dairy cows. In the field this can be achieved by adopting the ‘three-leaf’ grazing system, which quite simply takes into account the way in which perennial ryegrass grows, in order to maximise its feed quality. The three-leaf system does not require any equipment, no beer cans, or marks on the wellies for measuring sward height and no plate meter.
Producers should aim to graze their swards at the three leaf stage. At this stage of growth the plant has the highest concentration of water soluble carbohydrates (WSC) and the best balance between energy and protein. Grazing at this stage can help producers get at least 15 to 18L of milk from forage alone this spring, if not significantly more. Equally important is adopting the correct grazing pressure and managing residual sward heights (Image 2). Increasing grazing pressure and reducing residual sward heights from 6 to 4cm will result in producing 2.5L more milk per cow and 1.5t organic matter/Ha of extra forage.
For those farmers who only graze their herds for a short period each day, or only by day, careful consideration needs to be taken of the quality and quantity of conserved forages and dry feeds on offer. A consequence of too much dry feed being offered is that cows will waste grass when turned out to graze. Providing the wrong type of feed indoors can result in poor rumen function, milk quality and production. The need to optimise the utilisation of all available grass will be paramount this year in order to produce acceptable margins.
With a structured approach to grassland management there is no reason why any
producer cannot provide this quality of forage for their dairy cows.
Improved grazing management will result in the production of more grass silage which, in most cases, will be very welcome considering the effect of the long winter feeding period on
silage stocks. However, despite the late spring do not be tempted to delay first cut silage much beyond the 20th of May when quality will decline. Doing so will reduce the potential of this year’s crop to provide the quality necessary to offset some of the feed costs next winter.