The Power of First Cut

To be honest it is my favourite time of year. From the moment you pull the first core of forage from the new season first cut silage pit, you know if it is going to be a good or marginally profitable year. Even more exciting is seeing milk production rise when the forage is fed for the first time. It really brings home to many the importance of making quality forage. However, this is not always the case. Some herds see no difference simply because they produce quality forage all year round. These producers will have a distinct financial advantage as a result.

As nutritionists and farmers alike we are infatuated by what people are feeding their cows. How often do you see conversations on social media along the lines of “happy cows banging out 38 litres” with the response “what are you feeding them?” Are we really that naïve? Surely the response should be:

  • “How are you managing them?”
  • “What’s your forage quality like?”
  • “What are your lying times?”
  • “What is your days in milk?”
  • “What’s the weight of heifers at first calving?”
  • “What are your herd demographics?”

In all honesty these are the things that will make the difference. Profitable production does not come about by accident; it is all down to management. For an AYR calving herd, that’s as simple as keeping DIM down through good reproduction management and optimising herd demographics. And, of course, producing good quality forage.

Producing good quality forage does not happen by accident either, it is all down to management; detail we can influence and weather we cannot. I have seen production rises of 2.5-3.5 litres in the space of 4 days in herds moving from poor quality 3rd cut to new season first cut on reduced concentrate feeding. The net effect of a 10% increase in milk and a 10% decrease in feed input is a 20% reduction in production costs per litre. The cost of an additional tractor rolling the clamp, tedding, lower yields and higher contractor costs per tonne, side sheets, oxygen barrier sheets and gravel bags pales into insignificance when set against an additional 57p per cow milk income and 30p less feed costs. That is an extra 87p cow/day; for a 200 cow herd and that’s an additional £174/day of income.

With this year’s early and kind spring, making good quality first cut has been easier than previous years. However, the

challenge now is to continue the momentum and make high quality 2nd, 3rd, and 4th cuts. Here are a few pointers to help you out;

  1. Keep inter cutting intervals short (30-45 days) and fertilise accordingly
  2. Test swards prior to cutting
  3. Target 28-30% DM; remember grass in summer can dry very quickly
  4. Apply an additive; later cuts tend to be higher in protein and more difficult to ensile
  5. Clamp management is essential; rolling, rolling, rolling.
  6. Leafier material may require a slightly longer chop (30-35mm)
  7. Try to mix subsequent cuts in layers within a single clamp to avoid having to feed just 4th cut for example.

And of course remember to make some beautiful mid-season haylage treated with additive and wrapped in square bales to feed to your future herd members.

If you would like any further information on the topic above please get in touch with one of the Dairy Technical Team.

Dr Huw McConochie
Head of Dairy Technical Services

Follow Huw on Twitter @HuwMcConochie or contact your local Dairy Specialist here.

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