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Early maize variety & multi-cut make their mark

Sector News Sector News21-2-2020

A change in approach to grass silaging and the introduction of a new maize variety have resulted in marked improvements in cow performance for one Dorset-based dairy business.

Colin Luther farms in partnership with his wife Barbara, daughter Jacqui and son Stuart, at Lychett Minster, where they run an all year round calving herd of 100 dairy cows, achieving average rolling yields of 11,000 litres milked twice a day. Cows are housed during the winter period and normally graze from April to October,  producing high quality homegrown forage has always been a key business objective, with the families’ approach being finessed over the years.

Colin’s objective with his breeding programme has always been to breed a cow of strength depth and capacity to best utilise and access the quality forage, and is extremely satisfied that many of his cows have been classified as Excellent and VG.

Luther Family

Evaluating the forage output

“It all started in December 2016, when we went along to a ForFarmers meeting on forage quality,” explains Colin Luther. “There were some young, dry grass samples on show from the Netherlands, which we were really impressed by, and this got us thinking about bringing our first grass cutting date forward, earlier in the season, to try and improve the quality of the grass silage we were producing.

“2017 was the first year we tried a multi-cut approach and we cut two or three weeks earlier than usual and took four cuts in the year - as opposed to the traditional two or three. The results were impressive, and although we harvested less grass, the quality was much better, with high levels of energy and protein.”

In just one-year (between 2016 and 2017) milk from homegrown forage sources rose from 10 litres per day, up to 16 litres today and Colin attributes this initial rise to the increased quality of grass silage.

“Given the success that we had initially, it is no surprise that we have continued following a multi-cut approach,” continues Colin. “Our most recent analysis of our first cut silage in the clamp came in at 11.4 MJ/kg ME, with a D value of 711 g/kg and TDP true digestible protein of 71g/kg – all of which we are very pleased with.”


Outside feeders

Maize silage also forms an important part of the herd’s diet and last year, Colin altered the maize variety being grown on the farm after consulting with ForFarmers Account Manager, Dave Hunt.

“We feed a mix of maize and grass silage down the barrier and top this up with flat rate concentrate through of 4kgs/head/day and out of parlour feeders to yield,” says Colin. “The maize silage represents another key source of homegrown forage and helps us increase the amount of milk we produce from forage overall, as well as playing an important role in helping to boost the constituent values of our milk.

“After talking through maize variety options with Dave after the 2018 growing season, we decided to go for a very early maize variety for 2019 and planted Pioneer Dent P7034. I am really pleased that we made the switch, as the cows are performing well on the new variety and it seems to be a good complimentary feed when used alongside our high quality, early cut grass silage. Analysis taken in November 2019 shows that our maize silage has a MELK more energy for the lactating cow value of 1080, with ME at 11.4 MJ/kg, crude protein at 87g/kg and starch at 305g/kg.”

Colin did have some concerns with regards to digestibility issues surrounding the use of early season maize, but he hasn’t had any problems with the highly digestible Pioneer Dent.

“The digestibility of the maize silage, straight from ensiling, has proved to live up to the promises made by Dave Hunt,” concludes Colin. “The cows have hit the ground running this autumn, with average daily milk yields standing at 39.5 litres for January 2020, compared to 35.5 litres in January 2019 and milk yield from forage up to 16 litres, compared to nine.

“Whilst the maize can’t accept all the credit for these improvements, as our grass silage quality has been improving too, it has definitely played its part. The protein quality of the grass silage has also enabled us to reduce the protein requirements of the concentrate we feed, which has helped us make cost savings in the longer-term.”