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Making the most from your forage

The winter period, and all of its associated feed costs, will have motivated many farmers to start reassessing their future feeding strategy. Faced with ever fluctuating feed and milk prices, more and more farmers are looking to improve business margins by increasing the amount of milk they produce from forage.

ForFarmers technical manager Philip Ambler says: “For any dairy enterprise looking to increase milk from forage, it is important they have a clear plan and a willingness to address issues across multiple areas of their system."

“Farmers must take a whole farm approach which will help maximise the quantity and quality of forage produced on their farm, covering everything from soil analysis to reseeding and silage management. But producing plenty of high-quality forage is only half the battle. Overall cow diets need to be formulated in a way which best complements use of forage and improves how efficiently this forage is converted into milk."


Increasing feed conversion efficiency

“National figures suggest an average feed conversion efficiency fce in dairy herds of only 1.2 litres of fat corrected milk per kg of feed. As such, there is real potential for most dairy farmers to drive this value up and thereby improve financial returns, as well as reduce a business’ carbon footprint.”

The first steps on the milk from forage ‘journey’ are to work out a herd’s future feed requirements and assess how much of this requirement could be fulfilled via forage sources.

Philip says: “Farmers should work out how many tonnes of dry matter and metabolisable energy their cows need and then set a desired target for forage intakes. Once this target is in place, the quality and availability of forage producing land needs to be assessed via soil sampling and examination of historical productivity levels. The goal is to make the optimum level of land available for forage production and ensure it is capable of producing a high-quality crop."

“A specific nutrient input plan needs to be in place to rectify any deficiencies in soil health and a reinvigorated, regular approach to reseeding will help improve the overall quality and quantity of forage that land produces.”

With every extra mouthful of forage a cow eats having a real financial impact, forage harvesting and storage needs to focus on maximising yields and minimising losses.

Maximise the energy from forage

Philip says: “Both protein levels and energy reduce as grass matures, so taking more frequent cuts, when the grass stem is younger, will improve overall feed quality.

“Taking a multi-cut approach also increases grass digestibility and freshweight yields, so it is definitely worth undertaking, despite higher contracting costs."

“Good clamp management is essential to help minimise any forage losses and ensure a good fermentation. Using a silage additive will also improve silage palatability, as well as quality, helping drive higher intakes when fed to cows.”

While producing high-quality forage is at the cornerstone of efforts to increase milk yields from forage, making sure forage is utilised in the most effective and efficient way possible is also important.

Christina Pollock

Formulating a nutritional and consistent diet

Philip says: “Providing cows with a consistent diet makes a huge difference to cow performance. And this is where forages’ inherent variability can cause challenges in systems pushing to maximise milk from forage sources."

“Through the ForFarmers Feed2Milk approach, we aim to support improvements in FCE by delivering the nutritional and technical backup required to help deliver a consistent, balanced, forage-based ration on our customers’ farms throughout the season."

Improve your farm's feed efficiency

“To improve FCE, farmers also need to understand where all the bottlenecks are in their system which are stopping feed becoming milk. This goes beyond forage production and should include a review of cow performance, overall  diet and housing environment."

“Forage utilisation is likely to improve if investments are made in specific areas on-farm and time should be taken to understand the potential value of each of these investments and the different levels of return they would deliver over different time periods.”

Philip is adamant there is real potential for dairy farmers to push for target values up to 1.6 FCE and that now is as good a time as any to start making changes.

He says: “There is no bad time to start thinking about how you are going to improve FCE on your farm. Even during periods of low milk prices, if you can get the right plan in place and deliver results during the challenging times, the rewards you reap will be even greater when milk prices improve.”

For more information

To find out more about our compound feedFeed2Milk or Optifeed please speak to your local ForFarmers Account Manager or follow the link below:

Contact a Dairy Specialist