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Preparing for turnout 2020

Sector News Sector News18-5-2020

Spring turnout to grass is a major diet change for dairy herds, and it can disrupt cow health and performance, even later in the year, if not managed carefully.

Spring grass composition is very different from grass silage fed through the winter and typically has lower levels of dry matter and fibre, making it easy to overestimate the amount of milk able to be produced from forage.

Below are a few points to keep in mind as you prepare for turnout to grazing this year.

Dairy cows - spring turnout to grass

Ease cows onto grass

Once ground conditions and grass quality are adequate, cows should be eased onto paddocks for a few hours a day initially, gradually increasing the time spent on grass over the course of a week or longer. Doing so allows the rumen microbes that convert fibre into energy time to adjust to the change in diet and reduces the risk of digestive upset.

Know what is in your grass

While grass can provide relief from the high cost of feeding cows, relying on grass alone can result in nutritional deficiencies, leading to problems with fertility and herd health in the long run.

Regularly test grass swards to understand the nutritional value of your grass, as this can vary from farm to farm and change as the season progresses. Using this data, your herd’s diet can be balanced with buffer feeding or concentrate feed to ensure that their needs are met.

According to the latest ‘Forage for Knowledge’ figures from AHDB, grass growth is so far very similar to what we saw last year, with growth rates averaging 22.7 kg DM/ha per day – and up to 51 kg DM/ha in the west of Shropshire. They also report averages of 20.4% DM, 12.6 MJ/kgDM ME and 22.6% CP.

These figures will be updated throughout the year and can be found here.

Monitor digestive function

High levels of sugar coupled with low fibre and DM in lush, spring grass can spell trouble for digestive function.

The lack of ‘scratch factor’ in the grass will cause reduced rumen function, eventually leading to digestive upset or even sub-acute rumen acidosis (SARA).

Monitor cow behaviour and activity carefully through the transition to grazing for signs of digestive upset, such as dung containing bubbles and undigested fibres, low rates of cudding and insufficient rumen fill.

Drops in milk solids of 0.3% or more can also indicate a problem with digestive function.

For more information

For more details on dairy strategies, improvements or maximising your forage please contact your local account manager or contact our specialist dairy team here.