Maximising the use of home-grown grass silage and extended grazing has enabled one Dorset producer to maintain two successful dairy herds, whilst also achieving excellent feed efficiency.
James Cossins farms near Blandford, Dorset, where, with the help of his daughter Georgie and seven other members of staff, he manages two dairy herds, a large arable enterprise and a beef finishing business, across 2,200 acres.
"We run two herds of Holstein-Friesians on seperate sites, but with very similar setups", explains James. "Our Rawstar herd is typical of the two herds and has 174 cows, milked twice a day, with current rolling average yields of 8,480 litres per cows; with butterfat at 4.09% and protein at 3.25%.
"One of our key goals is to feed cows as efficiently as possible, with a strong focus on home-grown forage. Our system is structured around this ethos and we are currently achieving 59% of total yield from forage, with a rolling feed rate of 0.21kg/litre."
Steve Toop is herdman for the Rawstar herd and oversees the day-to-day management of the cows. Maintaining a simple feeding system, that makes the most of grass leys, is the cornerstone of his efforts on farm.
"When i started working with James 18 years ago, we restructured the farm's grass leys, splitting them into six night paddocks and eight day paddocks", Steve explains. "We aim to turn cows out in February and, as long as conditions hold, they won't come back indoors full-time until November.
"In order to maintain energy intakes later in the season when grass growth and quality starts to drop off, we turn the cows out to graze forage crops through to mid-November. This year we have used kale, but we have grown turnips in the past."
During the grazing period, cows go out onto a fresh paddock every day, and night paddocks - which are kept as permanent pasture - are located close to the cow housing and parlour for easy access. The night paddocks are strip-grazed during the early spring and Georgie thinks this system works well.
"We want to get the most out of every bit of grass and strip-grazing the night paddocks helps us achieve this", states Georgie."While it is extra work, by strip grazing we don't have any waste and cows graze grass right down before moving on to fresh pasture."
With a strong focus on efficiency, it is no surprise that the feeding system implemented across the herds has been pared back and simplified.
"During the winter period, we feed a mix of home-grown grass and maize silage - usually at a rate of around five tonnes of grass and three and a half tonnes of maize," explains Steve. "This is shear grabbed from the pit and placed in troughs, with the maize on top of the grass. We don't use a mixer wagon or a tractor and this helps to keep costs down".
Cows are supplemented with ForFarmers Optima parlour concentrate according to grass intakes and quality. First calvers will typically be fed around 10kg of concentrate, mid-yielders 7.5kg and dry cows, 1kg. During the spring and summer, when cows are out at grass, the protein and MELK content of the cake is altered according to how much protein and energy grass is providing.
"We aim to minimise the amount of of bought-in feed we use on farm and our most recent data on margin over purchased feed (MOPF) is currently 18.4 pence per litre", notes James. "We grow good grass, usually taking three or four cuts each year, as well as around 70 acres of good quality maize to supply both herds, so it makes sense to get the most out of these resources."
With grass playing such an important part of the dairy business, keeping track of its quality and impact on cows is crucial.
The Cossins used the ForFarmers SilageManager service to analyse their silage. It uses Dry NIR technology to predict what impact each nutrient will have on rumen health, as well as its yield potential.
ForFarmers account manager Dave Hunt also suggested that both of the businesses' herds adopt the VISIOLAC and INSIGHT reporting systems to help monitor rumen and herd performance. They have proven useful sources of information to assist with decision-making on farm.
James explains: "The reporting systems show in graphical form exactly what we should be getting out of the cows, according to what they are being fed. It allows us to identify any drops in performance, show us why these problems are occurring and then plan to avoid similar drops in the future."
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