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Take steps to prepare for turnout

It’s never too soon to prepare for turnout, and having a plan in place to manage it helps to ensure that the transition to grazing is smooth and avoids disruptions to cow health and performance. 

The key thing to remember are the nutritional differences between the grass silage fed in winter and the fresh spring grass available at the start of turnout. If turnout is not carefully managed, the lower levels of dry matter and fibre found in spring grass, combined with the high levels of sugars and lack of ‘scratch factor’, can cause substantial problems with digestion and, subsequently, milk production. 

Start slow

A slow start is vital. Once conditions are suitable, begin by turning cows out to grass for just a few hours a day and then gradually increase the time spent grazing – ideally in the space of at least a week. This gives the fibre-digesting rumen microbes time to adjust to the change in diet and helps to reduce the risk of digestive upset. 

Digestive upset

Producers should also keep an eye on digestive function. As the time spent grazing increases, look out for any changes in cow behaviour and activity that could indicate digestive upset. Pay close attention to the cows’ faeces, looking for undigested fibres or bubbles, as this could be a sign of sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA). 

Measure your swards

sward stick

Measuring is important too. Taking regular grass sward samples reveals the true nutritional value of grazing. Understanding the differences in nutritional quality of grazing across all fields as the season progresses helps to ensure that cow rations are balanced.

Any shortfalls can be addressed with buffer feeding. AHDB’s Forage for Knowledge figures can also be used as a guideline for grass growth and quality.

Register for a free ForFarmers sward stick here

Monitor milk constituents

Producers should also pay attention to milk constituents, as these are another indicator of how cows are performing at grass. A fall of 0.3% in butterfat or protein during the course of a week could, again, be a sign of SARA. But decreased butterfat levels could also be a result of the high levels of rumen-available oil, combined with the low fibre found in spring grass. 

Forage to milk

Carefully comparing grass quality and milk constituent figures is the best way to understand the risk of any problems around turnout and can help to ensure that producers are supporting milk production with the best possible cow rations.

Looking back at 2020’s figures can also help to prepare for any challenges at particular points in the season before they occur.

For more information

For more information on our range of dairy compounds, forage products or for advice on maximising your forage output please speak to your local ForFarmers Account Manager or send us an online enquiry here