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.
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.
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).
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.
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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.
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 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
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Grazed grass is a fantastic source of feed for cows, but in order to maximise the performance of spring calving herds, it is vital that supplementary feeding compliments the fluctuating levels of sugar and protein in grass throughout the grazing season. For Welsh farmer, Gwyn Evans
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