Farming on the banks of the Camel estuary on the North Cornish coast in partnership with his father and brother, Chris Marshall has been striving to feed a diet without soya to his cows since January 2023.
Milking 220 cows of a three-way cross involving Montbeliardes, Swedish Reds and Holsteins, the herd averages around 8,500 litres at 4.3% butterfat and 3.6% protein, supplying Arla.
Grazing sits at the forefront of the operation and Chris aims to get cows out by mid-March, putting the feeder wagon away as soon as he can after winter for cows to make the most of the farm’s spring grazing, topped up with a bit of cake.
Leys contain a good mix of herbs, lucerne and clover, helping soil structure and giving a good root depth which is particularly helpful in the dry summers of this area of Cornwall. Cows are dry through the summer meaning the autumn rain and grass growth can be utilised effectively at a time it is needed.
Cows are housed in mid-October, or earlier if the weather is bad. They will come in on to a full TMR ration which will include maize, some whole crop, grass silage, homegrown wheat and a bit of rape and soya blend.
Chris Marshall says: “We started thinking about going soya-free probably around January of this year which came in-line with the Sustainability Incentive Model which Arla now follows. ForFarmers then launched the Footprint range of soya-free parlour cake this spring which was perfect timing for us. We are still using a soya blend at the moment but we are hoping to drop that later through the year.”
The herd was coming off a partial mixed ration at M+25 litres and moved straight from the Optima 16 cake to the Optima Footprint 105. This change saw a slight reduction in the crude protein but TDP remained the same. The overall cow diet was slightly reformulated, but Chris saw no change at all and was really pleased with the transition.
He says: “I think we have a responsibility to the environment and the world that we live in and by making things more sustainable for the future, we can move our business forward. We were worried there would be a loss in yields and negative impacts on cow health, but that hasn’t been the case. If the Footprint cake continues to be a success, we’ll look to reduce the amount of soya in the TMR.”
The rate of cake fed in the parlour changes throughout the year depending on grass yields, grass quality and also volumes of conserved forage. This is all put together in a ration by the Marshalls’ ForFarmers Account Manager, Matt Jenkin.
Chris continues: “When we first started discussing going soya-free, Matt Jenkin talked to us about the Footprint soyafree cake and blends available. We felt the Footprint cake was the easiest place to start. In terms of incorporating cake into the diet, it was a straight swap and it’s been really simple and has gone very well.”
The Marshalls introduced the cake in April and didn’t see any negative effects through the summer and Chris notes that when the cows begin to milk again this autumn, a true picture of how well the cake is performing will be seen.
Chris is block calving in a nine week window in late summer with all dairy calves born within a period of three weeks. As they are calving inside, they are off grass, with a small amount of PMR and early calvers are peaking nicely already.
Elsewhere in the system, calves are fed on whole milk and are reared in a specialist unit. This year, continuing the non-soya theme, calves will be fed on a non-soya compound, starting off on a pellet and moving on to a non-soya rearing nut.
He adds: “It’s early days moving to soya-free. First steps have been fairly straightforward and we’ve seen positive results. Moving forward through the next 12 months, we aim to reduce soya even more in our TMR and hopefully end up being soya-free as farmers. It’s looking really positive going into the winter.”
ForFarmers account manager Matt Jenkin says: “At the moment Chris is feeding a small amount of soya in the TMR because he was reluctant to make too big a change too quickly. So as we go through the autumn, we’re still putting a small amount of soya into the TMR.
“As we get to Christmas most of the cows should be back in-calf and the aim is then to reduce and take the soya totally out the diet and feed no soya through winter until we get to grass when the cows will just go back onto cake in the parlour. This should give Chris and the family the confidence to be able to go into next autumn soya-free and hopefully, going forward, gain all the relevant point allocation under the Arla Sustainability Incentive Model.
“Over the last six months we’ve seen many farmers using the ForFarmers Footprint range and having great success. In spring of 2023 ForFarmers launched the Footprint range, which is formulated for TDP, allowing us to reduce the crude protein in overall cow diets, and be more cost effective. Over the summer, we’ve also launched Footprint blends and intermix range, which will give us more options to help farmers looking to be soya- free, going into the winter.”