Driving profit on farm by increasing milk from forage

Improving margin over all feed (MOAF) via gains in overall efficiency is the current focus for Andrew Johnston who farms in partnership with his parents Raymond and Christine at Mappowder, Dorset.

Dairy Nutrition
Johnstons cow sitting 720

Maximising milk from forage is not a new idea for the Johnston family. “My parents won an award in a milk and forage competition in 1983,” says Andrew. “This has continued to the present day and we are currently producing 54% of our milk from forage.

However the drive for efficiency is perhaps more pertinent now than ever before with input prices escalating as they have in recent months. “In the current climate we need to reduce the amount of bought-in feed and improve overall profitability,” he says.

The cow setup

Thurnwood Farm is a tenancy on the Dorset County Farms estate. The family’s 130 strong milking herd is predominantly Holstein with around 16% British Friesian and 6% Shorthorn. Cows are milked twice a day through a 10:20 swingover herringbone parlour and achieve average yields of 8,400 litres at 4.33% butterfat and 3.38% protein.

Cows are housed during the winter months (mid October until the end of March) and during this time their diet is based on two-thirds grass silage, one-third maize silage balanced with Nutrimaize, Pellemix and dairy minerals. “This gives us 20 litres from TMR and they are fed to yield in the parlour with Optima 18 nuts.” Lintec is added to increase Omega 3 and boost midwinter fertility. “We also use TRANSLAC Advance on our dry cows to mop up excess calcium in their diet.”

Focusing on quality silage

Taking the first cut of silage early has been a new tactic in the last four years, says Andrew. He now aims to take the first cut at the end of April or beginning of May. “This has improved the quality of silage in the clamp and the regrowth enables us to graze at the end of May.”

Silage is clamped using silage sheets, two top sheets and a net. “We use Pioneer 1188 inoculant which we feel improves the quality of silage in the clamp along with the milk constituents and reduces waste once the clamp has opened.”

Reducing waste is particularly important to Andrew, as he sees it as key to improving efficiency. To this end he aims to always keep a clean, fresh silage face once a clamp has been opened.

Johnstons cow sitting 720

Homegrown forage efficiency

“To balance our grass silage we also have 50 acres of maize grown locally. For the past three years we’ve used the 7034 Dent variety from ForFarmers which increases energy in our diet and improves milk quality.

A reseeding programme has also been an important introduction. Every autumn 20 acres is reseeded with a medium term cut and graze ley, explains Andrew. “This helps us to improve the quality and quantity of the grass we produce.” He also endeavours to make best use of the farm’s slurry and for the past 10 years has been using a trailing shoe system.

When at grass, the cows are strip grazed and given 10kg of maize as a buffer feed along with round bale silage to increase the butterfat content of the milk. “This gives us 18 litres of milk and they are fed to yield using Optimal 16 nuts in the parlour.”

Making the most of forage

Alan Lockhart, forage specialist for ForFarmers says the high quality silage produced on the farm forms a solid foundation for the cows’ diet. “We have added silage inoculants to help improve fermentation. They’ve helped to improve the availability of energy and means that there is less wastage, better efficiency and there is less reliance on more expensive bought-in feed.”

Soil analysis plays a fundamental role in growing good quality forage and quantifying a starting point is key to monitor improvement, Alan says. Meanwhile slurry analysis helps to exploit the value of the farm’s nutrients. “Through slurry analysis we can see we are sitting on a goldmine of nutrients that need to be put back onto the land in a balanced approach.”

How do the Johnston's achieve 50-60% milk from forage?

ForFarmers account manager Dave Hunt has been working with the Johnstons for around eight years. “I’ve been impressed by their sheer dedication in everything they do and the consistency of their approach."

“The costings speak for themselves and reflect the great work being carried out on the farm."

"At the end of March 2022 the feed cost per litre was 8p. Their feed rate was 0.2kg per litre and their milk from forage has never been under 50%. We have hit 60% in previous years, but we need the weather with us to achieve that.”

Andrew is committed to further adjustments and hopes to see further efficiency gains. “We feel we can increase our yields from forage by continuing with our reseeding programme, adding clover to leys to reduce fertiliser use and making more targeted use of our slurry.”