Producing as much of their dairy herd’s nutritional needs as possible has always been the approach for Alun Edwards and his parents Gareth and Mair. As well as grass silage, they produce wheat and barley on their 300 acre Ceredigion farm and this forms the bulk of their herd’s diet alongside minimal concentrates.
Recent adjustments have helped push the autumn calving herd’s yield up 200 litres per cow to 6,200l. Of that 3,600l is now from forage – up by 450l from the previous 12 months – alongside an 11% decrease in concentrate use per cow. The main change on the farm has been to take the first cut for silage earlier.
“We have always tried to get as much as possible off the farm,” explains Alun. “We grow about 15 acres of wholecrop winter wheat and 35 acres of spring barley, all of which goes into the cows and calves. “The only addition is a protein blend from ForFarmers and everything goes through the wagon as TMR. Then when the cows are being dried off they just get a bit of blend in an auger in the shed.”
The farm is managed on a 10 year plan with every field being re-seeded every 10 years. “We do a little bit each year,” Alun says. And while he is interested in trying mixes in the grazing leys, the main focus will remain with mid to long term perennial ryegrass. “We used to use clover but not lately. However we will start putting some back in as we need to increase the protein levels again.”
They take three cuts for silage each year, with the aim of having the first cut in the clamp before 1st May. Alun and Gareth have used Ecosyl silage additive for many years. They have found that it reduces dry matter losses, heating and waste and therefore boosts milk from forage.
The Edwards’ ForFarmers Account Manager James Wilyman has been an important part of their business for several years, says Alun. “All our costings are done through James and he formulates the winter ration and does our silage analysis. He is great at giving us ideas. If something isn’t quite right he is very reliable and can come up with an idea that will help us sort things out.”
The herd is predominantly Friesians and Friesian crosses plus some Jersey and Norwegian Reds. The mixture of breeds and cross-breeds suits their system well says Alun. “The cross breeding gives them hybrid vigour and they are more hardy. We graze from February onwards.”Cows are out during the day from February and full-time from mid-March, only coming in when calving starts in late September. “It’s a dry farm here and we can get away with them being out early and it suits us,” explains Alun. “The way our paddocks are set up means we can bring them in one way and out another.”The grazing platform is mostly in one block with a few off-lying bits of silage ground, he adds. The grazing paddocks are all roughly 1ha each and the time spent in each is weather dependent, he says. “The cows are buffer fed silage, to supplement their grazing intakes until May or June, so often we can get two 12 hour periods out of each paddock compared to early February when they would get just 12 hours in each paddock and move around quicker.”Alun measures the grass growth weekly from turnout until June. “If a paddock goes over 3000kg of dry matter per hectare then we could make some silage. It can be a bit of pain if it’s only four or five bales worth, but we have our own baler so it is possible. If we don’t do that it goes to head and the quality of the grazing and silage goes down.”
Milking is twice a day using an 18-36 rapid exit parlour. “It’s a bit big for the number of cows we have. We had intended to expand the herd but TB keeps getting in the way of those plans.” The ongoing problems with the disease has had a significant impact on the business, he adds. “It means that it is difficult to plan what we do in two years’ time as we don’t know how many cows we will have left. Without the threat of TB we would be in a much better place.”
The NVZ situation is also a challenge on the horizon and will likely mean the family will need to build another slurry pit. “Our low stocking rates mean that apart for the need for a larger slurry pit it won’t have a big impact on us, although I’m sure there will be an increase in paperwork.”
The main goal now is to increase yields to an average 7,000l/cow without adding much concentrates. Keeping silage quality high is key to that, Alun says, plus they are investing in improving fertility and shortening the calving window.
“At the moment calving is from September to January but we plan to be finished before Christmas this year,” says Alun. The same ration is fed across the herd, so ensuring that they are all in the same lactation phase would help improve feed efficiency. To make this possible they have invested in input from Genus experts who are helping with heat detection to ensure the next calving window is shorter. “We did look into investing in heat detection technology, but felt that we would benefit from their specialist knowledge as well,” says Alun.
The Edwards are good examples of farmers who are driving for sustainable milk production with good milk qualities rather than huge yields, says account manager James Wilyman. “They are now getting a better milk price because of the quality they produce.”