Saying goodbye to soya

With the right support, one Dorset-based dairy producer has been able to cut soya from his cows’ rations while maintaining high levels of milk production and margins over purchased feed.

Dairy Nutrition
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The inclusion of soya in cow diets has long been a hotly debated issue in the industry, and on the back of increasing pressure from consumers, more and more dairy producers are trying to find ways to go soya-free.

For Stuart Holland, who runs a herd of 250 Holstein cows just outside Dorchester in Dorset, the motivation to cut soya became more pressing with Arla’s announcement of its Sustainability Incentive Model – a points-based scheme that, among many other things, rewards the removal of certain classifications of soya from cow diets. And while he initially had concerns about how cutting soya might negatively affect cow performance - and his margin - happily, Stuart discovered a viable alternative.

“As a business, our key focus is on sustaining high levels of cow health, strong milk yields and a good margin over purchased feed,” explains Stuart. “But we’re also conscious of our environmental responsibility and this is also something that Arla, our milk buyer, is looking to reward through the new Sustainability Incentive Model.

“This year we therefore made the decision to try and cut soya from cow diets. We’ve been able to introduce a new, bespoke blend and new parlour cake that don’t include soya. Thankfully, both products have delivered financially and haven’t negatively impacted milk yields. It’s been one of those ‘win-win’ situations where we’ve made significant environmental gains, at very little cost.”

A successful system

Stuart’s herd is split, with 60 lower yielders going out to graze between May and September while the high yielding group of around 190 cows is housed all year round. Average yields stand at 11,729 litres, at 3.92% butterfat and 3.25% protein, with cows milked twice a day.

“We’re currently producing around 25% of our milk from forage and we’re always looking at ways to improve that,” continues Stuart. “We’ve been carrying out a multicut approach to silaging for around three years now, taking four cuts in a good year.

“Eight years ago, we also started undersowing the 130 acres of maize we grow with short term Italian ryegrasses. We’re within a Wessex Water/Poole harbour catchment area, so initially the undersowing was to promote soil health, as well as prevent soil erosion and nitrate leaching. But now we also appreciate how useful it is to have this extra source of forage, with the undersown grass providing a high yielding silage crop the season following maize harvest.”

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Combating heat and fuelling performance

As well as maize, the farm also has 146 acres of shorter term, three-to four- year grass leys and 141 acres of permanent pasture.

“This provides us with plenty of high quality silage, but we do like to graze the low yielders and we’ll get them out once a day during the grazing season,” says Stuart. “But with the weather being so hot over recent springs and summers we’ve had to experiment with evening or night-time grazing and then bringing cows indoors during the day.”

Another way that Stuart has sought to combat the negative impact of rising spring and summer temperatures is to install a water misting system in the cow feeding areas.

“We’ve got a large central feed passage in our cubicle shed and another outdoor feed passage and these are covered by the misting system,” explains Stuart. “When it’s hot, this system creates a fine water mist in the air and this helps keep cows cool when feeding, encouraging higher feed intakes and fuelling strong milk yields.”

The high yielders on the farm are housed in deep, sand bedded cubicles and fed a 50:50 mix of grass and maize silage, Lintec to help support fertility, FatBoost instead of C16 protected fat, and a bespoke blend from ForFarmers.

“We’ll feed this group 10kg of blend per cow, per day and this is topped up with cake through the parlour and that’s fed to yield up to a maximum of 5kg per cow, per day,” says Stuart. “We really want the bulk of the nutrition that the cow needs coming via the feeder wagon.

“We’re fortunate to work with Peter Cade, our account manager from ForFarmers, who frequently assesses the cow ration and will tweak our bespoke blend formulation based on the quality of the forages we’re producing on farm.”

Switching to no-soya

When Stuart made the decision to try and cut soya from his cows’ diet, he was initially concerned that alternative feeds would be expensive or negatively impact cow performance. However, after consulting with Peter Cade they soon found a solution.

“Peter was able to help formulate a new, bespoke blend from ForFarmers that we could include in the TMR and would be certified non-soya (NS),” explains Stuart. “He also sourced us a new Optima Footprint 105 NS cake to feed through the parlour, and both came in at about the same price as our original feeds.

“This was a good starting point, but the real test came when we started feeding the new products. We started feeding the soya-free options five months ago and I’ve been impressed that we could switch the feeds immediately and that there’s been no negative impact on milk yield or quality – if anything yields have gone up very slightly. It was a big relief.”

Making the move away from soya has been relatively straightforward for Stuart and he’s also pleased that his high-yielding herd can play a small part in helping reduce Arla’s overall environmental footprint.

“I think that making the switch from soya was the right thing to do from an environmental point of view and it’s great that it will help us gain some points under Arla’s new Sustainability Incentive Model,” concludes Stuart. “But what’s also good is that this change hasn’t come at the expense of cow performance, which will hopefully be reassuring to other dairy producers looking to go soya-free.”

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