Speed is key to solving silage challenge

Quick action to review and revamp the herd’s TMR on one Shropshire-based unit maintained cow performance despite the low-milk-producing potential of this year’s first-cut silage.

Dairy Nutrition
Harry Gregorys cows 720

Poor weather conditions significantly delayed first cut in 2021 on Harry Gregory’s Shropshire-based unit. As a result, when it came to feed out it was a challenge to maintain production of high-quality milk from his 280-cow herd while, at the same time, utilising high volumes of lower energy, lower protein, high-fibre silage in the herd’s diet.

By reacting quickly and seeking specialist advice, Harry was able to successfully overcome this challenge. He altered the herd’s TMR to compensate for lower protein first-cut grass silage, and simultaneously maximised the use of home-grown forage while also preventing the risk of acidosis.

The herd and breeding replacements strategy

Harry and his father, also Harry, manage their autumn-block-calving herd at Normanton Farm, near Telford. From late spring onwards, cows graze during the day, but are brought indoors at night and buffer fed in order to support high milk constituent production. Herd average yield stands at 9,600 litres with 4.17% butterfat (slightly lower than usual) and 3.43% protein. Milk is sold to local cheese maker Belton Farm, so protecting high constituent levels is a priority.

“I knew we were going to face some feed challenges this winter because we had to delay first cut by nearly four weeks, due to the weather,” explained Harry. “We cut it in early June and, although we caught the grass before it went to seed, it was far from the young and lush high-protein grass we usually harvest."

“While the silage we ended up making was far from bad, it was lacking the high MELK levels we need to support our constituents. I would describe it as having poor milk potential. The situation was made worse because we had a lot of first cut to deal with. It filled more clamp space than usual and interfered with the management and distribution of our three cuts across our clamps.” Harry started to feed first cut in early September and soon noticed a drop in milk yield and quality. Conscious of the negative impact, he acted quickly to rectify the situation and pre-empt any long-term damage to herd performance.

Yields fell by between two and three litres per cow and butterfat declined too. So, in late September, he asked ForFarmers’ Roger Marley to analyse first cut and advise on how best to rebalance the herd’s ration. “We don’t have any choice but to utilise first cut, so we needed to find a way to make things work, as quickly as possible.”

Home-grown assets

The Gregory family grow 24 hectares of wheat each season, as well as 32 hectares of maize and eight hectares of fodder beet. With commodity prices on the increase, they were keen to utilise as much of their home-grown assets as possible.

Roger sampled their first-cut silage and used ForFarmers’ Optifeed system to formulate some rations. “We added fodder beet to the ration, as well as soya hulls, and maintained a high volume of home-grown wheat. The objective was to increase the energy density of the diet,” says Harry.

The milking herd is now fed a TMR comprising 400kg of soya, 400kg of rapeseed meal, 640kg of home-grown rolled wheat, 200kg of soya hulls, 20kg of chopped straw, 2.5 tonnes of fodder beet, three tonnes of maize silage, and seven tonnes of grass silage – a 50:50 mix of first and second cut. This provides milkers with maintenance plus 28 litres, and high yielders are then
‘topped up’ with ForFarmers’ Maxima 16 concentrate through out-of-parlour feeders.

“The ration has performed well and the extra boost of sugars, particularly from the fodder beet, helped lift cow performance,” says Harry. “By late October we were back on track. Milk yields are now at around 32 litres per cow and we are aiming for 4.20% butterfat.”

Rumen buffer

With a high starch load in the new diet, Roger Marley flagged up the risk of acidosis. So Harry decided to add ForFarmers’ MegaBuff to the ration, at a rate of 200g per cow per day. This additive helps to stabilise rumen pH, reduces acid loading, and improves feed utilisation.

“The buffer has pre-empted acidosis issues and it has the added benefit of supporting butterfat and protein levels in the milk,” says Harry. “We looked at adding protected fats to the ration to help bolster constituents, but it wasn’t cost effective. But MegaBuff offers two benefits for the price of one. It acts as a rumen buffer, reducing the risk of acidosis, but also helps to lift constituents, due to better rumen function. It’s a win-win.”

He is hoping the 2022 silaging season runs more smoothly, but is satisfied with how the family managed the problems posed by their current, low-protein first cut. “Reacting quickly to falling milk yields was important, as well as seeking outside advice from Roger,” he says.

“The current TMR is delivering the goods in terms of yield and is providing a cost-effective solution. If we had carried on as usual, without making changes to the ration, I know milk yields and cow performance would have declined significantly.”