Tailoring feeding strategy to silage quality

Improving the production and sustainability of home-grown forage is central to one producer’s plans to expand his family’s Anglesey-based Holstein herd. We spoke to him to find out more.

Dairy Nutrition
Tudor Parry Grazing cows 720

Tudur Parry is determined to expand his family’s Cogail pedigree Holstein herd while, at the same time, maintaining current productivity and performance.

Working in partnership with his parents Dafydd and Catrin, he is keen to increase the 65-cow herd to between 80 and 100 head. And key to this is an increased focus on grass management and home-grown forage production.

Based in Llaniestyn, the Parry’s unit was a beef and sheep farm until Dafydd switched to dairying in 2001. He established the herd by purchasing nine in-calf heifers from a local producer, and then bought a further 15 head from a farm in north Wales. Now, 20 years later, Tudur and Dafydd manage the herd together, and Catrin looks after the administration and helps on the farm as and when required.

Improved fertility

Autumn-block calving works best for their herd and set up. They switched from all-year-round calving three years ago. “Because we didn’t have anywhere to house the high-yielding cows that were fresh during the winter months,” explains Tudur. “Now all cows are calved inside and fed the same ration, and that works better for us. We’ve also seen fertility improve now they are housed.”

The unit’s 57 hectares is predominantly grass, and between four and six hectares of spring barley is also grown each year. “Crimped barley is fed to the herd as part of their TMR through the winter, and we use the straw to bed calves,” says Tudur.

Herd average yield is 9,100 litres, at 4.3% butterfat and 3.2% protein, with a somatic cell count of 113,000 cells/ml. Cows are milked through an eight-point swing-over parlour. The herd is turned out to graze from late March through to mid-October, depending on the weather.

“From late August onwards we also feed big bales of grass silage in the yard when cows come for milking.” Part of the Parry family’s expansion plan included using sexed semen on a proportion of the herd three years ago, to produce more heifer replacements. They currently have 48 followers on their unit. Sexed semen is now used on all heifers and cows. “The first 22 heifers produced from sexed semen are due to be served this year,” says Tudur.

Back grazing

Also key to expansion plans was to maximise the use of grass. So, in 2020, Tudur experimented with ‘back grazing’ for the first time. This involves moving cows onto fresh grass, twice a day, and moving the fence up behind them once a day to preserve the new growth. Tudur was then able to cut this for silage. All silage made as the unit is baled.“We want to produce as much grass as possible, and after the cows had finished grazing that field the amount of grass behind them was unbelievable. It was only a few hectares, and a few extra bales, but it will make a difference.”This year he’s continued with back grazing, and is keen to see the impact it will have on the dairy business’ bottom line. “We have had to invest in a few extra water troughs to do this, but it wasn’t a big outlay,” he says. Tudur’s approach became more pertinent when he needed to make decisions about reseeding a field, which grew spring barley in 2019 and 2020. The grass ley in this particular five-hectare field was severely hit by drought in 2018.“It’s quite a rocky field, with thin soils in places, and the grass was badly burned that year, so we didn’t get much silage from it,” says Tudur. “As well as the less-than-perfect soils, it also has a slope in the middle section. And the lower part of the field is shaded.”So he took advice on the best mixture to use to reseed the field, and ForFarmers’ forage expert Michelle Cross recommended Topgrass Extreme. This mix includes several ‘Plus’ grasses and was chosen for its ability to tolerate drought and high temperatures, and produce high protein and high-energy forage during the dry summer months.After barley the field was sprayed before being disced twice and then harrowed. Grass seed was then broadcast using a harrow with a seed box. “We have direct drilled grass leys in the past, but had some problems with leatherjackets,” says Tudur. “The grass ley established well, emerging and showing healthy growth within three weeks. It was rolled in early spring and 300kg/ha of a 20:10:10 fertiliser was applied, and by March it was looking great.”

Ley density

First-cut silage was taken on May 17. The ley was then top dressed with 42.5kg of nitrogen and, a month later, it was ready for a second cut. Second cut yielded two more bales than the first. “The ley density is good and it has tillered very well.”

Tudur is impressed with the silage made during the summer, and producing more high-quality grazing and silage will help reduce the dairy business’ reliance on bought-in feed. “We want to produce as much grass and forage as we can, and the high-quality silage is the back bone for our dairy business expansion plans,” Tudur concludes.