The 'Ground Up' approach

Maximising quality and quantity of home-grown forage has never been more important says ForFarmers’ Forage Product Manager Mel Digger. Here she discusses how it’s possible, starting from the ground up.

Dairy Nutrition
Soil starting point 720 - ForFarmers UK

Forage forms the bulk of a cow’s diet and is the lowest cost element, so improving what you produce on farm can unlock extra milk yield and profitability, explains ForFarmers’ Forage Product Manager Mel Digger. There are three questions to consider when scrutinising forage production.

  1. Can you grow more on the land you currently have?
  2. Can you improve the quality of what you produce?
  3. Are you using other on-farm resources such as slurry and manure to their absolute best?

It all starts with the soil

Soil should be the starting point for action, she continues. “It is really important to think of the soil first and foremost when you’re trying to improve the yield and quality of your grass on farm.” She advises beginning with testing. “At ForFarmers we can carry out extensive soil testing for our customers, identifying areas of need at field level and the farm as a whole."

“A nutrient management plan takes this a step further and will also include testing of slurries and farmyard manure. This helps match up your soils’ needs with what you already have in your lagoon and identifies what needs to be remedied with purchased fertilisers.”

Focusing on quality silage

When considering what grass to sow, the vast array of varieties and mixes available may seem intimidating, continues Mel. “Some farmers have a clear idea of what they want to grow, others less so. I would invite anyone to discuss the options with their account manager.”

PLUS grasses is the name we give our festuloliums which are varieties developed by crossing meadow fescue or tall fescue with with Perennial, Hybrid or Italian ryegrass,” she explains.

“The PLUS grasses bring the high dry matter of the fescue along with the resistance to cold, drought tolerance and persistence. The ryegrass element contributes rapid establishment, good growth in the spring as well as drought and wet tolerance and persistence.” It’s also important to note that while the individual festulolium varieties have different combinations of those qualities, they all produce improved yields than their parent species, she adds.

“Compared to tall fescue, PLUS grasses can provide up to 25% more forage and produce a higher quality feed. They are also able to withstand colder winters, drought and disease and give one to two years more persistency,” she continues.

The PLUS grasses are split into two main groups, Ryegrass PLUS and Tall Fescue PLUS. “Each bring very specific benefits,” says Mel. “For example the Ryegrass PLUS offers very early spring growth and excellent yields. Full details of the different mixes and their attributes, including a comparison table of all five, can be found in our comprehensive Forage Guide.”

Homegrown forage efficiency

TOPGRASS mixes contain the latest varieties on the grass and clover recommended list from leading grass breeders. “TOPGRASS mixtures benefit from leading research and include many varieties with exceptional cell wall digestibility and high sugar content,” says Mel. “Our Forage Guide contains a really useful TOPGRASS mixture selection chart which gives headline information on the range of mixes available and then a more detailed outline of each mix and its attributes.

“For example TOPGRASS Silogen is a two to four year intensive mixture. It is 80% Ryegrass PLUS grasses, ideal for multiple cuts and produces excellent quality silage. The varieties included in this mix are highly responsive to fertiliser so return on investment for this is excellent. Its deep roots also mean it can withstand temperature extremes.

TOPGRASS Extragen is a medium term intensive silage mixture which can also be grazed if required in the latter part of the season. It combines excellent yield and forage quality so is an adaptable option.

“Meanwhile TOPGRASS Dairygen is a longer-term option – for leys of five years plus – and is aimed at those wanting to increase milk yield from grazed grass. All of its varieties are DLF Fibre Energy and ABER high sugar and is 65% Diploid Perennial for extreme sward density.”

Making the most of forage

ForFarmers also offers analysis of the resulting forage. “We use a dry NIR system which gives a much more representative sample to analyse than wet NIR systems which are more widely used. The results are more accurate which means rations and feed use become more accurate too. “Analysing forage quality can help with future crop planning. Once you have detailed information on what you have produced it is easier to know how to improve it next time,” says Mel