Maximising milk from grass

Thompsons’ Ronald Annett spoke to a producer in County Down to find out how they manage milk from forage figures, profitably.

Grass has always been an unpredictable crop to manage, and this has never been more evident than in the past 12 months. While some producers may be questioning the future role of grazed grass for milk production, one Newtownards herd is managing to balance high milk yields with excellent grass utilization. With the wet spring, cows have only just made it out to grass on the Ashvale Farm of James and Sam Martin at Ballyblack, Newtownards. Perhaps best known for their award-winning Springhill herd of British Blues, the father and son partnership also run a very efficient 150 cow dairy herd, which has grown from around 100 cows in the past 18 months. The predominantly autumn/winter-calving Holstein herd is currently averaging 8,000kg at 3.99% butterfat and 3.26% protein, but with a high percentage of heifers in the herd, yields are on target to reach 9,000kg within the next two years.  

While milk yield is key, the Martin family are also keen to ensure they build a herd which is resilient when milk prices are low. “It’s litres that pay the bills,” says Sam, “but we aim to keep the bills as low as we can.”  Production of high quality silage and efficient utilisation of grazed grass have seen feed rates over the past 12 months average 2.2 tonnes per cow, which equates to 3,250kg milk produced from forage. “Our aim is to average 9,000kg per cow, with 4,000 kg coming from forage,” says James. “We’ve made good progress over the past year and hope that continues, although it hasn’t been helped by the late spring this year.”

Slurry was applied to the grazing paddocks last autumn so they came out of the winter in very good condition. Although the wet spring delayed the fertiliser applications, the 50 units/acre of nitrogen applied in mid-March has certainly given spring growth a boost. Grass covers in the stronger paddocks were close to 2500kg dry matter per hectare when the Martin’s first turned out cows during the day on the 19th April. But when James walks over his paddocks he say that if temperatures hold up, it will be a challenge keeping the grazing under control.

A group of 90 lower yielding cows (under 30 litres) were turned out by day on 19th April, and will go to grass full-time within 7-14 days, if the weather allows. Sam is also keen to graze his higher yielding cows, at least during the day, to make the most of high quality spring grass.  “We plan to start off by grazing the high yielders in a separate group during the day and housing them at night on their current diet of silage plus 7kg blend. However as yields drop back, the two groups will be grazed as one.”

Last year, James and Sam fed Thompson’s M. Graze Dairy Nuts throughout the summer, and fully intend using the same approach again this year. “The cows milked well at grass last year, despite the weather being so mixed, and we were very pleased with our milk quality,” explains James.  “A high energy, maize-based nut, with high levels of digestible fibre is exactly what cows need at grass, provided we can keep on top of the grazing and maintain good, leafy swards. A good quality mineral supplement is also vital to ensure the cows are adequately supplemented, especially with feed rates being low. The organic trace elements supplied by Availa-4 gives me the confidence that cow health and fertility will not be compromised.”

For further information on how you can improve the profitability of your herd at grass, please contact your local Thompsons’ representative or Belfast on; 028 9035 1321

Posted 06,06,18 by allison.

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