Making full use of quality forage

Attention to detail when producing and utilising forage is a key component in the successful management of one Cumbrian dairy herd.

Paul Greening runs a herd of 570 all year round calving cows averaging 10,000 litres at 4.0% fat and 3.3% protein. The business is run in partnership with his father Philip. Although managed as a single business the herd is split across two units, with Paul managing the herd at Waverbank, and Phil in charge of the Mockerkin herd.

All cows calve at the home farm at Waverbank and they stay here until they are confirmed in calf, are producing less than 30 litres and are in suitable condition. At this point they move 15 miles to the unit at Mockerkin.

At Waverbank cows are housed in two groups, fresh cows up to 30 days in milk and a main milking group. Cows are housed all year, TMR fed and topped up with concentrate supplied through out of parlour feeders and are milked three times a day.

Condition score

At Mockerkin, where management is focussed on managing condition score, cows will graze in the summer while in the winter they are on self-feed silage. They are milked twice a day.

“We move more cows down to Mockerkin in the summer to take the pressure off at Waverbank and to make full use of the grazing there,” Paul explains. “A major objective here is managing condition score ahead of drying off so parlour feeding is based on condition rather than yield.”

Paul has to manage the balance between quantity and quality when making forages. He targets cutting 260 acres of first and second cut at Waverbank with 150 acres of third cut. First cut is taken in early May with second cut six weeks later. He regularly reseeds his cutting block with slightly later heading cutting leys which suits the farm.

The leys at Mockerkin are principally permanent pasture and he makes 150 acres of first and second cut here. He works closely with his contractor Colin Smith on all aspects of silage making, including decisions on the inoculant to use.

“All grass silage is treated with either Supersile or Axcool, depending on dry matter,” Biotal Regional Business Manager Mike Burns explains. “Paul has both products on farm and they choose the best inoculant to use each day based on the dry matter of the grass. They have even swapped during the day to apply the most appropriate inoculant for the crop.

“Paul also makes spring wheat fermented wholecrop which comes in with the third cut. Using spring wheat avoids the crop getting too mature, which can be a problem with winter wheat. Cutting at 35-45% DM means the crop is more digestible and less lignified so has a higher feed value. It is ensiled with Wholecrop Gold.”

Having made good quality forages, Paul believes it is essential to maximise the value of it. Silage is removed from the clamp with a shear grab and faces are kept clean and tight.Efficient digestion

To improve rumen efficiency and fibre digestion he includes Biotal SC Digestaid in the Waverbank TMR, feeding at 25g/day. Digestaid contains the rumen specific live yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae CNCM 1-1077 which can help improve degradability and digestibility of fibre.

“There is no point feeding a diet if it goes straight through the cow,” Paul comments. “When we feed digestaid we see more consistent dung with less fibre in it so we are happy the rumen is functioning well.

“Even in a year when forage has been tight we have kept cows milking well. The cows at Waverbank are still averaging 34 litres on a mix of second and third cut silage.”