Ensuring high quality forage for his 200 head dairy herd is a key objective for Shropshire producer David Higgins, and by reacting during the summer he ensured sufficient stocks for this winter.
The all year round calving herd BentleyFord herd from Lognor are averaging 9000 litres at 4.03% fat and 3.23% protein. The cows are TMR fed with nothing in the parlour. High yielders are housed all year round while late lactation cows will graze from early April until early October.
Working with Hefin Richards from Rumenation, the diet is formulated to deliver M+37 litres and comprises 18kg grass silage, 22kg maize or wholecrop supplemented by a blend, fat and minerals. Adequate quality forage is therefore central to David’s system and he focusses on producing sufficient forage, reacting as the season unfolds.
“It is a good grass growing farm and we have been adopting an Opticut approach for several years, taking a first cut in late April/early May and then looking to go at five week intervals,” David explains.
“This year we cut on 5th May, 9th June, 6th July and 6th August. “We budget on 100-120 acres of first cut and second cut from the same acreage. Third cut and fourth cut around 100 acres.”
“We grow predominantly 3-4 year leys, reseeding every year after wholecrop. We precut test grass for nitrogen and sugars so we can be sure we will get a good fermentation and this year also paid attention to NDF levels.”
Wholecrop has been a mainstay of the system for over 20 years, with winter wheat averaging 13t/acre. The objective is a quality forage and David adjusts the acreage cut depending on the season.
“We would usually take 30-40 acres but typically grow 80 acres of cereals per year and would take more for wholecrop if necessary.”
Maize is a relatively new addition to the diet being grown for six years as previously David had thought the farm was too heavy to grow good crops. But selecting an early maturing variety with good vigour means he can get the crop harvested in good conditions.
“We usually grow 85 acres and work on 18t/ acre although we have had yields as high as 20t/acre. We leave an eight inch stubble to reduce soil contamination and leave the high lignin base part of the stem in the field to boost quality.”
“We need 15t/acre to make money from the crop so choose fields and varieties carefully.”
This year he has taken some of the maize as shredlage to improve the use of the vegetative part of the plant and hopefully remove straw from the diet.
“Making enough high-quality forage is vital to us and the combination of Opticut on the grass, careful maize variety selection and balancing tonnages with the flexibility of wholecrop means most years we can achieve that.”
“This year has been a challenge and to help us ensure enough forage next spring I decided in June that I should drill 45 acres of additional Italians after wheat. I aim to cut it in April, clamp it separately and then follow it with maize. This will give me valuable early stocks.”
“As well as planning to make enough, we work on minimising waste. All crops are treated with Biotal crop and condition specific inoculants and we sheet all clamps with side sheets and Silostop to keep oxygen out. When the clamps are opened we concentrate on keeping a tight, clean face,” he explains.