Quality forage central to system success

Diane Guitane, dairy farm manager at Henden Manor Farm, is a firm believer that if you keep cows healthy and in-calf then the rest will follows.  The farm has 121 hectares of forage with 240 all year round calving Holsteins plus youngstock. Their average yield is 10,000 litres at 3.8% far and 3.3% protein. They grow 44ha maize annually, 28ha is drilled after first cut. Alongside 20ha of wholecrop wheat. There daily target of dry matter intake is 25kg a cow. Diane says achieving this requires a consistent diet based on sufficient, high-quality forage.

“If we can get quality forage and plenty of it, this is the best way to cut costs.  With only 121ha for 240 cows, we need to work hard to make sure we achieve this.”

To produce sufficient forage, they operate a three crop system including double cropping. A proportion of maize is sown after first cut is taken with winter wheat wholecrop following maize.  Diane believes wholecrop is an excellent contributor to the system, increasing total forage production while providing a valuable ingredient in the diet.

“Without wholecrop we would not be able to produce enough quality forage.  As well as increasing the tonnage available, it provides a good source of scratch factor, meaning we maintain good rumen health which is key.”

Winter wheat fits the bill

Over the years, they have decided that winter wheat is the crop best suited to the farm which comprises mainly heavy clays and is a cold, late farm.  Triticale has been tried in the past but was felt to produce too much straw which affected feed quality.

The wheat is treated as a combinable crop with a full fertiliser and agrochemical programme including a growth regulator. Diane says that while using a growth regulator will reduce crop bulk, it ensures a better ratio of grain to straw and an overall better quality feed. The wholecrop is short chopped and clamped using Biotal Wholecrop Gold to improve aerobic stability as the crop is cut at a target 40-45% dry matter.

“We look to cut it dry so that it will balance out grass and maize, both of which will be around 30% dry matter.  We could cut drier but this would mean we need to crack the grain.  Taking at 40% saves this task and means there is less rumen available starch.”

Winter wheat cut at this stage is the best wholecrop for our circumstances, although other farmers will find other systems suit them better.”

While wholecrop and grass are important forages, maize is the mainstay of the diet although, despite being in Kent, the farm is not best suited to the crop.  The combination of heavy soils, being a cold farm and delayed drilling mean the crop is always harvested late and rarely better than 30% dry matter.

Mixed forage drive intakes

“We feed a true TMR with nothing in the parlour.  I am looking for cows to produce 40 litres a day and to keep producing at this level.  Mixed forages help drive high intakes and minimize the duration of negative energy balance so cows get in calf quickly.”

“Wholecrop provides the balance in the diet and means we can introduce a starch based forage sooner,” Diane continues.  “Feeding 6kg/day of wholecrop we can produce enough for around 240 days while we look to feed maize 365 days a year.”

“Wholecrop gives us options which is important as it helps us manage risk.  I would like to feed it all year round, but can’t grow any more on the current farm with the rotation we have.”

“Wholecrop costs around £38 per tonne freshweight (£85/tDM) while maize is around £23 (£77/tDM) but this isn’t the key issue.  We need sufficient total forage.  Each tonne of wholecrop at 45% dry matter means we can feed around 400kg less concentrate which would cost far more than £38.”

“What is important is what wholecrop gives us.  It give flexibility, it allows us to produce more forage from the same land area and it gives us valuable scratch factor and boosts intakes to help keep the rumen and the cows healthy.  If we can do this they will produce milk efficiently at less cost per litre.