Focusing on increasing forage quality and intakes has enabled Andrew Eastabrook to achieve a massive increase in production from forage and a significant reduction in purchased feed.
When he took over as farm manager at Home Farm, part of Hartpury University & Hartpury College, the 250 strong herd was all year round calving, averaging 9500 litres on an intensive feeding system. Now just two years later, the herd is moving rapidly to autumn calving with two thirds now calving in the target block. Yield per cow has stabilised but milk from forage has risen to 3300 litres and concentrate use has fallen by one tonne per cow. Now Andrew is targeting 280 cows and 4000 litres from forage within 12 months.
Key to the improvement in performance is the production of better quality forage and Andrew is using lessons learned in 2018 to help manage risk in 2019.
“Provided forage is good quality, cows will eat plenty of it and perform well,” he emphasises. “We were feeding 8kgDM from forage but the latest diet produced by Roy Eastlake includes 14.9kgDM from forage and the cows are actually eating over 16.5kg forage dry matter per day.
“We have worked out we need just under 1000 tonnes of forage dry matter to meet out requirements with a minimum 30% of this from maize so this is what we plan to achieve.”
Most maize in grown on contract and the acreage can vary year to year depending on the grower’s rotation. If the contract acreage is less than usual he will either grow more maize at home or grow wholecrop, usually triticale.
“Wholecrop has done well in the past and is an excellent insurance crop. We have a small arable acreage and can divert cereals into wholecrop if required.”
Following discussion with Roy Eastlake, Andrew has moved to an Opticut system making silage in a day to reduce variability, by reducing the length of wilt and also minimising the impact of weather. First cut is taken in early May and he targets a 28 day cutting interval.
“We are a very dry farm but last year managed three cuts at a 29-32 day interval. First cut was 80ha with the same area taken for second cut. Quality was excellent because we were taking young grass. First cut was 12MJME with second at 11.5MJ.
“Although it was a difficult year for Opticut grass with the hot, dry weather reducing the rate of regrowth I have no doubt it allowed us to achieve a higher production than if we had cut later.”
To minimise waste all forages are treated with Biotal crop and condition specific inoculants. Clamps are sealed with Silostop and black plastic before being weighted with tyres and gravel bags. Silage is removed using a shear grab.
“Waste levels are still too high so reducing these is a priority for this year and part of the way we will manage risk.
“We will always give cows priority and if needs be will sell beef cattle as stores to preserve forage stocks. We will consider taking wholecrop to bolster stocks but have decided fodder crops for youngstock are not well suited to our system. We are already a mixed enterprise farm with several crops to focus on and we have generally heavy soils.
“By planning carefully, managing risk and paying real attention to detail I am hopeful we will hit our 4000 litres from forage target,”Andrew concludes.