Wholecrop balances grass DM for optimum diet

In an area where growing maize is not an option, wholecrop cereals are providing a flexible second forage for a leading Montbeliarde herd, being used to fine tune silage production. Michael Wilson runs the Blackcombe herd at Monk Foss Farm, Millom with his partner Laura Teasdale, his brother Brian and parents John and Isobel. The farm comprises of 113ha with an additional 53ha rented. Initially a Holstein herd, black and whites have been phased out over the last 14 years. Now 240 all year round Montbeliardes, with a bias to summer/early autumn. The high yielders are housed all year round, with the average yield being 8,650 litres at 4.12% far and 3.42% protein, the milk is sold to Arla, targetting 3000 litres from forage. Micheal gets 3-4 cuts grass silage and 24-33ha of wholecrop.

“We were driven by a desire to have a more durable, longer lasting cow with better cull cow and calf values,” he explains. 

“We have a strong market for beef calves and a lower replacement rate but we also needed a cow that could convert forage into milk efficiently.”

“Having breed for yield, we are now breeding for fat and protein to suit the contract.  By concentrating calving towards the autumn we can also make the most of seasonality payments.  High yielders are housed all year with 120 cows kept in at any one time”

Quality forage is at the heart of the system and Michael has always wanted to feed mixed forages.  As the farm and area are not suited to maize production, wholecrop cereals have been successfully integrated into the farming system and the diet. Normally 24-33 hectares of cereals will be grown, either spring barley or winter wheat.

“As we have a mix of soils types we will vary the crop grown to suit.  Whatever we grow, we manage it as a combinable crop with full fertiliser, herbicide and fungicide treatments as advised by our agronomist.” Winter wheat will get 140 units of nitrogen, while spring barley gets 60 units.

“It is vital to treat it as a combinable crop because you are looking for good grain weight and you want a clean crop, not least as in some years the grain might be crimped or sold depending on how forage stocks look.”

  “Wholecrop also fits into our system really well.  We look to reseed 12-16 hectares of grass every year so we go in behind the wholecrop and this means we get the crop established and away early.”

Timing of wholecrop harvest depends on the quality of first and second cut grass.  Working with Biotal regional Business manager Mike Burns, the aim is to produce a TMR with an average dry matter of around 40% to promote optimum dry matter intakes.

Harvesting flexibility

“We always take first cut early and are one of the first in the area, usually around May 11th so we have an analysis of first and second cuts before wholecrop is harvested.  Actual cutting date depends primarily on grass dry matter and then on the weather.”

“The wetter the grass, the later we leave the wholecrop.  While we prefer to take it at around 40%DM we have taken it as high as 50%.”

“The beauty of wholecrop is that it lets you make this sort of decision, allowing you to take management decisions to influence overall forage quality.”

Integration of forages extend to cutting lengths.  Grass silage is picked up by forage wagon to give a longer particle size in the mix, while wholecrop is precision chopped to improve consolidation. The wholecrop is treated with Biotal Wholecrop Gold.

“We want to minimise waste.  With dairy forage the inoculant will improve aerobic stability, while with a lower dry matter crop it will also improve the rate of the initial fermentation.  The wholecrop goes in a 34’ clamp so we move across it quickly which also helps reduce the risk of spoilage.”

“We will start using the wholecrop around 14 days after cutting and feed it all year round, giving us a consistent diet promoting good rumen health.”