Wholecrop integral to system success

Fermented wholecrop plays a significant part in the farming system at Keythorpe Farms, Tugby near Leicester and has so done for 20 years, during which time the business has moved from being the highest yielding herd in the UK
to developing a successful organic system.

“We initially introduced wholecrop in the mid1990s when we were averaging over 11,600 litres, which was the top yield at the time,” comments Wil Armitage who has been at the farm since 1990 and overseen a period of considerable evolution.

“At that time we had been growing alkalage as we needed a source of effective fibre for the high yielding herd.”

“We are a marginal farm for maize and maize is lower in effective fibre, so I used alkalage for fibre and purchased maize grain to get starch in the diet.”

“In 2005 the decision was taken to go organic and fermented wholecrop has remained an integral part of the farming system. “It fits the farm, the system and the diet,” Wil comments.

“Currently we will grow in the region of 60 acres, looking for a significant dry matter yield in around 100 growing days.”

“We grow a spring mix of barley, oats, peas, beans and some triticale which follows a grass ley. Grass is ploughed out in April and the wholecrop is harvested allowing a grass reseed in the autumn. I am looking for 5tDM/ acre, giving me around 300tDM in total, while getting an effective break from grass.”

“The legumes are an important part of our system, fixing nitrogen and also producing a higher protein feed.”

The crop will usually be harvested in the third week of July, but the exact timing of cutting will depend on the other forages harvested. In addition to wholecrop, Wil grows red clover and Lucerne for silage. He will vary wholecrop cutting date based on the maturity and dry matter of the other forages. If they are lower dry matter, he will take wholecrop later. By so doing, this allows him to manipulate the overall dry matter of the forage portion of the diet. Whenever the crop is taken, it will be ensiled using Biotal Wholecrop Gold to help reduce aerobic spoilage at feedout.

“This year I would expect to take the wholecrop drier as some of the first cut was rained on and so will be a wetter forage. In the past, we have taken the wholecrop very dry and have had to crack the grain, but we don’t usually have to do this.”

The wholecrop is an important part of the diet for the 350 autumn calving cows. The farm is also building up a 230 cow spring calving herd. Breeding is based on Holstein genetics with an emphasis on management traits. The spring calved cows are being bred to New Zealand genetics. The autumn calving herd is currently averaging 7600 litres from 1800kg concentrates, meaning around 50% of milk comes from forage. The herd is 30% heifers at present. They will calve between 1st September and 30th November and Wil’s objective is that they are all in calf again by the time they go out to graze in late February.

As such he doesn’t push yield, putting condition and fertility ahead of extra litres. They will typically be housed in early November but have access to silage before housing. At housing, fodder beet replaces grazing in the diet. The winter diet comprises red clover, grass and lucerne silage, fermented wholecrop, fodder beet and meal which includes ground maize, oats, soya and sunflower. The maximum feed rate is 8kg/cow. Wholecrop will make up to one third of the forage portion of the diet and Wil feeds 3-4kgDM/day, believing it brings several advantages.

“Wholecrop is often labelled as a low energy feed, but I am not a great believer in analyses. It is what the cows tell me that matters. It is a great source of ADF which drives rumen health.”

“It improves the presentation of the diet and promotes intakes. Higher intakes help compensate for any small reduction in energy density.”

“It is also a flexible feed which, by tailoring dry matter at harvest allows me to get the most from my other forages.”