Grazing high yielding dairy cows keeps production costs down on one Kent farm, as I discovered on the first of this year’s BGS/DairyCo/RABDF spring farm walks.
William Westacott and his herdsman Richard Evans are dairy farmers operating at the top of their game. DairyCo benchmarking shows them outperforming most farms in terms of milk output, production from forage and feed cost containment. Their aim is to maximise milk yield from home-produced forages and carefully purchased bought-in feeds, AND grazed grass.
William is a tenant of the Chevening Estate, near Sevenoaks, with 100ha (247 acres) of arable crops, 80ha (198 acres) in environmental schemes, 50ha (124 acres) of maize and the rest grassland.
The 10,000 litre Holstein-Friesian cows calve from late August after spending a 60-day dry period grazing parkland. Seventy-five per cent calve within nine weeks and all are in production by Christmas.
The winter TMR consists of (freshweight) 30kg maize silage, 10kg of grass silage, 1kg of barley straw and 3kg of rapemeal, plus other ingredients to produce maintenance plus 27 litres of milk. A high energy cake is fed to yield in the parlour at 0.4kg/litre.
This ration sees the cows through 200 highly productive days of lactation and service. But then it is all change when in March (NB: not this year), the cows are sent out to graze. Daily milk yield can drop by 2 litres at first, but feeding costs reduce significantly too – making each litre much cheaper to produce.
“Producing big yields appeals to us,” William admitted “But we don’t do this at any price.
“We really go for it when the cows are freshly calved and they warrant a high priced diet costing around £4.93/day/cow. But by turnout, when they are well in calf and past peak lactation, we challenge them like mad to produce milk from grazed grass. And yes even high yielding cows can graze, as long as the diet is balanced and the system is set up to support them.”
The cows do have access to high-energy maize silage during the summer to balance the protein of the grass. However this is not given before the morning grazing. This means they go out with an edge to their appetite and quickly get their heads down to eat.
Disliking the name ‘buffer feed’ because it sounds like an excuse for poor rationing, William advises farmers to consider the diet as a whole – not just individual ingredients. The summer ration is high-quality grazed grass and maize silage.
Measuring to plan
The grazing platform is divided into 3ha paddocks and the cows graze on a 21-day rotation. Richard persuaded William to invest in a plate-meter, and weekly measuring and feed budgeting allows him to present the cows with high-quality grass after every milking.
Measuring helps them make informed decisions about future feeding and understand how much milk grazed grass is delivering.
“Getting the cows out to grass last year cut £12,000 off the feed bill,” explained Richard. “Add to this reductions in housing and labour – and having them grazing for 120 days, saved us £15,000.
“Average grazed grass intake per cow at the start of grazing is 4kg DM/day reaching up to 11kg DM – averaging 8.5kg DM/day over the season. This is enough to produce maintenance plus 840 litres of milk.
This is an edited version of an article written for the Summer issue of the British Grassland Society magazine Grass & Forage Farmer.
Subscriptions to this quarterly magazine – which presents information and inspiration on all aspects of UK grassland farming, are available to non-members – just £2.50 an issue. Call 02476 696600 or visit www.britishgrassland.com for more details.