Grass and silage detail underpins dairy herd profit

Hard pressed dairy farmers should be seeking to make more milk from their forage, through better attention to detail at silage making, was the message from a recent joint Germinal and Ecosyl press briefing.



Andersons consultant Richard King outlined the scale of the recent milk price reduction – a 30% fall over the 2015 year, with subsequent cuts to come and no prospect of a recovery until 2017. While he was confident there would be a recovery, most dairy farmers are now relying on CAP payments to make a profit, he emphasised.

Work undertaken by the consultancy in conjunction with Yara has shown that a less intensive grazing-based system can be more profitable than concentrate or forage-based alternatives, with more milk from grass and lower overhead costs. Grass is the most cost-effective way to feed dairy cows, he concluded, and the forage-based system showed that costs can be reduced while retaining a relatively high output system.

Germinal’s Ben Wixey cited Kingshay data showing that better performing herds are getting more milk from their forage, with the top 10% achieving 4,000 litres per cow from forage alone, compared to the average of 2,000 litres and only 700 litres from the bottom 10%. Also, the performance figure has been rising month by month since August, showing that the message is getting home.

But there is still scope to improve the quality of the average silage, Mr Wixey continued. Factors reducing silage digestibility included older pastures with less ryegrass, insufficiently grazed pastures with too many dead plants and lodging, as well as delayed mowing. Pastures do deteriorate over time, as weed grasses compete, which leads to reduced yield and a poorer response to nitrogen fertiliser. Also, higher numbers of weed grasses spread heading dates. Mr Wixey he advised producers to reseed pastures at least once every 6 years – equivalent to 15% of their grazed area annually. However, the national reseeding rate is only 2-3%.

Forage quality will become even more important as the dairy industry moves to paying for milk by its solids content, Mr Wixey concluded – managing forage feeding to influence milk constituents will be even more crucial.

Philip Jones, Agri R&D manager for forage additive manufacturer Ecosyl, a Volac subsidiary, discussed how farmers could improve their silage making. Starting with a good sward, attention should be paid to timing of harvest to maximise digestibility, avoiding contamination and compacting and sealing the clamp adequately. Adding lactic acid bacteria through the harvester also ensures the microorganisms are present in sufficient numbers to ensure an effective lactic acid fermentation to preserve the nutrient quality and prevent it being wasted through butyric and carboxylic breakdown.

Ecosyl’s MTD/1 strain of lactobacillus is the most studied silage inoculant in the world, he added, across all the major forage crops for both dairy and beef systems. It has been shown to reduce fermentation losses, preserve more true protein and improve dry matter recovery with a 5% greater DM intake over an untreated crop, and lead to more milk from forage.

To conclude, better grass and forage management is key to a more profitable dairy herd – getting the grass raw material right in the field and managing the conservation process carefully helps maximise the potential of the milking herd.

Posted on May 11, 2016 and filed under Seeds, Livestock.