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WESTCOUNTRY FARMER: Get more from forage

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: March 19, 2014

WESTCOUNTRY FARMER: Get more from forage
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Producing an additional 1,000 litres from forage per cow may sound a tall order, but Roy Eastlake, Biotal national technical support manager, believes it is achievable, especially if the challenge is broken down into manageable bite size chunks.

“All businesses need targets and improvement goals, and for many dairy farmers producing an extra 1,000 litres from forage should be an achievable and profitable goal,” Mr Eastlake explained.

“Dairy costings regularly show a difference in milk from forage per cow of around 1,000 litres between average and top 25% performance. If we assume that the increased milk from forage is used to reduce concentrate use, the better use of forage is worth over £100 per cow, or £15,000 for the average 150 cow herd.”

Mr Eastlake said the skill with targets is to make them realistic and measurable so you know you are making progress in the right direction.

“Producing an extra 1000 litres from forage means producing an extra 2.75 litres per cow per day. Put another way, you will need to supply an additional 15MJ of energy from forage as opposed to purchased feeds, whether through forage quality, forage quantity or a combination of the two.

“Producing an extra 15MJ from forage per day over the winter would mean having an extra 1.36kgDM per cow per day, assuming 11ME silage on average, or 273kgDM for a 200 day winter. At an average of 30% dry matter, this means making 900kg of silage per cow. If you can make the extra silage you will have the forage required to provide the energy for the extra milk.”

Mr Eastlake believes that now is the time to plan forage areas to ensure that in an average season you will be producing enough silage from the combination of crops you grow to ensure you have enough to meet the requirements for the winter. Any shortfall in silage tonnage will mean less milk from forage, higher feed costs and reduced margins. During the season he said farmers need to react to what actually happens. If first cut is poor, how will you make up the deficit? The sooner you make decisions the better.

As well as producing more forage, it is important to make the best quality forage you can. Sacrificing quality for bulk will reduce the energy available and will also suppress dry matter intakes, which will reduce rather than increase yield from forage and margins. Aim to make high quality, palatable forage by focussing on cutting the crop at the appropriate stage and ensuring a rapid and effective lactic fermentation.

“Better quality really pays,” Mr Eastlake commented. “For example, if you are feeding 10kg DM of forage per cow per day, each 0.5 MJ increase in silage energy content will increase yield from forage by one litre per cow per day.”

The final way you can help to increase milk from forage is to make sure the cows get to eat the forage – and this means reducing wastage.

Mr Eastlake says typical losses on a three cut grass silage system are around 20% of harvested material. On the best managed farms this can be reduced by half to about 10% total losses. A focus on reducing waste could underpin an increase in milk from forage. You don’t need to make more, just waste less.

“Waste can be reduced by attention to detail. Make sure the clamp sides are correctly lined, that the clamp is filled and rolled correctly and that the forage is treated with a suitable crop and condition specific inoculant. Then make sure the clamp is fully sealed.

“On most farms, time invested in planning and paying attention to detail will deliver the extra forage quantity, higher forage quality and reduced waste necessary to increase milk from forage towards the target of an extra 1000 litres, and £100 margin per cow,” Mr Eastlake concluded.

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