Sunday, September 23, 2018

Review turnout plans to maximise returns from grass

April 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Livestock

Dairy farmers are being urged to review turnout plans to avoid costly contract penalties by mitigating against a drop in butterfat and protein levels – and the late spring.

With processors putting increasing emphasis on milk constituent levels, the standard litre price for some manufacturing contracts is now based on achieving butterfat at 4.2% and protein at 3.4%, says Matt Stearn, performance products manager for Trident Feeds.

“These levels are higher than previous targets, and therefore a large number of farmers face potential penalties if constituent levels drop following turnout,” explains Mr Stearn.

A natural drop in milk solids – particularly butterfat levels – is common when cows are freshly turned out to grass. This is because fibre digesting bacteria in the rumen take up to 14 days to adjust to major changes in forage supply.

Buffer feed

With a change in diet from silage to fresh grass, producers should take steps to avoid this risk and the subsequent impact on the milk cheque, says Mr Stean, who suggests feeding a buffer feed with appropriate supplements alongside grazing.

“With the cold, wintery start to March impacting grass growth and quality, supplementary feeding is likely to be required to help balance the ration and avoid a negative effect on milk fat.”

The inclusion of Butterfat Extra, a palatable high C16, rumen protected fat, can show swift improvements to milk fat percentages when incorporated in balanced rations. Typical production responses are up to 0.3% increase in butterfat and a lift of up to one litre of milk.

For a 100-cow herd currently producing 31 litres per cow per day, feeding 0.3kg per head of Butterfat Extra could result in an extra profit of £2,315 over a period of 100 days through lifts in both milk fat and yield, claims Mr Stearn.

Better grassland

When it comes to reseeding, Oliver Bonshor, general manager for Oliver Seeds, recommends that farmers be patient and wait until conditions improve and soil warms up before heading into the fields with a drill.

The late spring means that fields sown earlier will never make up the performance of seeds drilled in better conditions a few weeks later, says Mr Bonshor. “This is the tardiest spring that I can remember,” he says. “Farmers will do well to delay any reseeding.”

Farmers should also assess the state of the sward and any weed infestations – because weeds often start growing at lower temperatures than grass. If the time for full reseeds has been missed, farmers should consider overseeding into older and gappy swards.

It might also be best to take a first cut of silage which will help refill silage stocks, and then to spray off the sward and put in a catch crop brassica, such as forage rape or a mixture of forage rape, stubble turnips and kale – ahead of a new grass crop in August.

Combat weeds

As the weather warms up, grass and perennial weeds such as docks be will grow quickly. Large infestations should be sprayed at least three weeks before first cut silage to allow a good and thorough weed kill.

“The docks must be actively growing and dinner-plate sized,” explains Andy Bailey, principal biologist for Dow AgroSciences. If the docks are too small, uptake of herbicide will not be as good as it should be, he adds.

Farmers to walk fields to identify the worst weed infestations before deciding how to tackle them – either with a specific herbicide such as DoxstarPro for docks, which will also kill chickweed and dandelions, or a broad-spectrum spray.

“Farmers must be prepared to go out and spray silage ground to give the herbicide the longest time possible to translocate down into the roots to deliver a lasting kill. Grass will quickly colonise bare patches left by dead docks and then the grassland’s full potential can be realised.”

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