Friday, March 22, 2019

5-point plan boosts milk from forage

March 5, 2019 by  
Filed under Livestock

A group of dairy farmers is increasing milk from forage – and boosting business profitability – by setting realistic targets and improving the way they make grass silage.

Most dairy farmers understandably have an overwhelming desire to improve production from forage. But herd costings continue to show stagnation in what is a critical benchmark, according to survey findings by Germinal and Volac.

Now a new joint initiative launched by the two companies is encouraging producers to focus on five key areas that can help deliver an extra 500 litres from forage. Dubbed the ‘Five for 500’ action plan, it is already delivering results.

“Our survey of over 200 dairy farmers showed they are virtually unanimous in their quest for higher milk from forage, with 98% saying that performance in this area is either extremely important or very important to the future of their businesses,” says Germinal’s Helen Mathieu (pictured).

“That makes absolute sense – because we know forage is the cheapest source of feed and herds with higher performance in this area are always highest ranked for profitability.”

Quest to improve

Frustratingly, however, less than half of dairy farmers actually know what their milk from forage figure is, says Ms Mathieu. Fewer still have set themselves a target, despite declaring their desire to improve, she adds.

Taking the survey results on board, Peter Smith of Volac recommends that producers should set attainable targets – and stay focused in the quest to improve. Small milestones are more easily achieved than big leaps in performance, he suggests.

“There’s been little movement in overall milk from forage, certainly over the last ten years, so we’re recommending a fresh approach that we hope will help a good proportion of dairy farmers make real progress,” explains Mr Smith.

“For a good majority, grass silage is the mainstay of the forage ration, so we’re recommending a focus on specific areas within the grass silage production process, each of which has potential to deliver a significant uplift in milk from forage.

“We saw in our survey that around two-thirds of dairy farmers are not setting themselves a milk from forage improvement target. But for the one-third that are, the vast majority are aiming for up to an additional 500 litres.”

Forage budget

To achieve the 500-litre target, cows will require an extra 8MJ per day from silage. The recommended plan focuses on five areas to achieve this where simple actions can make extra energy available – and therefore deliver the additional 500 litres (see below).

The first step is to plan a forage budget, says Ms Mathieu. “Simple planning, based on the number of animals to be fed, target intakes and expected production per hectare will ensure the farm has enough silage of the right quality.”

Planning with contingency built in, could easily mean an additional 1kgDM/head of quality silage intake. It is also vital to assess the raw material in the field, which means having a clear understanding of the potential performance of each of field ear-marked for silage.

“If that means a ley of higher quality ends up in the pit destined for the milking cow ration – as opposed to a poorer quality ley being ensiled – then that could raise the ME in silage by enough to make that significant difference.”

Growers should renovate or replace leys routinely to maintain productivity and quality. The higher ME/ha possible from keeping the proportion of sown species in the leys high will easily translate into higher milk from forage, says Ms Mathieu.

simple actions for more milk from forage

PLAN your grass silage budget
• How many cows / youngstock to feed?
• What are target intakes?
• Are you producing enough?

ASSESS grass yield and quality in the field
• What percentage of sown species remain?
• Is soil nutrition / soil condition right?
• Are weed populations excessive?

IMPROVE grass yield and quality in the field
• Which fields to improve?
• To renovate or fully reseed?
• Are you using top RGCL varieties in a balanced mixture?

REDUCE in field losses
• Are you mowing grass at optimum stage?
• Are you mowing at the right time of day?
  Are you maximising conditions for wilting?

REDUCE ensiling losses
Do you fully avoid soil contamination?
• Is clamp compaction adequate?
• Are you applying a proven additive?

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