Getting the Best from Zero Grazing

For many years Derek and Kirsty Haworth have been very successfully milking between 60 and 70 cows on one robot near the village of Hambleton in Lancashire. The Rose Farm herd comprises a mixture of Holstein, Ayrshire and an increasing proportion of Ayrshire/Holstein crosses. The current rolling yield is 9100 litres at 4.4% butterfat and 3.5% protein, with 3976 litres produced from forage.

Derek believes this is where the sweet spot for profitability lies, although he would ultimately like to achieve 4500 litres from forage. An increasing amount of Ayrshire semen is being used as good milk quality is vital for the milk contract and it is improving the hardiness and longevity of the herd. Derek’s son Rob is 21 now and wishes to work full time on the farm, so to generate sufficient income for two full time people, the decision has been made to increase the herd to 90 cows. The robot is 11 years old and this will be replaced with a milking parlour as 90 cows doesn’t justify two robots.

The only concentrates the cows receive are two cakes, one in the robot and one in the OPF. In the summer cows graze day and night but are fed zero grazed grass late afternoon as an incentive to come back to the robot. A Bonino zero grazer cuts, collects and dispenses the grass down the feed barrier. No other feeds are mixed with the grass or grass silage, so the Bonino is used 365 days a year. The blocks of silage do need breaking up on the floor to loosen before putting in the machine but this is a very efficient way of feeding.

Carrs Billington’s Buttergold 18 dairy cake containing Actisaf yeast is fed in the robot. High energy but with a very low acid loading to maintain a healthy rumen and increase butterfat production. Glucos-Aid 16
is used in the out of parlour feeder to avoid giving excessive protein to high yielding cows. This helps control weight loss in early lactation, protecting fertility and milk quality. Both cakes contain TechTonic, our unique rumen conditioner proven to improve milk yield, butterfat production and feed conversion efficiency.

Moving away from the robot will give more flexibility as there will be fewer restrictions on which fields can be practically grazed and the amount of grass offered to cows. At present if you offer them too much, they will not come back to the robot.

Zero grazing will continue when the parlour is operational. Derek says “It’s a lazy mans way of grazing cows, offers more flexibility and gives higher dry matter intakes.” Zero grazing gives you the ability to feed
fresh grass for longer without damage and production loss from poaching and soiling, particularly at the shoulders of the season.

The zero grazed fields are sown with mixtures containing broad leaved white clover which reduces the need for bought in nitrogen. When a field is cleared, slurry is applied immediately. Nitrogen is usually only applied in early spring to kick start the grass before the clover gets going later on.

Grazing fields do not contain clover to avoid bloat. This is never an issuewith the zero grazed grass, Derek’s theory being that cows select for leaf when grazing but when eating zero grazed material they have to consume more fibre and this perhaps reduces the risk.

We wish the Haworth family every success with the next stage in their business. In the current economic climate and volatile milk prices, hitting the sweet spot that combines goods yields with high milk from
forage and a relatively simple system looks a good plan.

Top Tips for Successful Zero Grazing

1. Cut when covers are around 3000 kg/ha, enough bulk to make it worthwhile without sacrificing quality.
2. Derek sometimes cuts the outsides of a field and leaves the middle for silage. “If the grass is growing at 60-70kg DM/ha/day then you often need to move on to the next paddock to maintain optimum forage quality in front of the cows.”
3. Leave a cover of just above sheep grazing height, 1200kg/ha.
4. Don’t store cut grass for longer than 6 hours, especially if the nitrogen content is high. Palatability and feed intakes drop off quickly.
5. Test the grass regularly during the season to keep a picture of nutrient value.
6. Ideally cut late afternoon, when dry matter and sugar content are usually at their best.
7. If wet when cut, leave the grass for a couple of hours so some of the water can drain off.