Grow Great Grass To Cut Feed Costs

Grow great grass to cut feed costs

Excerpt: Jimmy Goldie, Chief Technical Officer for Carr’s Billington, reports on 2022 grass and silage trends and what to do now, for next year.

With costs of production rising to levels never seen before, grass and forage are ever-increasingly the cornerstone to milk production profitability. Why? Because grass is one of our cheapest resources and one of the only variable costs that farmers can take true control of.

Even with milk prices higher than ever before, margins are tight. However, these milk prices may not be here to stay, so now is the time to put a lens on winter forage utilisation and spring grass growth to get a step ahead of 2023 market pressures.

Results of 2022 grass and forage monitoring

Quantity and quality of grass directly impacts the quantity and quality of milk, and so knowing the input is essential in influencing the outcome. By measuring inputs, we get the baseline understanding to prescribe cows with exactly what they need – no more and no less – to get the desired output with minimal waste.

Carr’s Billington analyses over 10,000 grass and forage samples annually to determine growth rates, dry matter levels, energy levels, crude protein levels and sugar levels.

Through NutriOpt, Carr’s Billington combines values in the field with values in the rumen – giving a full picture from the soil to the milk tank. 

Evaluating our 2022 grass and forage analysis data, we can deduce a huge farm-to-farm variation in all the important parameters. This variability affirms the importance of conducting analysis at farm level rather than taking the average as a guide.

Having said that, some key trends emerged through the growing season:  

  • Energy value and digestibility declined; and
  • Protein levels remained high.

The first of these trends affirms the importance of making the most of early season growth.

Making more of grass growth from spring 2023

Looking ahead to our next growing season, understanding and assuring the health of your soil – structurally and nutritionally – should be top on the list of priorities now through to early spring.

It is essential we analyse and optimise soil health now. The only other measure of soil health is grass growth, and once we see sub-optimal grass growth in early spring, it’s too late – we’ve missed the growth opportunity. This loss of opportunity can have a significant knock-on effect for the rest of the year.

It is now a legal requirement to analyse soil on a 5-year cycle in England, however we would recommend doing this on a 3-year cycle, or even more frequently where changes to management have occurred. For example, if you reduced or even removed the use of fertiliser in 2022, soil phosphate and potassium reserves may now be insufficient for the next growing season.

To make soil and grass management more precise and efficient, we now offer the RHIZA fully integrated digital field mapping service which works by identifying soil health status for guiding precision applications, monitoring performance, and managing sustainable performance.

Making more of grass grazing from Spring 2023

With prospects of decreasing milk prices being talked about, as well as more milk contracts stipulating that cows need to be outside for proportion of the year, good grass growth is going to be essential in 2023.

Here’s some top tips to get the most out of your next growing season.

1.  OPTIMISE FIELDS

As soon as you can access fields, carry out any maintenance work or groundwork. Repair any sub-optimal tracks and assure adequate water points. Reseed or overseed where sward productivity was low in 2022, ensuring soil health is optimised first as suggested already.

2.  TURNOUT EARLY

Aim to turn out early to keep control of grass quality in early season when growth is at its best. Having said that, cows on wet ground can cause significant and irrevocable damage to grass swards, so take care to only turnout as soon as the conditions are right. If you have extra silage left over, turn it over to next year or sell it rather than delaying turnout.

3.  MEASURE GROWTH

Get in the habit of using a plate meter to measure residuals when cows come in for milking each day. Closely monitor and adjust grazing allowances to avoid waste as quality declines from under-grazing, or sward damage and suboptimal intakes from over-grazing. We advise between 1500kg-1700kg, depending on productive capacity of the cows in milk.

4.  BUFFER ACCURATELY

Whether in-parlour or buffering, work towards supplementing grass, rather than substituting grass. Cow don’t know the price of milk or feed, but they do know the value of nutrients. Avoid feeding too much TMR as cows will prefer to eat that over the grass which would lead to waste in the field. Ensure you have the agility to quickly reformulate rations to follow changes in forage and grass.

Making the most of forage this winter

By optimising the rumen environment, we improve forage digestibility and boost the returns we see from homegrown grass silage.

If your herd performance is below what you might hope or expect, it might be worth considering alternative diets, additives, and supplements to improve rumen function.

With grass silage typically more fibrous and less digestible this year, we’re advising farmers to balance their diets with wheat-based compounds or blends, and to buffer cows’ rumens to optimise rumen function.

EVOLVE365 is our dairy rumen buffer designed to optimise pH and maintain fibre digestion, supporting year-round milk from grass and forage, and maximising the nutrient value of even sub-optimal quality forages. Containing a unique blend of three technologies to help increase milk production and quality, improve gut health and overall immunity, for enhanced productivity: Advanced rumen stabiliser – TechTonic, protected live yeast – ActiSaf and metabolic regulator – Capcin.

To book your soil analysis or to speak to a formulation specialist, please contact the Carr’s Billington Forage Line on 0800 023 4416.