Effective grassland management is now a year-round commitment

Alan Boyd – Ruminant Nutrition Adviser

For the most part, autumn calving cows were dried off in good condition this year. This meant that milk producers had little trouble in making sure cows were holding at a body condition score of between 2.75 and 3.0 prior to calving.

Post calving, however, a significant number of producers reported cows peaking below anticipated levels, in terms of their milk output. So why are farmers are finding it more challenging to secure the peak yields they would have expected from their fresh calvers at this time of the year.

Recent weeks have seen United Feeds analyse more than 500 first cut silage samples, taken from clamps right across Northern Ireland. The results confirm that forage quality is down year-on-year. Specifically, ME and dry matter values are depressed when compared to 2018 results.

This scenario poses two questions: how did we get here in the first place and what steps can be taken to boost milk output from forage right now?

Answering the first question requires a bit of a history lesson. GrassCheck figures for mid-May this year and last confirm that the average ME value of fresh grass was 0.4 MJ lower in 2019 than in 2018. This difference in value reflected the growth trends recorded in each of the two grass growing seasons.

This year was marked by considerable early season grass growth. As a result, swards were quite mature by the time they were ensiled. In contrast, there was very little early growth in 2018 with the result that both ME and sugar values were both high, come the middle of May.

It goes without saying that silages are only as good as the grass they were made from in the first place.

The analysis of the GrassCheck figures also highlights the fact that effective grassland management is a now year-round opportunity/challenge for local dairy farmers. Increasingly, farms are carrying heavy covers from late autumn into the spring months. If this forage is not utilised by grazing livestock – sheep or weanlings – swards will become mature at a relatively early stage during the subsequent spring period. So the issue of grazing off covers that had been built up the previous autumn is one that needs to be addressed by milk producers now and throughout the winter season, as they strive to maximise next year’s silage quality.

The opportunity factor inherent within all of this is the reality that making best use of grass forages at any time of the year will help drive overall farm efficiency levels.

Improving the quality of silages coming out of clamps now is impossible. But enhancing the utilisation of these forages is more than feasible. And for those farmers seeking to boost the daily yields of their fresh calvers whilst maintaining high milks solids and achieving good herd fertility then improving milk output from forage is critically important.

Amongst a suite of nutritional solutions available from United Feeds to drive performance on local farms is the inclusion of the feed additive AmafermTM into the rations fed to cows at all stages of lactation. AmafermTM is a natural prebiotic, and the only feed additive registered as a fibre digestion enhancer in the EU.

Recent trials have confirmed that the inclusion of AmafermTMin a range of silage-based diets will boost fibre digestibility by 30% leading to improved feed efficiency and a 4.8% increase in milk yield in the trials. This is a more than significant figure, which reflects the potential of this unique feed additive to make a real difference when it comes to maximising milk output from forage. 

For further information on United Feeds nutritional solutions contact your local representative