Forage First

The Forage First guide is for GB dairy farmers with block-calving and all-year-round herds. It collates the available knowledge and numbers on forage utilisation and feeding. Here you can find links to further information on all the resources mentioned in the guide.

Focus on forage 

Forage First focuses on improving feed efficiency from the bottom up. Get the most you can from grazed grass, then silages and, finally, make up the deficit with concentrates and other purchased feeds.

Regardless of system, improving milk from forage offers huge potential for most dairy farms in GB to save money and increase profit.

Calculate your milk from forage from annual data using the Optimal Dairy Systems KPI calculator

It can be very worthwhile to explore how other farmers are achieving good yields of milk from forage. Discussion groups, meetings and visiting other farms can provide valuable insights about things you can implement to improve your own business.

See what events are happening in your area

Because different forages and feeds have varying moisture contents and require very different production, handling and storage inputs, it’s difficult to compare their values on a like-for-like basis.

You can compare different feeds by analysing their metabolisable energy (ME) and crude protein (CP) content. The AHDB relative feed value calculator allows you to do this by using figures for rapeseed meal and barley as comparable feeds. You can add feeds and own forages alongside common products.

Calculate and compare different feeds on the basis of ME and CP they supply using the AHDB relative feed value calculator Download the Forage First guide

Setting targets 

Setting targets for your herd gives you a framework to help identify the things that need to change.

Feed conversion efficiency (FCE), also referred to as feed efficiency (FE), is a useful measure to determine cows’ relative ability to turn feed nutrients into milk or milk components.

Learn more about feed efficiency Calculate your feed efficiency

To improve the FCE of your group or herd, you should make sure your cows have continuous and easy access to feed. Measure the space available – it should be at least 60 cm/cow.

Refer to Red Tractor standards for more detailed information on feed space for cattle at different weights

Know the essentials 

It is important to feed lactating dairy cows a diet with the correct particle size distribution to optimise rumen function and cow health and performance.

Professor Liam Sinclair from Harper Adams presents the results of an AHDB-funded project on the role of functional fibre in the dairy cow diet

The dry matter (DM) of forage can vary considerably as you progress through the clamp or the paddock, and this can lead to variation in the feed.

Find out how to calculate the DM of forage Sign up to Forage for Knowledge to receive weekly updates on the DM content of fresh grass across GB

Concentrate feed rate per litre relates directly to milk from forage and is affected by the energy content of the concentrate feed. One way to compare different feeds is to assess the ME and CP they supply. The AHDB relative feed value (RFV) calculator allows you to do this, using figures for rapeseed meal and barley as comparable feeds. You can also add feeds and own forages alongside common products.

Calculate and compare different feeds with the AHDB relative feed value calculator

Cows require sufficient minerals and vitamins to avoid imbalances or deficiencies. Although deficiencies can seriously affect performance, most feed ingredients (especially forages) provide reasonable levels of minerals and vitamins.

Read about the best sources of minerals and vitamins, current requirements for production, and feeding practices to best meet these requirements and promote health and productivity

Water is often called the ‘forgotten nutrient’. Yet, milk production means modern dairy cows have a very high daily requirement for drinking water per unit of body mass. High-yielding cows can drink well over 100 litres of water per day, and this amount can double in a hot climate.

Learn more about the importance of water in maintaining life and optimising productivity in dairy cattle

Many of the key trace elements, especially copper (Cu), cobalt (Co), selenium (Se), zinc (Zn) and iodine (I), are adequately supplied in most diets. However, it is always advisable to check rations and balance them as required.

Copper deficiency is common in dairy cows, so they are generally given supplements to avoid it. However, there is increased evidence of over-supplementation, which can impair health and productivity and can be fatal in acute cases.

Key rules for safe copper supplementation Watch our webinar on the impact of copper on performance and health of dairy heifers Dietary copper for dairy cows: how to get feeding levels right

Great grazing 

Making the most of grazed grass on your farm offers a huge opportunity to increase profits. Use our resources to help you manage your grazing:

Comparative stocking rate (CSR) is a method of assessing the balance between feed demand and supply on farm. It is a much better indicator of the match between feed demand and supply than cows per hectare because not all cows are the same weight, not all hectares grow the same amount of feed and purchased fee per hectare is not counted using cows per hectare.

Learn more about comparative stocking rate

Good grazing infrastructure gives more days at grass, makes management easier at times of peak grass growth, and makes grazing less weather dependent.

The Teagasc Dairy Farm Infrastructure Workbook provides excellent detailed guidance on grazing infrastructure

Several deficit scenarios can occur when managing grass. It is important to recognise a deficit early and to implement strategies to protect future grass supplies.

Learn more in the Teagasc publication, Managing your Grass

Integrating Soil-Crop-Animal Pathways to Improve Ruminant Health is a 4-year (2016–20) project that aims to improve our understanding of magnesium nutrition in UK dairy, beef and sheep farming systems.

Visit MAG-NET's website for further information

Successful silage 

Making and feeding high-quality digestible silage encourages higher feed intakes and better cow performance. High-quality forage has a high nutritional value in terms of energy and protein and is also well preserved. This makes it highly palatable, which supports high levels of forage dry matter intake (DMI). Use our resources to help you improve your silage making:

Learn more about growing maize using information from the Maize Growers Association Watch our Harvesting wholecrop videos to identify the right time to harvest various wholecrops in order to get the best high-value feed Read the Teagasc Guide to DM Content for Whole Crop and Moist Grain Harvest

Feed delivery 

Feeding in the right way is just as important as what you are feeding, for many reasons – time saving, ensuring correct intakes and reducing waste, to name a few.

As well as different grazing regimes, various systems have been developed to deliver individual feeds and mixes to dairy cows.

Other methods of feeding are discussed in Cut and carry: a best practice guide

Compact feeding is a relatively new technique developed in Denmark. The aim is to reduce selection by adding water to make the diet wetter and to mix for longer. This allows all cows in the group to access the same diet throughout the day.

The EuroDairy webinar Compact TMR for improved feed efficiency provides further details on this way of feeding

Body condition scoring 

To be able to manage something effectively, you must measure it reliably, so you can monitor change and detect at an early stage whether or not things are going to plan. Regularly measuring body condition score (BCS) is an essential component of transition. It has a huge impact on future lactation performance and animal health.

Read Dairy Australia’s advice on body condition scoring

Dry cow and early lactation feeding 

The transition period includes the last three weeks before calving and the first three weeks after calving. At this time, the cow can face huge challenges and changes, as well as increased nutritional requirements.

During transition, correct nutrition management is essential to prevent a breakdown in the complex chain of events around calving. It also ensures a successful start to lactation.

Use our resources to help you improve transition management:

Negative energy balance (NEB) occurs when a cow does not consume enough energy to meet her daily energy requirement. Managing negative nutrient balance is key to the success of the transition period.

All dairy cows in transition will encounter negative energy balance, but the extent of the negative energy balance is important. The aim is to try and minimise it.

Find out how negative energy balance can influence fertility of dairy cows

Nutrition and the environment 

Diets based on home-grown, high-protein forages are naturally rich in crude protein (CP), (particularly soluble protein), and, for this reason, it may be more challenging to reduce dietary protein levels. AHDB Dairy is currently funding a research project that aims to evaluate the possibility of reducing CP in forage-based diets.

Further information can also be seen from AHDB research Low protein diets based on high protein forages

The current National Research Council (NRC, 2001) recommendation for phosphorus content in the diet of lactating cows is to achieve 0.32–0.38% (on a DM basis).

AHDB-funded research on 50 farms has shown that it is common to overfeed this mineral by more than 20% – especially in early lactation. However, on some farms, phosphorus was also underfed.

For more information, see the final report: A comparison of current dairy cow mineral intake on commercial farms relative to recommended levels

Optimal Dairy Systems 

Farms that focus on a clearly defined production system tend to be more profitable and competitive. Fundamentally, we believe that British dairy farmers should focus on one of two systems: All-year-round calving system or block-calving system.

We want farmers to understand their current system, judge their performance by holding a mirror up to themselves and make a conscious, strategic choice about the system that is optimum for them.

Learn the context and background to Optimal Dairy systems in our Delivering a more competitive industry through optimal dairy systems paper Watch our Chief Strategy Officer Tom Hind and others from across the industry speaking about Optimal Dairy Systems

The Dairy performance results provide full economic costings of GB dairy herds for three different calving systems – all-year-round (AYR), 12 weeks or less autumn block and 12 weeks or less spring block.

Compare your performance with our Dairy performance results