Enhancing milk from forage with home-grown feed

Friday, 10 May 2024

The topic of feed efficiency and boosting milk production through forage incorporates a diverse range of solutions, each impacting herds differently. For North Devon farmer David Luxton, soil sampling, incorporating red clover silage leys, reducing artificial nitrogen and making better use of his organic manures have helped improve the quality of his multi-cut silage.

Newlands Farm

Newlands Farm in North Devon is home to 180 fully housed pedigree Holstein cows.

This farm spans across 250 acres, with a further 70 acres, of which 35 are used for maize.

Milking on a robotics system, their average annual yield is 11,500 L per cow, achieving approximately 4,000 L from forage, 4.4% butterfat and 3.6% protein.

When they started their journey on our Strategic Dairy Farm programme in 2022, one of the goals David set was to increase milk from forage.

When asked about the improvements made to meet his target, David said:

“In May 2022 we had a meeting with Helen Mathieu from Germinal to help us improve our forage quality. After this meeting, the fields were soil sampled to check pH and other mineral status.

"The pH came back as low as 5.6 in some places. We decided to spread 2 t of lime sand at 12 t to the acre, to correct the pH across the farm.

“At the end of June, after taking a second cut of silage, two fields were chosen to reseed into a red clover cutting ley, using the HSG 2 multi-cut red clover mix.

"The fields we chose were ryegrass silage leys that had been in for 18 months, which had become very open. We sprayed off and left for a month then power-harrowed drilled in July.

"By mid-August, grass and clover had established well and a first cut was taken and baled in October.

“Previous silage samples at Newlands ranged from 12–14.6% crude protein (CP). In the clover silage bales we cut in October, we achieved a CP of 18.8%. CP levels overall in the grass silage have increased to 16%, with a potential DM intake of 11.7 kg/DM.

"We put the uplift down to the reduction in the amount of artificial nitrogen applied to the silage ground, which allowed more natural clovers to come through across the cutting platform.

"Last year we ordered an artic load less of artificial nitrogen than we would have in previous years.”

Dillington Farms

Another recent recruit to the Strategic Dairy Farm programme, Knott Oak Dairy, Dillington Farms, has started their journey to improve feed efficiency.

Located near Ilminster, Somerset, this farm comprises of dairy, beef, and arable enterprises, across 2,125 acres and is managed by Ollie Blackburn.

The dairy has 310 fully housed, crossbred cows, and like Newlands Farm, milked robotically, achieving average annual yields of 10,800 L per cow, with 4,000 L from forage.

Ollie said:

“When we joined the programme, we set out some goals for the three years.

"One of our main objectives is to further integrate the arable enterprise with the dairy and beef enterprises to reduce our reliance on bought-in feeds.

"The estate and our farming policies have changed massively over the last few years, and we are now very environmentally focused and trying to do things in a more sustainable way.

"By including red clover in our silage mixtures and growing peas and beans as part of our arable rotation we hope to reduce bought feeds in our dairy ration and reduce the estate's carbon footprint.”