In recent weeks, the worldwide pandemic has seen a significant change in consumer behaviours. This has already caused a reduction in milk price.
Many producers have had to focus on the benefits from grazed grass to reduce break-even milk price and help insulate against external costs. For producers in Northern Ireland bought in concentrate can represent a cost of 8-12 pence per litre.
There is however a need to have a balanced approach, as some measures put in place, although bringing some short-term relief to cash flow, may have long term consequences for production, by negatively impacting on herd health and fertility.
24 Hour Grazing
Where cows are grazed day and night, the target is to maximise Dry Matter Intake (DMI) of lush grazed grass with the potential of achieving up to maintenence+18 litres in good conditions.
One of the major challenges with highly fermentable grazed grass, is to reduce the incidence of sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA) which often results in, butterfat depression, loose manure and higher incidence of metabolic disease.
At Irwin’s Feed we have a wide range of summer rations designed to reduce the incidence of SARA, by providing high quality sources of digestible fibre and optimum levels of maize and soya bean meal.
Research has shown that buffer feeding with silage during the summer can depress the intake of grazed grass adding very little to overall energy intake. Alternatively, supplementation with the correct concentrate can have a significant benefit on total energy intake. Therefore, where grass quantity is not limiting and weather conditions are good, introducing a buffer should be done with caution.
However, where intake of Parlour Concentrate does not sustain the energy requirements of high yielding dairy cows, a buffer may be essential.
Buffer feeding can present an opportunity to provide good sources of Physically Effective Fibre, through Wholecrop and Straw, helping to prevent low milk butterfat.
At Irwin’s Feed we provide on-farm nutritional support to ensure buffer feeds are optimised specially for every customer. Feel free to talk to us for individual herd advice.
Traditionally high yielding fully confined herds may adopt a two-batch system with lower yielding pregnant cows going out to grass and high yielding cows remaining in the house.
This approach can be labour intensive, however if managed correctly it offers a means by which cost of production can be reduced without sacrificing total output of the farm.
Partially Housed - 12-hour grazing
Where there are limitations to the availability of land for grazing, cows can be grazed by day and housed by night. This can boost overall forage intakes, allowing cows to increase milk yield and reduce feed rates.
Where grazing is not an option Zero-Grazing presents an opportunity to significantly reduce feed costs, and in some instances boost milk yields with spring swards supporting maintence+18 litre’s.
Some caution should be given as zero-grazed grass can lead to reduced pregnancy rates when cows are not supplemented correctly. In some herds the best option may be to limit zero-gazing to lower yielding, pregnant cows.
Fully Confined Herds
For some producers grazing or zero-grazing will not be feasible. In these instances, it is important to challenge feed rates. This can be done by making small changes.
Maximise Forage DMI
- Ensure TMR is at an optimal Dry Matter (~40%).
- Maximise push-ups throughout the day.
- Target 5% refusals.
- Minimize concentrate in TMR.
- Maximise use of target feeding through Parlour and Out of Parlour Feeders.
This summer home grown forage, whether fresh grazed grass or ensiled grass silage is the cheapest feed source on every farm, but to utilise this resource properly maximizing intake of this forage is crucial to reducing feed costs on most farms. This year different feeding decisions may have to be made, for example c16 fats to boost butterfat may only be cost effective for pregnant, late lactation cows.
Don’t be afraid to ask for individual advice and support. At Irwin’s Feed we are trying to help our customers through these difficult times.