By Debbie James

Margin over purchased feed at a Welsh dairy farm is up 11 per cent or £350/hectare (ha) since it improved silage quality by taking more frequent cuts at shorter intervals.

Father and son Hugo and Ross Edwards milk 747 Holstein-Friesians at New Dairy, near Newport, Gwent.

Milk yield averages 10,500 litres/cow/year at 3.8 per cent butterfat and 3.22 per cent protein with high yielders milked three times a day and in calf, late lactation cows twice a day.

A key business objective is to produce as much milk from forage as possible, to reduce bought-in feed costs.

To achieve this, the Edwards’ have introduced grass silage with a very high digestibility (D) value into cow diets, produced using a multi-cut approach first trialled at New Dairy Farm as a Farming Connect Focus Farm project in 2017.

Multi-cut systems produce a consistent quality product with higher energy density and crude protein than the more traditional three-cut system.

High-yielding dairy cows need consistency, says farm consultant Richard Gibb, who worked with the Edwards’ on the project.

Insufficient carry-over of forage stocks in 2017, the first year of the project, meant it was difficult to exploit the system and the ration was regularly supplemented with bought-in concentrates such as brewers’ grains.

There were also challenges in 2018, due to the very dry growing conditions, but four cuts were taken; when the first cut silage was included in the ration in early June 2018 milk production in the whole herd increased by 1.5 litres/cow/day and 1.5kg/cow of blend was removed from the ration.

Manure consistency, body condition, milk components and fertility all improved too.

The business is now in its third year of using the multi-cut model and has achieved further improvements thanks to more favourable weather and growing conditions allowing for more regular cuts of silage in 2019.

Cuts were taken monthly, from mid-April, with some fields harvested six times; D-value ranged from 70-75 per cent and dry matter (DM) averaged 34 per cent across all cuts.

Approximately 3,800 tonnes of clamp silage and 1,000 tonnes of bale silage has been produced this year.

This is included in a total mixed ration (TMR) for the high yielders of 26kg grass silage, 13.5kg maize silage, 5.5kg wholecrop cereal, 8kg blend, 4.75kg crimped maize, 0.5kg wheat straw and minerals, vitamins and yeast.

Compared to 2018, yield per cow is up 5 per cent and concentrate use has reduced by 5 per cent per cow and by 7 per cent per litre.

Since the start of 2019 there has been an improvement in milk yield with cows in milk averaging between 33-34.5 litres/cow/day up to the end of September.

The concentrate feed rate has gradually come down, from 0.45 kg/litre in January to an average of 0.3 kg/litre in the three months to the end of September, says Mr Gibb.

Milk produced from forage is now up by 25 per cent.

“The cost of concentrates/litre has reduced from 10.5p in January 2019 to an average of 7.4p/litre in the three months to the end of September, a saving of 3.10p/litre,’’ Mr Gibb reports.

“However cows have eaten more forage to replace the concentrates and this has added some cost back into the total feed cost/litre.’’

The cost of making clamp and big bale silage was less than £120/tonne DM or 1p/megajoules - approximately half the cost of energy from the purchased feed in the system.

Since September 2018 rolling milk yields have risen nearly 500 litres/cow, to 10,550 litres.

If the current feed rate can be maintained at 0.3kg/litre average, yield is on course to be 10,700 litres/cow by April 2020 from 3,210kg of concentrates/cow with enough energy from forage to maintain the cow and produce 4,000 litres of milk.

Milk is supplied to Muller on a Tesco aligned contract.

Hugo admits that multi-cut silage may not suit every farm – contractor costs are higher and good clamp management is important – but he says he had gained some “real benefits’’ from this approach.

“The Farming Connect project, so far, has shown financial and yield improvements from achieving more milk from forage and making the best use of home grown feeds,’’ he says.

“We are very pleased with the silage analysis and the performance of the cows has reflected its quality.’’