Matt Slack, who milks 150 pedigree Holstein Friesian cows with his brother Sam and parents Sylvia and Peter at Overton Hall Farm, Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, took seven cuts of silage last year, having managed five cuts the year before. “The quality in 2016 was good, but the cows never milked as well as they should have on it,” he says. “So last year we treated the silage ground the same as the grazing land, cutting and round baling at the three-leaf stage.”
The results were impressive: Silage with 18-19% protein, 12MJ/kg metabolisable energy and 35% dry matter. “It was really short and leafy, just like feeding grass through the winter,” says Mr Slack. “But then we ran into problems, because there was no fibre in it. We just couldn’t keep the silage in the cows, and butterfats crashed from over 4% to 3.6%.”
To try and balance the ration, he added 2kg of chopped straw, as well as 3kg of soya hulls. “We tried everything.” However, nothing worked, so Mr Slack turned to nutritionally improved straw (NIS) – alkali treated straw pellets. “People had recommended NIS in the past to buffer feed grazed grass, but we’d never needed it as our silage used to be quite fibrous.”
He replaced the chopped straw with 3kg of NIS, and swapped 2kg of the soya hulls for 2kg of rolled wheat, and noticed an instant improvement. “Feed intakes went up 10% and milk yields increased from 33 litres to 36 litres within days. The cows looked so much happier and their muck was much more consistent – my nutritionist and I just couldn’t believe it.”
This year, the dry weather has curbed grass growth, so by early September Mr Slack had only made five cuts of silage, with a further two cuts likely before mid-October. “Yields will be about 30% down by the end of the year, but while the grass has been more stemmy, quality has remained good – we just haven’t got enough of it.”
Mr Slack calves from June to December, and houses the high yielders over the summer. He grazes everything else, and has reseeded most of his 80ha of grassland over the past three years.
“When we turn the cows out we used to feed cake in the parlour – this year we have also buffer fed with NIS in the diet to help the cows to utilise the grass better,” he says.
“We move the cows every other day and do a lot of pre-mowing, which boosts intakes and gives us an extra litre or two,” he says. “We’ve got 50% heifers in the herd now as we’re expanding, and I’m really pleased with how yields have increased.”
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