Wynnstay is launching a Forage4Profit campaign to help dairy farmers maximise the quality of homegrown forage and improve milk from forage.
The amount of milk produced from forage averages just 2,900 litres nationally, figures from Kingshay’s cost report from December 2022 show.
David Howard, head of dairy at Wynnstay, says there is huge scope to improve this and reduce purchased feed costs, with the best farms achieving 5,300 litres of milk from forage.
“Every 1,000 litres of milk from forage equates to approximately 460kg of concentrate feed, and so by increasing homegrown forage quality, you can make some significant savings on total feed costs,” says Mr Howard.
He explains that the target digestibility value for forage is >70, yet of the 1,228 forage samples Wynnstay carried out analyses on, over two-thirds were less than 70 digestibility value, with 12% less than 60.
“Forage quality is essential to drive feed efficiency,” says Mr Howard.
He believes this is becoming more important with many milk processors now offering milk producers incentives to reduce soya and improve their total feed efficiency, which is really driven by the quality of forage.
“We are launching Forage4Profit, which is a four-point programme to help farmers improve each stage of their forage production from field to feed out. It covers everything from soil health through to seed selection, crop preservation and ration formulation,” says Mr Howard.
Making good-quality forage starts with having balanced soils.
About 80% of soil samples carried out by Wynnstay are the incorrect pH. Mr Howard says soil health is a limiting factor and will reduce crop growth and quality.
He adds: “Producers should carry out regular soil samples and, if there are any imbalances, they should look to correct these. It is also important to identify areas of compaction and aerate soils to combat this, as well as creating bespoke fertiliser plans tailored to individual nutrient requirements.”
Seed selection should be specific to each farm and will depend on soil type, rainfall and how much forage is required alongside quality targets.
Mr Howard says: “We must remember when we plant a seed in the ground on a dairy farm, the end-product is not necessarily a crop – it’s a litre of milk. Milk is the saleable commodity and so seed selection must be linked to what the farmer is trying to produce.
“I would recommend reseeding regularly, especially under-performing leys, and working with a grass seed specialist to select the best variety for your farm. Multi-species leys and crops tend to work very well because they are high in protein such as red clover and lucerne,” he explains.
This is often a stumbling block because of the UK’s variable weather conditions.
Mr Howard says that once grass is cut that plant is losing energy (sugars) up until it is clamped. Grass should be cut, immediately tedded, wilted, and picked up within the shortest possible time.
He adds: “As a starting point, work out the crop’s nutrient requirements and apply slurry and nitrogen fertiliser accordingly. It is also important to ensile the crop quickly to reduce dry matter losses and use an effective inoculant to rapidly drop the pH and reduces losses.”
Balance the ration
The final part is balancing the rations, says Mr Howard.
“The complete diet is only as good as the forage foundation; the best results are achieved with high-quality forage and balanced concentrates.
“It is important to work with your nutritionist to balance the ration with concentrates to achieve good protein utilisation and efficiency.
“Using rumen additives such as Diamond V can help increase feed conversion efficiency,” he adds.
Mr Howard says improving the quality of home-grown forage can also help to reduce farms’ environmental footprint.