Standing hay

Published 16 August 13

James Major, who farms near Marlborough, Wiltshire, is making the transition to block calving, so he has been feeding his cows in the close-up calving group standing hay.

“About 12 months ago, we decided to go block calving,” explains James. “We took on a new unit and have moved to a spring calving block there and we are keeping an autumn block calving here.  We aim to keep systems simple and maximise yields from forage, especially grazed grass.

“In the autumn calving herd, cows are dried off 60 days prior to calving and are given plenty of grazing. Then three weeks before calving they are moved to the close up group where they graze standing hay. The aim is to fill the cows up with anything other than lush grass, to reduce incidences of milk fever.

“We closed off the area for standing hay about six weeks ago, but this year’s dry spell, followed by plenty of moisture, has meant we’ve seen quite a bit of lush growth at the bottom of the standing hay. I’m a bit wary of what this will mean for the cows and I’ll still have to keep an eye open for milk fever.”

With that in mind James has been feeding 100g of magnesium chloride flakes to the cows, next to the usual 3kg of haylage/head and 2kg of dry cow roll.

“Three times a day, depending on how much the cows have taken the previous feed, we move the fence on the standing hay a few paces,” he explains. “We gave them a lot more in one chunk, but found they were eating a bit and then lying on the rest of the standing hay.

“We’re out checking them on a regular basis, so it makes sense to keep moving the fence for them.  We also give them a slightly bigger area in the evening as I read somewhere it stops cows calving overnight if they are busy eating, we’ll have to wait and see!”

Calving has just started and cows calve outside before being brought into a sand bedded loose yard, where they stay for three or four days.

With the Holstein Friesian cows, which were previously all year round calving doing about 10,000 litres, James feels autumn block calving makes a lot of sense. 

“I can manage fertility inside over the winter but then can really make use of the early grass we have here, hopefully getting them out in February, knowing they are in calf.

“Cows calving now have gone to Kiwi crosses and Scandinavian reds.  The aim is for yield about 8,500 litres.  There is no denying that although we tried to make the best use of grass in the old system, this is a big change for us, mental as well as physical,” he concludes.