Benefits of early turn out soon add up

Published 24 February 12

The financial benefits of early turn out soon add up, according to DairyCo extension officer Chris Coxon.

"The motivation of when to turnout differs across farms and the decision to keep cows in a bit longer is often led by ease of current winter routine and the lack of faith in what grazed grass can produce," explains Chris.

"Early in the season turning cows out can seem like adding to the workload with extra jobs like moving fences and fetching groups of cows for no apparent gain.  But based on modest calculations of around 75p/cow/day, in terms of improved returns for even limited grazing periods, could benefit the farm by well over £2000 per 100 cows over the next four weeks alone.

"Infrastructure is often also a limiting factor. The construction of at least one good cow track that will get you going early in the season removes an important hurdle, and as the above figure shows it is likely to pay back well in the long term by improving access at the start of the season. 

"So if it is holding you back now consider your options this summer on where to site a cow track," Chris suggests.

"Research has shown that an early bite of grass for short periods of time early in the spring can increase milk yields by 2 litres/cow/day, so at 28ppl that's 56p/cow/day extra income.  Clearly such benefits only come with correct rationing but based on silage at 10.5 ME and good early season grazing at over 12 ME, you can use a small amount each day to substitute for silage and add to the overall important energy intake of the cow to achieve the results.

"Link this with a reduction in silage intake and the benefits can add up - just a three hour feed at grazing early in the season could support 4kg DM intake.  This would minimise poaching by only having active grazing when at pasture to enable good conditions for important re-growth.

"Delaying turnout this season could also be more damaging on quality grazing production than other years.  The milder conditions across much of the country in the early part of the winter has seen growth that shouldn't be left to 'run away'.  Those farms who usually have a large area of grazing to tackle may soon find themselves attempting to graze grass covers which are high, leading to poor residual grass cover after grazing which will affect growth for a second grazing," he says.

"The average costings difference between silage and grazing is around £25 lower per tonne DM with grazing so that is 10p/cow/day on the above 4 kg DM/day intakes," Chris explains.

"Other costs such as slurry handling will also be reduced as the cow is spreading it for you.  Even at modest estimates a cow will produce 60kg/day - so three hours at grazing will reduce the burden on storage by 750kg/day/100 cows.  At £1/m3 to handle that is 7.5p/cow/day.

"Labour is more tricky to calculate as although tasks such as bedding and scraping will be quicker with an empty yard, the extra time is likely to be used on pasture management tasks.  But the cost savings are still there it does bring overall benefits," he explains.

"Ultimately this modest approach not only gives the potential of a boost in income but also allows flexibility of the system.  At 3kg DM grass the decision to re-house due to poor weather conditions is unlikely to upset production as this is less than 15% of DM intake," concludes Chris.