Research Day update

Published 15 November 13

The very latest in tackling mastitis, reducing soil compaction and making the most of nutrients from slurry were just some of the subjects covered in the DairyCo Research Day held at The Scottish Rural University College’s (SRUC) Crichton Royal Farm Dairy Unit, Dumfries on  November 12.

Below are three short pieces from the day on lucerne, soil compaction and nutrients from slurry, as well as an overview of the research set up at the SRUC.

SRUC Herd – Hugh McClymont (Farm manager SRUC)

SRUC was an apt setting for the Research Day given its three-way DairyCo Research Partnership with The University of Nottingham and Harper Adams University.

The dairy unit at Crichton Royal Farm encompasses 510 cows managed in six recorded herds, milked three times a day. Hugh McClymont, this year’s winner of the Farmers Weekly Dairy Farmer of the Year Award, manages the 310ha tenanted farm with varying production systems and research running alongside the commercial herd. 

In 2011 SRUC set up a five year systems study to investigate feeding and genetics. The research aims to give insights to genetics and performance from contrasting feed sources. In the study two herds are monitored. One herd is fed entirely home grown feed, the other is only fed brought in by-products. Within the two herds 50% of the cows are in the top 10% genetic merit the rest has the average genetic merit of a UK commercial herd.

Lucerne – Tom Burns– Price (PhD student University of Reading) and Dave Roberts (SRUC)

Lucerne is the most common legume in the world but currently it’s not widely grown in the UK. With changing weather patterns, as well as the challenge of rising protein costs Dr Dave Roberts, from SRUC, told farmers to keep an eye on lucerne research in the future. As lucerne is a drought tolerant, no nitrogen input, home grown protein crop which could bring great value to rations.

At the moment lucerne is not favoured by farmers due to difficult establishment; the challenges seen are similar to problems growers had when maize was introduced to the UK as a forage crop. Tom Burns-Price spoke of the DairyCo research at the University of Reading, where they are working to find the best time for establishment and rate of inclusion in a ration with lucerne.

Soil compaction – Paul Hargreaves (SRUC)

70% of grassland on UK farms is suffering from some degree of compaction says a Research Partnership project which is taking place at HAU and SRUC, to assess the impact of soil compaction on grass yield.

The two year trail has seen a 14% reduction in first cut yield under cattle trampled conditions and a 22% yield reduction from machinery compaction.  

Paul Hargreaves of SRUC explained wet soils have a high potential to compact due to reduced pore space and restricted movement of water which then impacts the microbial population with a limiting oxygen supply. Following a very wet 2012, Paul urged farmers to check the compaction level in their fields by  digging holes and to consider strategies in order to reduce compaction from machinery and cattle traffic.

Nutrients from slurry – Chris Henry (PhD student SRUC) and Debbie McConnell (DairyCo)

The effective use of slurry separation research has shown the value of slurry as a nutrient resource. DairyCo’s research manager Debbie McConnell, reminded farmers that slurry needs to be utilised effectively and it should not just be viewed as a waste product. Storage requirements have increased due to larger herd sizes, separators decrease storage capacity by 10%. Separation reduces dry matter, aiding infiltration and makes slurry easier to work with.

Chris Henry, PhD student at SRUC, has compared cow performance, herbage utilisation, intakes and grazing behaviours on the applications of whole slurry and liquid slurry, with fertiliser as a control. Palatability can be affected by whole slurry but the liquid separate has seen no rejection issues and so produced more milk.