Season overview part 1

Published 23 October 15

A broken ankle and horrible weather in June hasn’t stopped two of our Forage for Knowledge farmer contributors making the best use of the available grass this season

Sophie Vance Kinnear runs a recently established 152-cow autumn calving herd in Perthshire, under contract with owners Robin and Barbara Young. The 121-hectare unit, which was set up for paddock grazing a smaller herd, went out of milk production two years ago. As a result, she now milks a ‘mixed bag’ of breeds having had to buy in from a number of sources.

“We’ve really benefited from young leys here, we’re not grazing anything over five years old and that was reflected in our great ME results across the season,” says Sophie.

“Our grazing season started well, but around Highland Show time the weather really deteriorated and grass growth dropped off. We panicked we wouldn’t have enough and then suddenly in a period of about five days things turned around and we suddenly had more grass than we knew what to do with. Grass grows so fast at that time of year, you can get caught out really quickly.

“Combine this with the fact we were beginning to dry cows off and we had even less animals on the grazing platform to eat it all. We did manage to take some great big bales that will see us through this winter and spring, but we are thinking about delaying calving for two weeks next year, in order to utilise all that grass.

“We’ll have to make that decision soon as breeding is due to start on 20 November. Cows have been in since 7 October. It was a bit earlier than previous years, as the fresh calvers had really begun to loose condition, but they should have settled well onto their winter diet before we start breeding.

“Next season, we’re thinking about pre-mowing earlier than we did this year. The cows hit the residuals really well on the first and second round but by the time we came to the third and fourth rounds there was such a lot of wastage. My thoughts would be to go in earlier with the premower and keep the pasture as clean and tight as possible.”

 

Freddie Lawder is part of the team at Dynamic Dairying Ltd, which milks 320 cows on a contract-farming agreement in Hampshire. Since February 2013 the herd, which was previously run along a traditional high-input all-year-round calving system, with mainly Holsteins and Montbeliarde crosses, has been moving towards an autumn calving self-feed silage and grazing system. The herd is now crossed with predominantly NZ Friesian/KiwiCross and Swedish Red genetics.

The grazing platform is approximately 120ha, with 60ha for maize and 40ha of very marginal marsh grazing in summer for dry cows.

“The cows went out during the day onto the milking platform, on time this year, about mid-March, and in fact it was only a week before they were out 24hours a day,” says Freddie.

“We had some good covers coming out of the winter but it did take a while for the ground to warm up and growth to really get going this spring. On the whole, energy levels have been good, but the older lays have struggled a bit.

“We had some pretty dry conditions over the summer, but we expect those here and buffer feed when needed. We also took the decision to dry off another 10 cows when grass became really short.

“I managed to complicate matters by breaking my ankle in May, playing Rugby, but I did at least get the timing right as we were in the process of drying off at the time.

“We’re now about three quarters of the way through calving (240 of the 330 cows have calved) and we’re making great use of the autumn grass we have. Conditions are right for growing maize here so we buffer feed them a bit of maize as well. I’m keen not to graze too hard on the platform, in order to make sure I take good covers through the winter and into next season.

“We begin breeding in the second week in November and cows need to be settled on indoor diet by then. Then it’s a case of getting them back outside as soon as possible next season.”