Byline: By Jennifer MacKenzie
Producing more milk from grazed grass and silage on a low-input, low-cost system is the objective of Cumbrian producer Michael Harper in the light of changes that will result under the new Single Farm Payment regime.
The results from grazing and cropping a newly-reseeded 20-acre field have convinced Mr Harper that selection of the best new varieties can be a major factor in maximising milk production from grass.
Since moving to their new farm, where reseeds have been in use, yields have risen by 1,200 litres a cow off forage alone to a rolling average of more than 7,000 litres. In the current winter, concentrate feeding has gone down without detriment to yields, and this is all put down to better utilisation of grass.
Mr Harper and his wife Susan, who rely only on part-time labour, set about reseeding 20 acres a year with medium to long-term leys when they moved to the all-grass farm at West House, Dearham, near Maryport in May 2002.
In August 2003, on the advice of specialist seedsman and Formula Leys director David Baldwin, they reseeded a field with an Aber High Sugar Grass mix which during the following summer months increased milk production across the 130-cow commercial black and white herd by two litres per cow a day ( the equivalent of more than pounds 2,000 in extra income from milk.
During the winter, cows have continued to milk well, with increased yields and butterfat levels being recorded when first-cut silage made off the Aber High Sugar Grass ley has been fed.
"We moved from a farm with limited grazing to West House, which is ring-fenced to try to produce as much milk as possible off good grassland and silage," explained Mr Harper. "In addition to the improved grassland, we have gone for an easily managed system with low labour requirements.
"Previously we ran a mixed farm, milking 85 cows. Dairy herd numbers have been increased since the move and rather than keeping calves we are now selling our crossbred calves at about three weeks old at premium rates and concentrating on milk production.
"We tried the Aber High Sugar Grass mix with a view to getting good grazing for the milk cows. During its first winter it was grazed by sheep and it was our intention to graze it with the cows the following summer.
"However, it grew so well after the sheep were taken off in the early part of the year that we had to cut it for silage. It was cut on May 15, 10 days before the rest of the first-cut crop."
The first-cut analysis had high D and ME values of 76 and 12.2 MJ/kg respectively, crude protein at 16pc and pH of 3.7 at 30pc dry matter with high intake characteristics ( a potential intake factor of 115 ( as well as good sugar levels.
The grass mixture was predominantly made up of the hybrid ryegrass AberStorm and the diploid perennial ryegrass AberDart, both being Aber High Sugar Grass varieties, along with the white clover blend AberPasture.
The Aber High Sugar Grass varieties are the result of 20 years of grass breeding at the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER) at Aberystwyth to produce grass with higher water soluble carbohydrate (WSC) content. …