Choose The Correct Spring Grazing Strategy with Fane Valley Feeds
11th May 2018

Pictured: (L-R) Gary Beacom - Fane Valley Feeds - Sales Specialist, Martin Rafferty - Fane Valley Feeds - Sales Specialist & Matthew Armstrong - Fane Valley Feeds Ruminant Nutritionist

On the back of one of the wettest autumns and winters for many years, turnout for many farmers cannot come quick enough.
The struggle for dairy farmers to get cows to grass is constant; with the cold wet conditions this spring delaying grass growth and limiting ground conditions turnout has been late. A major challenge now for many herds is staying on top of grass covers.

Grass is our cheapest forage and many farmers want to know how best to implement grazing without compromising on production, health or reproductive performance. Matthew Armstrong Ruminant Nutritionist at Fane Valley Feeds discusses spring feeding strategies to maximise grass utilisation and milk production from grazing systems.

Matthew outlines, “Grazed grass is one of the cheapest feeds available for dairy cows and it is important to have a feeding strategy which will maximise the utilisation of grass, promote milk production and drive profit on the dairy farm. There is much debate on the merit of turning high-yielding, fresh calved cows out to grass, and the opportunity to do so will vary from farm to farm”.  
In ideal grazing conditions, cows may eat up to 15 kg Dry Matter grazed grass per day, however, when grass dry matter falls in wet and unfavourable weather, this can drop significantly, therefore reducing energy intake and the potential milk production supported by grass. Cows can often struggle to consume more than 13kgs dry matter of grazed grass.”

Matthew adds, “It has been reported that it is possible for grazed grass to support 25 litres of milk production per day, however in reality and depending on grass quality and management milk production from grass in May can struggle to exceed 15 litres per day. It is therefore important to get the overall feeding strategy at grass correct to maximise milk production and ultimately farm profitability”. 

Transitioning To Grass
Grazed grass should be introduced to the diet gradually, initially for only a few hours per day after silage feeding to allow the rumen to cope with the transition.  Low fibre levels in lush spring grass can lead to reduced rumination, saliva flow and ultimately rumen buffering, contributing to a decline in rumen pH. Excess sugar in grass, coupled with low effective fibre can adversely affect rumen health, creating an acidic environment demonstrating how important it is to transition the cow properly.

Matthew explains, “spring grass can have a variable dry matter content typically ranging from 10-18%. This can result in cows struggling to physically eat enough grass to provide the energy required. Combined with high protein and high sugar levels, spring grass results in faster rumen throughput and if not managed correctly, can lead to poor feed utilisation. Typically, cows that are grazing full-time require no more than a 16% protein compound during early spring grazing when grass protein is at its highest”.

Matthew continues, “The type of concentrate supplement offered should contain high levels of digestible fibre and rumen buffering agents to help stabilise the rumen pH and avoid acidosis. The majority of herds experience milk quality issues when cows are turned out to grass, the most common being low milk butterfat, caused by the lack of structural fibre in grass”.

A part-time grazing strategy is perhaps the half-way-house for herds with a considerable number of freshly calved or higher yielding cows, but unable to split the herd. This accommodates greater energy intake for higher yielding cows however, where silage is offered to dairy cows at grass substitution of grass may occur if silage is over-supplied.

High yielding freshly calved cows may be more suited to a fully confined system, maximising dry matter intakes on a consistent basis, which is key to maintaining peak lactation performance.

Matthew concludes, “Choosing the correct grazing strategy for your farm is of the utmost importance. Lower yielding and staler cows should be turned out to grass first, for a few hours per day to introduce grass to the rumen gradually”.

To optimise the milk yield potential from grass, cows need access to young, leafy grass that is at the optimal stage for grazing. The key with early grazing is to ensure cows have an appetite built up before turnout, even if this means holding cows after morning milking for an hour without access to silage.

For more information on the Fane Valley Feeds product range and assistance with getting your feeding strategy correct this spring, please contact Matthew Armstrong on 07714 950585 or your local Fane Valley Feeds Sales Specialist.