Opportunistic cutting maximises quality
Mowing grass ahead of the cows is an idea that south Wales dairy farmer Will Prichard picked up in New Zealand.
It is something that he now practices successfully as part of his grazing management at Escalwen, near Fishguard, mowing paddocks 12-24 hours in advance and seeing better intakes and less rejection of grass as a result.
“We go in either with our drum mowers or a flail topper at the same grass covers that we would introduce the cows for grazing,” he explains. “We prefer to use the triple gang drum mowers, as we can cover a lot of ground quickly and achieve a much closer cut. It is a tactic that we like to use because cows are eating higher dry matter forage and there is virtually no wastage.”
Will Prichard is a strong advocate of good grass utilisation and believes it to be the key to profitability in dairy farming. He should know, running a business with over 1,000 milking cows split into three contrasting herd types.
“We have a high yielding herd of 300 cows calving all year round, an autumn calving herd of 200 cows, and an extensively grazed spring calving herd of 550 cows,” he explains. “This arrangement has developed as we have grown the business and added the high yielding herd. It does mean we have a fairly level milk supply over the year, which suits our milk buyer.
“Having the three contrasting herds allows us to compare performance quite easily, and it is clear to me that the lower yielding extensive system is the most profitable. Fertility management is important with the spring calving system, along with maximising the grazing days and minimising the concentrates that are fed. Suffice to say, the more milk we are making from forage, the happier I am.”
Apart from some arable silage, grassland is the mainstay of forage production across the 1,500 acres under Will’s management. He strives for self-sufficiency as much as possible and hence runs his own fleet of grass harvesting equipment.
“Opportunistic silage making, as with pre-cutting ahead of the grazing cows, is an important part of the overall grassland management process,” he says. “Barely a week goes by from first cuts through to September when we are not cutting grass. We aim to harvest when the quality is at its highest and also need to ensure that grazing paddocks never get ahead of the cows.”
The grass harvesting fleet includes a Kuhn 9 metre triple gang drum mower combination mounted on a 165 hp JCB Fastrac, plus tedder, rake and a self-propelled forage harvester.
“We prefer a straight mower and have not used a mower conditioner for over 20 years,” says Will. “There are major benefits in terms of speed and reduced fuel consumption compared with a mower conditioner, and we like the drum mower for the close cutting, which is particularly beneficial when mowing in front of the cows.
“I would estimate that we are achieving 50% more output from the straight drum mowers than is possible with a mower conditioner using the same tractor power, and with the triple gang we are able to go at a sensible pace and minimise the wear and tear.
“We are aiming for 30% dry matter silage, so go straight in after mowing with the tedder. Silage making is all about timeliness, so having all our own equipment and having no reliance on contractors enables us to be fully in control.”
Reseeding with quality short term cutting leys and medium term dual purpose leys is an important part of the strategy, along with the inclusion of white clover for quality as well as a reduced reliance on bought in nitrogen.
Slurry injection is also used widely across the farm, particularly on the short term cutting leys. This means bought in fertiliser is kept to no more than 250kgN/ha annually.