A Welsh dairy farm is proving that it is possible to run a high yielding Holstein herd on a grazing system.
Paddock grazing is commonly associated with block-calving herds of cows bred specifically for producing milk from grass.
But farming couple Ceredig and Sara Evans have adopted this system for their pedigree Holstein herd at Erw Fawr, a Farming Connect demonstration site near Holyhead.
Grazed grass has always played a role in their business but without a proper system of measurement, planning and grass budgeting, its utilisation and potential quality were not optimised.
The Evans’ have now embarked on a project with Farming Connect, a Welsh government scheme, to improve utilisation and increase the ratio of grass in the cow diets, to reduce bought-in feed costs.
Tracks and other grazing infrastructure were already in place on the 192ha holding but with support from Sarah Morgan of Precision Grazing, paddocks have now been mapped and a grazing plan created.
Those 1.5ha paddocks are being grazed this spring by 140 in-calf mid to late lactation cows while 100 high yielders at peak lactation are housed for 100 days to control their feed intakes.
Use of grass management software AgriNet has informed decision-making on which fields to close off for silage, ensuring cows only enter paddocks with appropriate covers of no more than 3,000kgDM/ha.
Ceredig says that knowing early on in the spring which fields to graze first and having a better understanding of grass recovery growth rates and rotation lengths, gave him the confidence to turn out part of his herd earlier than usual.
This has allowed him to capture more grazing in the spring, resulting in greater total tonnage grown and utilised.
By correctly allocating daily grazing areas, grass is now offered at the optimum three-leaf stage when it has good levels of metabolisable energy (ME) and digestibility (D value); this leaves a manageable residual for good quality regrowth in the next rotation.
The Evans’ aim for a grazing residual of 1,500/1,600kgDM/ha.
In the first grazing round, the grazing group averaged 30 litres of milk per cow daily at 2.3kg milk solids (MS) from 15kg dry matter (DM) of grass and 6kgDM of concentrate a day in the parlour.
"During the current dry spell grass demand can be reduced by drying cows off earlier or removing youngstock off the home grazing platform. Managing grass is more difficult than feeding Total Mixed Ration (TMR).
“With TMR you know what cows are getting each day but the quality of grass is down to management," said Sarah Morgan.
“With good management at Erw Fawr pasture has been growing at 12ME which is better than what you can get from a bag and much cheaper."