For farms with well planned, planted, and maintained grass/forage crops, this year’s first cut predictions are looking excellent for both forage quality and quantity according to Grass Science, the forage production and planning business.

Fields with good grass consistency, density and sward height are recording a more stable active fibre content, which will see easier ration planning and less inputs required, according to Stephen Caldwell, director of Grass Science and SC Nutrition (UK).

Grass sward

“Only a few months ago, stress levels were high on many farms as winter forage stocks looked insufficient to get through the housed period.  This was a turning point for many farm owners who are now starting to treat grass like a crop and invest in its care just like their wheat or barley crops,” he noted.

“Soil sampling and crop planning are the two main topics we’ve been tackled on at every farm visit, which emphasises the new mindset of farmers who want flexibility in terms of both grazing and silage.  It’s a question of knowing what your average milk yield from forage is and then establishing if your farm and soil can do better.”

Crop planning is particularly important for dairy farmers who are on fat/protein-based contracts.  Planting late perennials instead of a mixture early/intermediate/late perennials  provides a more consistent supply of nutritional content (energy, protein & fibre), resulting in a more stable rumen and, according to ruminant director Dr Andrew Pine from nutrition specialists Premier Nutrition, this makes a balanced diet easier to formulate as it’s not chasing energy levels that are constrained by feed intake.

“Whether it’s a 4,000kgs herd or a 15,000kgs herd, using average to good quality forage, when balanced correctly in the diet, can increase yield and solids in just 2-3 weeks,” Dr Pine said.  “This could mean more yield coming from forage each year and this year’s forage prediction definitely looks good enough to increase the current average milk from forage level.” 

What if grass and forage is not in a good state?  “It’s never too late to start correcting things”, Stephen recommends.  “Looking at silage analysis, the seed mix used, soil analysis and milk contract are critical starting points and controlling and managing grassland should become a regular part of the farming calendar.  It is a vital aspect of ruminant nutrition, and with good home grown forage capable of giving an extra 1,000 litres or more with a direct link to high quality milk solids production and therefore herd profitability, it can’t be left to chance.”