Wye Valley Farm takes on the grass challenge

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Measuring grass covers every week is essential to harnessing milk production from grazed grass on one of Wales’ driest farms.

Maesllwch Home Farm in the Wye Valley is fortunate enough to receive 860mm (34 inches) of rain in a year, but with excellent grass management, dairy farmer Andrew Giles and his team grow an average of 13 tMS / ha per year and produce 5,795 liters / cow of milk sold from a concentrated intake of only 800 kg / cow.

Mr Giles, who shares his grass growth data through the Farming Connect Welsh Pasture project, says the information helps the company plan for pinch points during the growing season and deal with the situation early. possible.

“The minuscule growth rate is falling below what we consider to be the average for this time of year, especially if there is no rain in the forecast, we start to put things in place.

“First of all, it would be to lengthen the length of the grazing route and, if we enter a period of drought, we would first increase the concentrate feed and, if necessary, feed the silage in the paddock in addition to a cool break to adjust the grass. demand.”

In this situation, all paddocks are rotated and silage cutting is delayed.

This combination of steps is important because it can make a “huge difference” in the effect of drought on grass availability and milk yield, he says.

At 2300 kg DM / ha during the main growing season, the average crop cover is slightly higher than the level primarily associated with dairy grazing systems to help retain soil moisture.

A fall rotation planner is essential for getting good opening covers and reducing reliance on fertilizer requirements purchased in the spring.

Mr. Giles says 2021 has been a good indicator of how important this planner is.

“We started off with very good growth in August, when we normally put silage to build up covers, but when we got there in early September when there hadn’t been any rain. for quite some time our forecast of 60kg DM / ha growth has dropped to about 30kgMS, and this has had an effect on the fall planner. ”

Additional silage was provided to handle this.

“If you see a weed shortage coming, by measuring and having that data, you can handle it,” says Giles.

“It would be really hard to manage the fall grazing and be sure there would be enough grass in the spring if we didn’t use a rotation planner.

He aims for relatively high closing covers of 2350-2400kgMS / ha because, in addition to being dry, the farm experiences cold winter conditions; in 2021, the cows were day housed on October 16 and will be fully housed on November 23.

“When we first moved to Glasbury from Pembrokeshire we were using the closing coverage figures that we would have applied there but, as the conditions are very different here, we found that we did not have enough grass in the spring, so we had to refine our feed budgeting plan, ” says Giles.

The first pens to graze in the spring have opening covers of 3500kgMS / ha but the average farm cover is a minimum of 2200kgMS / ha.

“Tall covers will overwinter well as long as they have a good fall cleaning, so we have fresh green lawns, no dead material,” says Giles.

The fertilizer is applied at the rate of 190kg / ha / year.

The herd calves over 11 weeks from the last week of January; the participation rate per day comes after 30 animals have calved.

Each paddock of 3 to 6 ha has an average of 10 to 11 pastures per year; the farm mainly reaches the “magic day” during the first week of April.

Silage and concentrates are used to make up for grazing deficits – concentrates are fed at the rate of 800 kg / cow / year; the purchased grain is ground by a mobile mill and mixed with rapeseed flour and minerals. In 2020 it was working at an average price of £ 160 / t.

Mr. Giles became a Welsh Pasture Project Watch Farm because he built a successful business by sharing information and ideas and wanted to provide others with a similar opportunity.

“I wanted to give something back to an industry that has served me so well, to encourage more people to look at what we do as farmers and to ask if this industry would be for them. ”

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