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Stackyard News Apr 08

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Milking Grass for Profit

Rising concentrate and energy costs are forcing dairy producers to think again how they can reduce those inputs.

Robert and Lesly Kirkwood with Katie and John
Robert and Lesly Kirkwood with Katie and John

Grazed grass and other homegrown forages offer a real solution and this spring will provide the opportunity to consider how their potential can be fully exploited, according to Robert Kirkwood, of Mouswald Grange, Mouswald, Dumfries.

“We have cut our costs by 2ppl in the last 12 months thanks to a forage strategy we introduced over five years ago, which has enabled us to cut back on concentrate fed by more than 40% to 1.75t/cow and make an 80% reduction on fertiliser to 30 units N/acre applied to the conservation swards,” he explains.

“At the same time, we have been able to focus on continuing to maximize our herd’s potential. While we’ve maintained herd size at 250 pedigree Holstein Friesian cows on our 500 acre grassland holding, plus a further 140 acres of cereals, yield has increased by 10% to a current 8,950 litres at 4.1% butterfat and 3.3% protein.” The unit also takes all the male black and white calves through to finishing at two years on an extensive grazing system.

Robert began to focus on making more from milk from forage after visiting New Zealand in 2001 and being inspired to bring some ideas back home to Dumfriesshire. “Block calving cows bred specifically for grazing systems was out of the question for us because we wanted to maintain an all year round calving herd breeding up to 50 heifer replacements for sale each year. However we did admire how Kiwi farmers take their cows to harvest the crop.”

A new forage management policy was introduced to Mouswald Grange which includes extending the grazing season by up to one month at either end side of the main period – that brings savings of £1.50/cow/day in April alone; creating 5.5 acre paddocks; developing a rotational paddock grazing system, ranging from 20 days in spring to nine days during peak grass growth; and reseeding both paddocks for grazing and conservation with high sugar perennial ryegrass.

Red and white clovers have also been introduced to grass leys to supply 30% of the sward’s dry matter, and for the first time this year, all the silage leys will feature clover and contribute to reducing soya fed in the total mix ration by 1kg/cow/day. Furthermore, chicory was introduced to the grazing ley mix for the first time in 2007 to provide additional nutrients.

“The system we are adapting is very challenging and we have to keep an open mind; we find we have to plan new ideas well in advance, allow time to implement them and then be prepared to continually tweak the outcome to what best suits this farm. However, we are finding the system has brought rewards and it has certainly improved our efficiency, particularly at a time of unprecedented rises in variable costs.”

· Robert Kirkwood will host a technical open day at Mouswald Grange on Wednesday
2 April, commencing at 10.30am. Organised by the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers, the British Grassland Society and Milk Development Council, the event will focus on maximising grassland’s potential. To book your place on the farm walk and reserve lunch please contact RABDF on 0845 458 2711 or email

link Union Reacts Cautiously to Milk Price Rise
link Better Milk Price But Higher Feed Costs
link Yorkshire Dairy Farm Walk: Milking Grass for Profit

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