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Ryegrass Catch Crop Increases Milk from Forage by 25%
2012-04-11

A fast growing Italian ryegrass and Westerwold seeds mix has boosted forage intakes and reduced overall feed costs on a 200-cow Jersey herd in Buckinghamshire.

The Tornado ryegrass catch crop is growing rapidly on John Whitby’s Buckinghamshire farm this spring

Tornado ryegrass

John Whitby farms 240ha of medium land with his brother and sister-in-law on the urban fringes of Slough, just 25kms from Trafalgar Square in London. As well as the dairy herd, the family also has an agricultural contracting business, grows high quality wheat for milling, runs a large equestrian livery business and has a suckler herd of Sussex cattle.

Maize has been grown for more than 30 years, as it is a more reliable silage crop than grass, which falters in dry months. Average rainfall is only 620mm.

The cows calve mainly in the summer, but are fed silage all year round as there is not enough grazing to sustain milk yields in early lactation.

Keen to find an additional silage crop to complement the maize that would fit into the arable rotation, Mr Whitby has trialled Tornado from Oliver Seeds over the past three years.

Ready to cut in eight weeks

In 2009 this ryegrass catch crop was direct drilled into wheat stubble in late August. Due to its rapid establishment and growth, it was ready for cutting eight weeks later in November.

“Conditions were ideal that autumn for getting the crop started,” admits Mr Whitby. “But we did not expect to be baling silage that side of Christmas.

“In February we gave it a dressing of fertiliser but didn’t get chance to give it a second, as it was ready for cutting again four weeks later.

“The regrowth was phenomenal and we went on to take six more cuts – baling nearly 19 tonnes DM/ha of high dry matter, high quality rocket fuel.

“The silage analysis came back with an ME of 12.7, 77 D Value and 12.1% crude protein. The grass, with its high digestible fibre counter-balanced the high starch content of the maize making it a more rumen-friendly ration.

“We had been feeding maize and second quality grass silage to the cows, but felt it was time to introduce some high quality grass. While we do receive a premium for our Jersey milk, there is still a need to reduce costs. Feeding a mixed diet of 70% maize and 30% high quality grass has boosted milk from forage by 25% and we have used less concentrates as a result.”

Not keen on clamping grass silage because of possible effluent issues, the Whitbys make high dry matter bales instead. Most of the machinery and labour is available on the farm and the crop can be cut as soon as it is ready.

Flexibility

“A catch crop like this offers much more flexibility than say lucerne, which can be a disaster if the weather goes against you,” adds Mr Whitby. “The Tornado mixture is less risky and also a useful break crop for the wheat.”

Andy Hall of agricultural merchants HL Hutchinsons, who encouraged Mr Whitby to give Tornado a try, agrees.

“This catch crop fits in perfectly with what John and his brother are trying to do – offering benefits for both dairy and arable enterprises.

“The speed of growth and yield never ceases to surprise me. NIAB trials show this mixture can produce an extra £148 worth of silage in just six months, over more traditional silage leys. So it is no wonder it has proved its place on the Whitby’s farm.”

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