Thursday, 25 March 2010

Spring is Here!.....Or is that just a Rumour!

Most UK & Irish grass based dairyfarmers are struggling for grass. Pasture growth up until the past week has been next to nothing due to the very cold soil temperatures. The lack of moisture in most of the country has not helped pastures either. Soil temperatures need to be about 5 degrees C for Ryegrass to grow & above 8 degrees for clover to grow. Soil temperatures have only just risen so there has been NO growth.
However there are encouraging signs that the daily weather is long last!

Winter Damage to Pastures.

Most dairyfarm pastures have been damaged this winter by the extended cold & freezing temperatures. Cows appear to be grazing these fields really well despite the damaged plant tissue.
The big question is what damage has actually occurred?
There is a difference between winter damage & winter kill. Winter kill is where the meristem or growing point is killed by the freezing temperatures (ice rather than snow). The meristem or crown in ryegrass is very close to the ground & undamaged by grazing down to 1500 residual. It appears that this winter we have had pasture plant tissue damage & very little winter kill where the meristem has died. Most of the lower fertility grasses eg annual meadow grasses have been damaged & may explain why grazed pastures look so open. So very few ryegrass tillers have been lost.(Scott Laidlaw at AFBI Crossnacreevy agrees)
Once growth starts new tillers will be initiated..this is already happening. If we continue to get frosts this may effect the flowering of ryegrasses. Since 1997 at Aberystwyth Alan Lovatt tells me that the number of days to flowering have been reducing as we have had warm springs. So continued cold temperatures may possibly delay heading of ryegrasses.
Too early to say if pastures need additional ryegrasses....maybe clover will fill the gaps left by the killing off of the meadow grasses.
There is a marked difference on most farms between pasture that has been grazed & those fields still to be grazed. All the growth is happening on grazed pasture whereas the ungrazed pasture is still going backwards.

It is critical that cows don't go short of feed & lose body Condition Score in the month prior to mating. Most farms are faced with buying feed even though grazing conditions have been excellent. Many silage clamps are virtually empty. Time to Measure Pastures.

Ben, Sam, Michael & George from the DMS course for Herdsmen were out this week at Reaseheath College practising with the pasture platemeter. It's time everyone got out & measured pasture. Make sure new staff are using the platemeter correctly & that everyone on the team understands the Pasture Wedge Graphs. If you dont have them on your computer email me


Cumbria Still using Spring Rotation Planner, Soil Temp 6.7 degrees

Staffordshire 1725 Average Farm Cover, 14 daily growth

Staffordshire 1650, 15, Soil Temp 8.5

Herefordshire 1650

Herefordshire 1780, 7

Monmouthshire 1684, 21

Pembrokeshire 1801, 20

Pembrokeshire 1690 Av Farm Cover, 6+kgsDM growth per ha, 7.5 degrees C

Gloucestershire 1861, 19, 8.7

Wiltshire 1840, 19

Dorset 1554, 2

Sussex 1671, 18, 8.2

Devon 1650, 5+

Cornwall 1840, 40

Cornwall 1900, 50, 9.0 degrees C

Limerick, Ireland 1750 Av Farm Cover, 13kgsDM/ha daily growth

So book your tropical holidays now...........warmest destinations are either Lizard Point Cornwall or Lydney in Gloucestershire! C'Mon the sunshine!!!!

Monday, 15 March 2010

Do You want Grass Fed Milk in Wales...A response to the Welsh Assembly Report on Climate Change

Last week the Welsh Assembly released a report on the future of Agriculture in Wales. This report has serious implications for all Welsh (probably all UK dairy Farmers too) dairy farmers as Prof Gareth Wyn Jones & his research group has recommended fully housed dairy cows 365 days a year. Wales has an international obligation to reduce CO2 emissions. The Welsh Farmers Union has agreed to senario 5 which includes fully housing cows in the near future....this is a surprise & one wonders how they made this decision!
Tough decisions need to be made about how Agriculture must change to reduce CO2 emissions.
But are you part of the food debate?

Will the public accept dairy cows being housed full time?

Or do you want Milk & Dairy Products to come from grass fed cows out grazing pasture?
You need to have your say! What do you want to happen to dairying in Wales & the UK?
The Key points I want to make on behalf of the low input pasture based dairy farmers are :-

1. Wales has a Comparative Economic Advantage in pasture based systems of dairying....Wales has NO comparative Economic Advantage in growing either cereal crops or protein crops such as soya nor any advantages in fully housed TMR dairying....not now & not I suspect anytime in the future. TMR rarely includes fresh pasture & is heavily reliant on cereals & imported protein from Brasil & Argentina.
2. Currently the financial returns on high input systems are very marginal. This will rapidly deteriorate as world agriculture struggles to meet human food demands & renewable energy production. What the Americans refer to as the "Perfect Storm"!
Within decades world Agriculture will struggle to fed the world population.
I would expect world cereal & protein prices to rapidly escalate & even be in short supply. This would leave the Welsh dairy farmers extremely vulnerable to outside price fluctuations. Wales produces primarily manufactured dairy products.

3. Given the expectation of the world facing chronic food & water shortages surely we should be looking forward to the dairy export opportunities that Wales will be able to capitalise on if we can operate successfully in new environmental constraints. In fact we could argue that Wales has a moral obligation to help feed the world as Wales may well be advantaged by global warming cf to Africa & the countries such as Australia who are already extremely vulnerable to droughts & water shortages.

4. We accept that Wales MUST change. Not changing is not an option. However we believe that many of the points made in the Welsh Assembly report have already been implemented on farm by the innovative grass based dairy farmers in the Discussion Groups.
For example....they all calve heifers at 22 months of age. The fertility of these same herds is such that the average number of lactations is in excess of 5 lactations per cow. Compare this to the UK average of approx 2.5 lactations.
The current average production in Wales is approx 6200 litres (from 2 tonnes of concentrates per cow). If we assume say 3 lactations then the total lifetime production is approx 18600litres. The grass based dairy farmers average say 5200litres X 5 lactations = 26000 litres lifetime production. ie +40%.

5. Most of the information/technology is already available to assist Wales & Welsh dairy farmers to make significant & profitable changes to their businesses NOW which would result in major reductions in CO2 Calving heifers at 22 months, improve fertility by cross breeding to highly fertile breeds, reductions in Nitrogen fertilizer & reduction in purchased cereals & replace with home grown pasture. Block calving both autumn & spring are essential.
The way to get this adoption on farm is through effective Discussion Groups on farm with highly effective professional group facilitation. It would require the commitment of farmers, Welsh Assembly & the dairy processors.
6. We acknowledge serious problems with both the lack of pasture based research & current deficiencies with the IPPC systems of calculation CO2 emissions & LCA. The current inventories neglect the imported dairy food rations & the LCA in the country of origin. They also severely under estimate the LCA CO2 emissions of farm buildings, concrete & farm machinery.

7. To address the lack of pasture based research issue I would urge both Research & the Welsh Assembly to work with say 20 of these efficient pasture based dairy farmers to initiate on farm data collection & on farm research projects to collect the "gap" information. In a similar way that Dr Christina Marley is already doing with pasture based emissions. I am sure the top 20 farmers....both conventional & organic would in fact volunteer themselves into such a project.
One obvious starting point would be the measurement of 30cm Soil Carbon Baselining of soils under intensive grazing. This baselining data should include separate 'A Horizon' (Top Soil) depth measurements.

8. Can I both support the report in regard to on farm forestry & tree planting. This could be implemented immediately by the Welsh Assembly using the Australian Landcare movement as a very good & effective model. In Australia this has been fully accepted & adopted by the farming community ( there are even urban programs too) with millions of trees being planted each year on farm to the benefit of both the farm businesses & the environment.

9. NZ research by Dr Garry Waghorn et el at AgResearch has shown that when LCA is included (rather than methane alone) pasture based diets when harvested directly by the grazing dairy cow are likely to have lower total emissions than TMR systems.............& this does not include Soya from Argentina as NZ can grow their own protein crops.
Much of the research & press reports when referring to methane from pasture in fact refer to some early work in Queensland Australia that compared dry unimproved Rangeland grasslands with grain (grain can not be fed alone as in a TMR it requires the addition of roughage.)

10. We acknowledge the difficulties in measuring soil carbon. However we suggest further research & a National Soil Carbon Strategy rather than the exclusion out of the report due to lack of data. The following websites from Australia illustrate possible options for Wales & the UK.
Every day I see permanent pasture based dairy farmers making significant progress toward what they refer to as "healthy soils"...this is a rapid build up of Organic Matter in the Top Soil & a dramatic increase in "Soil life & activity".
As Pasture Dry Matter Production increases so does the soil activity increase............this needs to be measured & monitored so that farmers can off set their carbon emissions. Average Discussion Group pasture production is approx 10 T DM/ha consumed (by grazing dairy cows) compared to an estimated UK average of less than 5 T DM/ha. The organic farms I see average between 7-8 T DM/ha. What I dont think is being acknowledged is the increase in top soil depth.
I accept the need for more research.

11. It is very important that the Welsh Assembly appreciate firstly that farmers want to be environmentally seen as "being green". The farming families want to leave the farm & the land to the next generation in a better condition than they themselves inherited the land.
But it is very important that Government understand that :-
"It is very hard to be green when your business is in the red"
Environmental programs & initiatives will be implemented by profitable dairy farm businesses as soon as possible.
Already there is a strenuous effort being made by pasture based low input farms to reduce fuel use, electricity thru technologies such as "Varivac...Variable speed vacumn pump & milk pump control systems." All efforts are being made to fully investigate on farm energy generation such as wind power by the progressive Discussion Group members.

12. Lastly I'm hoping that this is the beginning of an ongoing dialogue between pasture based dairy farmers, research,the authors of this report & the Welsh Assembly.
What do you think?

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Pass Me the Extra Protein Daisy

Pass Me the Extra Protein Daisy!
Are Dairy cows likely to be short of dietary Protein during March?
Normally this would seem a strange question to be asking grass based dairy farmers, be they Autumn or Spring Block Calvers.
In the UK grass based dairy farmers find themselves in a difficult position right now as the cold & wet conditions are severely restricting the ability to graze pastures. Many herds which would normally be outside grazing reasonable pasture by now still have the cows indoors. Many spring calving herds might be heavily feeding for another month. This is very unusual.
The very wet conditions are frustrating to put it mildly. Soil temperatures remain much colder than they normally are in early March. So there is no pasture growth anywhere in the UK.
Even if you are able to graze much of the available pasture has winter kill damage.
Fortunately most dairy farms have adequate grass & maize silage reserves. However the quality of both are not fantastic. Both the energy (ME) & the protein (Crude Protein %) are not great after a wet cool summer in 2009. Protein levels in many grass silage samples are 12-13%.
So is the silage good enough for milking cows?
To answer that question we need to clarify how much dietary protein needs to be in the diet of a milking cow. In most text books it says minimum of 17% crude Protein in early lactation dropping to 15% in late lactation. However work at Travarez Research Centre in Brittany has stated dietary protein requirements more clearly.
Firstly dietary protein is not the only source of protein for the cow. Microbial Protein (microbes flushed from the rumen into the lower intestines, sometimes referred to as bypass protein) & Non Protein Nitrogen may amount to 3% of protein requirements for the milking cow. This Microbial Protein may not all be available if feed energy is limiting.
Secondly the farmer needs to decide what are their business objectives. Do they want to target feeding levels to either a) Fully express genetic potential or b) to operate a low input system.
If you want to "fully express the genetic potential" then dietary protein in early lactation should be 18% crude Protein.
If however you have a "low input system" then dietary protein need only be 14% in early lactation.
This means ofcourse that total Protein is 20-21% in the high input system & 17% in the low input system. There may also be some "cow" protein available post calving in much the same way that the cow converts some body condition to available energy & milk production.
The bad news is that feed protein is currently quite expensive & likely to remain so until perhaps May. This is due to the crushing plants at the Bio fuel sites not being in full production. So there is a short term shortage of Rapeseed Meal & Wheat Distillers.
On current costs of Soyabean Meal £230-240/T, Rapeseed Meal £190/T & Wheat Distillers at £180-£190/T there isn't much in it. Probably you would stick to Soya.
The moist feed Protein options are too expensive when compared on a Dry Matter basis.
Some dairy farmers like Lyndon Edwards are successfully growing lucerne. UK grown peas & beans would also be protein options.
Dairy cows in early lactation that are not fed enough protein tend to produce less milk & retain body Condition Score, whereas cows fed high levels of protein produce more milk but at the expense of Condition Score & more than likely these cows often struggle to get back in calf.
Underfed cows also produce less milk in early lactation & carry more condition thru out the lactation. Many of these cows dont get back in calf either.
Many farms will see a response to extra dietary protein as silages are not up to scratch.
What's really needed of course is for my mate the "Reverend Tim" from the Hybrids group in Devon to get his pray book out again & order us all some much needed sunshine & warmth............
.....C'Mon Tim do your thing Mate!
So should you be looking for extra dietary Protein? Maybe!
You need to get out your calculators & check.
Please add your comments.