Friday, 29 July 2011

Fascinating New Pastures For Dairy Cows.....Thanks to Innovative Farmers

Many pasture based dairy farmers in both France & the UK are experimenting with mixed pasture swards. These “New Pastures” always include an abundance of clovers & increasingly include Herbs such as Chicory & Plantain. The inclusion of the deep rooting herbs adds a completely new dimension to pastures for grazing dairy cows.

These pastures are very different from conventional pastures in many ways. Nitrogen fed pastures tend to be monocultures of ryegrasses. Well managed ryegrass clover pastures are highly productive. The clover content is related to the grazing intensity & the amount of nitrogen used. The mixed pastures offer considerable biodiversity, interesting possible changes to the cows diet, generally higher protein levels but more complex grazing properties. In mixed species pastures some plants are grazed out & its difficult to graze according to every plant’s requirements. However these new pastures might well enhance the health benefits of grass fed milk.
The advantages of grass fed over grain fed have been well documented in relation to possible health benefits to humans http://www.eatwild.com/healthbenefits.htm
French research on the effect of mixed pasture swards on cheese quality is interesting  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21338779  
French butter has shown seasonal differences in Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) levels with the highest being in summer. This suggests more pasture being fed & possible changes within the pasture composition.. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889157504000079
Danish research comparing Danish milk with UK grass fed milk found that the UK pasture based milk had higher levels of antioxidants & lower levels of saturated fatty acids in the milk. http://www.fibl.org/fileadmin/documents/en/publications/slots-etal-feeding-strategies.pdf
Last week in Dorset with the Realfarmers Discussion Group, we viewed new Plantain plus clover pastures that were sown this spring. Its early days but it looks very impressive so far given that it’s been a very dry period of weather. These pastures were first grazed at the six leaf stage.
In Brittany, France on a recent study tour we saw a mix of new mixed sward pastures including some very productive organic Lucerne pastures that included grasses & clovers.
This farm’s pasture consumption per hectare was over 10 Tonnes DM/ha which is exceptional for an organic farm in a dry area.
There was also a range of mixed pastures that included Chicory.
These included Chicory plus Kale + grasses. This is an interesting on farm experiment. On the same farm there was Oats under sown with Chicory.
Many of these experiments are occurring on dry soils where ryegrass may not be the best option…..or rather there might be much better options.
The true value of these mixed sward pastures isn’t fully understood & there is an element of “Suck & See” trialling by innovative pasture based dairy farmers.
One thing for sure is that the “traditional view of what a dairy pasture looks like” is being severely tested. We look forward to seeing the outcomes especially as the climate warming predictions for the UK include drier summers & more variation in climatic patterns.
Current UK Pasture Measurements
Pasture growths have slowed dramatically in the drier areas of the Midlands. However in the higher rainfall areas growth rates are still excellent.
TheAverage Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)
Dumfries, Scotland, Average Farm Cover 2085, Growth 87kgsDM/day, Demand 37
South Ayrshire,Scotland, 2322, growth 137, will cut out supplement this week
Staffordshire, 2420, growth down to 35, feeding turnips 4kgs/day/cow, Body CS good
Shropshire Organic, 1683, gr 25, grazing very tight, still due 2 feet of rain, Dry & Dusty
Nottingham, 2150, gr68 last week but 35 this week, dem 69, feeding maize, outwintering crops good start after wholecrop
Oxfordshire, 2000, gr 40, dem 25, expecting growth to slow in dry
Gloucestershire, 2186, gr 60, dem 55, looking dry again,
Pembrokeshire, 2243, growth 77, demand 64
Devon 2345, growth 55
Devon Hills, 2446, gr92, dem 73 will be feeding turnips in 10 days
Dorset, 2440, gr 55, demand 44
Dorset, very dry, gr 20, demand 40, 40 day round, about to feed silage
Sussex organic, 1800, growth 30, dry cows on 3 groups, nearly have required silage

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