Preparation Is Key To Ensure Proper Grass Utilisation This Spring. 

24th March 2022

Pictured: Dr David Johnston, Fane Valley Feeds - Ruminant Nutritionist

These are unprecedented times with global grain market prices hitting extraordinary heights. This makes it more important than ever to maximise production from grazed grass.

Dr David Johnston, Ruminant Nutritionist with Fane Valley Feeds, discusses spring feeding strategies to maximise grass utilisation and milk production from grazing systems. 

David begins, “Over the past few weeks, the weather has improved allowing farmers to consider grazing once again. It is important to plan ahead, making sure everything flows smoothly without any reduction in performance at turnout.”

David outlines, “Grazed grass is still one of the cheapest feeds available for dairy cows and it is important to have a feeding strategy which will maximise the utilisation of grass, promote milk production and drive profit. There is much debate on the merit of turning high-yielding, fresh calved cows out to grass, and the opportunity to do so will vary from farm to farm.”  

When assessing grazing paddocks pre-turnout, ideally, we are targeting covers of around 2800-3000 kg DM / Ha. Access to paddocks is also key to ensuring maximum grass utilisation. 

David adds, “It is important to ensure laneways are clean and smooth to maintain foot health, as well as realistic travel time to and from the parlour. The location of water troughs along the laneways will ensure cows are offered water before and after milking.

Before turnout, it is important to consider grass covers to ensure the herd’s requirements are met. Grazed grass should be introduced to the diet gradually, initially for only a few hours per day after silage feeding, to allow the rumen to cope with the transition. 

Low fibre levels in lush spring grass can lead to reduced rumination, saliva flow and rumen buffering, which can contribute to a decline in rumen pH. It is vital to offer a buffer feed for the first few weeks to ensure an effective transition and ensure rumen function and consequently butterfat production is retained.

David Continues, “Spring grass can have a low dry matter content, typically 10-20%, resulting in cows struggling to physically eat enough grass to provide the dry matter required. This together with high protein and sugar levels in spring grass results in faster rumen throughput and if not managed correctly can lead to poor feed utilisation. Typically, cows that are grazing full-time should require no more than a 16% protein compound during April and May when grass protein is at its highest”.

The part-time grazing strategy is a half-way-house option for herds with a considerable number of freshly calved higher yielding cows where batching is impractical. For those with the ability to batch cows, freshly calved cows may be more suited to a fully housed system. 

David concludes, “Choosing the correct grazing strategy for your farm is of the utmost importance. Lower yielding or stale cows should be turned out to grass first, for a few hours per day to introduce grass to the rumen gradually. If numbers allow, cows should be batched allowing fresh calved, high-yielding and cows not yet in calf, to remain on a winter diet or at least only allowed access to grazing part-time, as it is unlikely that the higher yielding dairy cows’ energy requirements will be met from full-time grazing.”

For more information or technical support with getting your feeding strategy correct this spring contact Dr David Johnston on 07929 865118 or your local Fane Valley Feeds Sales Specialist.