- 180 Holsteins averaging 8,200 litres
- Costs reduced by £28,000 in 6 months
- Concentrate use reduced by 75 tonnes, saving £15,000
- Fertiliser use reduced by £8,000
- Silage requirement reduced, which will reduce contractor cost by about £5,000
- Sward improved with more clover appearing
Considerable saving from zero grazing
By changing from turning out their cattle in the summer to all-year housing and zero grazing, not only have dairy farmer’s James Murdoch & Co considerably improved their grass utilisation, but just as importantly they cut their concentrate bill in six months by at least £15,000 last year, with potentially higher savings possible this year.
Like many livestock farmers in the west of England and Scotland, the Murdoch’s have no problem growing grass, but in recent wet spring and summer’s it’s the damage caused by poaching that has resulted in soil damage and reduced grass utilisation.
Last year, having turned out their 180-cow Holstein herd in mid June onto a grazing platform of about 40ha, due to the wet conditions the cows were back inside on July 19th and having been considering zero grazing for the previous 18 months, Colin Murdoch decided to go ahead and buy a Grass Tech GT160 zero grazer.
“The most immediate effect of changing to zero grazing is that in addition to a longer grazing season, the area needed is reduced,” says Colin. “Instead of 40ha, with zero grazing we only needed 32ha. This was cut on a 30 day rotation but hopefully we can tighten that a little. It also enabled us to make better use of slurry, as no fertiliser was applied after first cut. Instead slurry was initially injected at 28,000 litres a hectare and after that spread at 22,400 litres a hectare.”
“Overall, this has saved us about £8,000 in fertiliser cost. And this year, because we will require less silage, most of which can come from first cut silage, this will save a further £5,000 in contractor cost.”
However, one of the biggest savings that the Murdoch’s have seen is in concentrate usage, which Colin says in the 6 months they were zero grazing last year was reduced by 75 tonnes, so saving around £15,000.
“Overall, I reckon that we will be saving in the region of 7 pence per litre and I now wish that we had gone ahead with it sooner,” he says. “I had been considering zero grazing for a while because Holsteins don’t like grazing. They are designed to eat grass and plenty of it but seem to be far happier if the grass is brought to them. Their overall condition is better and conception rates have been great since we changed and all the cows have pedometers, so hopefully it should be easier to see when they are on heat.”
Farming near Kilmaurs near Kilmarnock, the herd averages 8,200 litres and while fed a TMR mix during the winter, previously would graze from May through to September, weather permitting, and be buffer fed haylage with an 18% cake in the parlour.
Under the new system, this year the cows will be housed all year round, but may be offered a loafing area should the Murdoch’s go ahead with a planned organic conversion. Having started zero grazing in March the cows will just be fed fresh grass through until October, when silage will be brought back into the ration until zero grazing finishes in November.
“Having changed to zero grazing and by also not using artificial fertiliser, it is noticeable how the sward has improved and how much clover is now appearing. Because the grass is improved, the cows in turn are performing better and this has benefitted butterfat levels which have risen from 4% to 4.4%,” says Colin.
“Changing to zero grazing will make us focus more on the yield of grass per acre and how we can maximise that. We already work on a 7 year rotation and use a mix of early and late perennials to spread maturity and avoid everything being ready at once. But if we go organic then we may reduce that to about 5 years and then bring in legumes or pulses.”
When it came to choosing which zero grazer to buy, having looked at a number of different makes, Colin says he opted for the Grass Tech Grazer because of its simplicity and build. “It’s simple, well made and the support from Grass Technology has been fantastic. I was put off the other European machines because they just did not seem strong enough for our conditions. Everything is hydraulically driven and works off the tractor, so there is very little to go wrong.”
“Since we bought it, we have had quite a lot of people come and have a look at it, and in addition to our own cows, we will this year also be harvesting for two other farms so will be feeding around 500 cows all together with it. Time and labour wise it’s no different to having to fetch cows in and it’s just easier both on us and the cows.”
- 280 Holsteins averaging 10,000 litres
- Concentrate usage for high yielders initially reduced from 12kg to 9kg, and cut out all together for low yielders, saving 2 pence/litre
- 80 acres less silage harvested, saving £60/acre harvesting cost, which more than covers the annual cost of the Grazer
- 40 acres of grassland released and put into whole crop, previously grown on rented land
- Potential for further savings in the future by changing feed system
Cost saving Grazer
For Dorset dairy farmer Colin Trim, zero grazing has enabled him to counter some of the effects of the low milk price and improve grassland efficiency on his wet soils.
A year-on from buying his Grass Tech Grazer 120B, he has seen his production costs reduced, thanks to savings in both concentrate usage and contractor charges for silage, and is now looking at how he can adapt his system to further reduce costs.
“For us the key reason for changing from a silage based summer diet to zero grazing was to reduce costs,” states Colin who, with his son Darren, runs a 280 cow Holstein herd at Stour Provost near Gillingham. “For every acre that we zero graze, that’s one less acre that needs to be harvested for silage by a contractor at a cost of about £60 per acre.”
“This saving alone more than covers the annual cost of the Grazer, plus we are currently saving at least 2 pence per litre from a reduction in concentrate use and we are making better use of our grassland. Our soils are wet, but this spring we started zero grazing in the first week of March, when we would never have been able to turn out cows, and we will keep going ‘till late October or November.”
“Because of zero grazing, last year we made 32ha less silage, which has released 16ha of ground that has now gone into whole crop, which we previously grew on rented land. Also, unlike grazing, we have complete control over forage intake.”
The herd, which yields 10,000 litres with butterfat at 4.0% and protein at 3.4%, is milked three times a day and split into a high yielding group, which is housed all-year round while in milk, and a lower yielding late lactation group that mainly graze but are kept in between the second and third milkings.
Prior to zero grazing, the high yielding group was fed a grass silage-based TMR ration that included maize, whole crop and 12kg of a home mixed soya-based blend. With zero grazing, due to the feed barriers in the cubicle house, the fresh grass has to be fed out using the TMR mixer, and the cows get a ration of 30kg of fresh grass, with maize, whole crop and 9kg of blend. The late lactation group also now receive a fresh grass/maize/whole crop ration, but with no blend at all, which previously would have been added. Nothing at all is fed in the parlour.
Going forward, Colin is now looking at the option of an elevator on the Grazer, so that he can feed higher amounts of fresh grass directly to the higher yielding group and so reduce concentrate use even further.
“When we were initially considering zero grazing, we bought an old Italian built machine just to try it and see if it worked for us. The concept was right, but the machine was not easy to use. For instance, in order to empty it you had to have the PTO running,” says Colin. “We wanted a machine that was simple and easy to use, so had a look on the internet and having looked at the Grass Technology site we got in touch with them.”
“With a year’s experience of zero grazing with the Grazer, the system has presented us with a whole lot of new opportunities to consider. Ideally to make the most of zero grazing we need to be able to go out, cut two loads of grass a day and feed it straight out to the cows, so an elevator will be the way to go.”
“I would admit that in the past we did not make the best use of grass. In the spring we would often have to go out with the topper because the grass got away from us. With zero grazing we are now far tighter and we have allocated specific fields for zero grazing, which are cut on about a 20 day rotation. After grazing it will then get an application of dirty water and 50kg of fertiliser.”
“We are also looking at how we manage our grass and paying more attention to spraying out docks and weeds. Already it’s noticeable that the sward is improving and is far thicker. Currently about half of the farm is down to short term leys, but they tend to grow too fast, but because we now need to grow grass from February through to November, we might use longer leys and also look at different varieties to spread maturity.”
“Overall we have been very pleased and the Grazer has gone extremely well. However, it’s just a start and we have a lot more to look at and learn to get the best out of it, that’s for sure.”
- 250 Ayrshires yielding 7,400 litres, with 4.4% butterfat and 3.4% protein
- Grazing efﬁciency increased to around 90%
- Target of 3,500 litres from forage
- Concentrate usage reduced saving around 2ppl
- Silage requirement reduced by 15-20%, so reducing contractor cost
- Land released for cropping with spring barley, which will further reduce costs
Zero grazing for improved grass utilisation
In a move described as one of the biggest changes for 30 years, moving from a grazing based system to zero grazing has enabled a south west of Scotland dairy farm to considerably improve grass utilisation and reduce costs.
Brothers John, Brian and Sam McColm, plus John’s son Scott, run a 250 cow pedigree Ayrshire herd on their farm near Stranraer. Like many herds in the country, in the past the cows were turned out during the summer months for grazing. However, faced last year with poor weather and wet ground conditions, the decision was made to change to all-year housing and to invest in a Grass Tech Grazer 120 zero grazer, which arrived in early August, in order to bring the fresh grass to the cows.
“It’s early days and we only used the Grazer from August through to November, but even in that time the benefits were considerable and will only increase this year when we have a full season’s use from it,” says Scott.
“The biggest benefit is that grass utilisation is considerably increased. With a grazing system you achieve about 65% efficiency, but with zero grazing it’s nearer 90%. It has allowed us to extend the grass season by about a month and the cows are far happier. Previously, if it was wet they would just stand there looking unhappy not eating. But now they are far more content and you can see that they are full all the time. As a result we should also see less incidents of displaced abomasum and digestive problems.”
Average yields for the herd, which was established over 70 years ago, run at about 7,400 litres/cow with butterfats of 4.4% and protein at 3.4%. All the milk is sold to the Caledonian Cheese Company for use in their Seriously Strong Cheddar.
“Ultimately it’s all about grassland management and producing more milk from forage. At present forage accounts for about 2,700 to 2,800 litres. If we can get to at least 3,500 of the 7,500 from forage then I will be more than happy. The biggest benefit will come in the shoulder of the year when yields will stay higher because the cows have been fed high quality grass all season.”
By housing the cows and zero grazing, the McColms’ aim is for the high yielders to get 75% of dry matter from grass. First thing in the morning they are be fed a TMR mix allowing 15kg fresh weight including 6kg of whole crop, which when finished is topped up with zero grazed grass, allowing 70-75kg per cow, and they are then fed up to yield in the parlour with high fibre cake. The lower yielding cows are just fed on fresh grass and cake in the parlour.
“One immediate difference has been the reduction in concentrate use, which is saving us at least 2 pence a litre,” states Scott. “On top of that, by improving grass utilisation we need less grazing acres, so that land has gone into barley, which will also help reduce concentrate use but also the need to buy in straw, which at up to £95 a tonne is expensive due to haulage.”
“TMR is fine, but it’s not what cows are designed to eat and by extending the grazing season by zero grazing from late March to at least October, we will probably need about 15 to 20 percent less silage, so there will also be a reduction in contractor cost. “
An additional benefit is that by not grazing, there has been a noticeable improvement in the sward, which is thicker and clover has also started to reappear. The McColms’ have always renewed leys on a regular basis but with zero grazing have found that while a ley may look good in the field, the cows don’t perform as well on grass from older leys.
“We aim to renew every 7 to 8 years,” says Scott, “but now will also look at earlier, higher sugar varieties. The plan is that we will go in with the Grazer about every 3 weeks and harvest about 3.5 tonnes per hectare leaving a 3 inch stubble.”
“The Grass Tech Grazer is definitely a well built machine, easy to use and because it’s fitted with wider tyres it hardly leaves a mark and certainly makes less mess than a cow would,” he concludes.