Just like how eating a diet that’s rich in nutrients keeps us healthy, grazing high-quality leafy greens can help your cows remain healthy and produce more delicious milk.
In this article, we’re going to be talking about your cows’ daily feeds, how to make the most out of your pasture and its effect on milk output.
A major challenge you would have faced on your years in the farm is to balance the stocking rate (SR), that is, livestock units per ha and milk production per cow.
You can achieve both by increasing your pasture utilization rates.
You would improve production by achieving higher herbage yields through better grazing management systems.
In other words, instead of increasing your herd size, you would increase your production output per animal.
Let’s discuss in detail some of the issues a farmer typically faces, and what we can do to improve pasture utilization and productivity.
Daily Feed Intake:
It’s very important to maintain a constant supply of dense herbage throughout the grazing season. I know it’s not easy.
You face temperature changes, irregular weather conditions, water supply problems and what not! And then you have cows with slightly irregular feed intakes and changes in herd size that can make this even more difficult than necessary.
So what can you do?
Research studies have shown that offering your dairy cows a daily pasture intake of 20 kg DM per animal can increase milk production significantly. However, in reality, typical daily pasture intakes may vary between 16 to 20 kg DM per animal.
But to do this you also need to assess your herbage growth levels.
Assess Herbage Growth:
Well-managed grass is high in nutritive value and can easily meet the feed requirements of your animals in spring, summer and early autumn.
Just like how we feel instantly energized after a cup of coffee or tea, high levels of high-quality grass offered to spring-calving cows turns them into super cows!
But for this, you need to be on top of your daily grazing management.
You, more than anyone, know the intense effort and expense it takes to collect enough samples to accurately represent a pasture to assess herbage.
When you have a large number of paddocks, it becomes such a time-consuming activity with a high margin of error.
With Pasture.io, you can easily rely on our systems to equip you with data about measuring grass growth and herbage mass so that it helps you manage your pastures with precision.
Increase Dry Matter Intake:
You can increase intake through the selection of pasture species or varieties with higher DM and improved digestibility.
Managing sward composition could also be another way to improve herbage DMI and animal productivity by enhancing nutrient intake and utilization with lower inputs.
Interestingly, research studies also show that pastures with several species growing together improves milk production. For instance, in a study, across a two year period, grazing dairy cows on multi-species pasture swards increased milk production by +0.8 kg/ day.
Supplementation is another commonly practiced option to increase total DMI. The rate of substitution will depend on the stage of lactation, type of animal and daily pasture intake.
Lower substitution rates were predicted by Delagarde et al. (2011) who obtained values from the “GrazeIn” model varying between zero at a low daily herbage allowance (10 kg DM/day > 5 cm) to 0.6 at a high daily herbage allowance (24 kg DM/day > 5 cm) with an average substitution rate of 0.3 kg decrease in grazed herbage DMI/kg supplement DMI.
Output per Cow:
Based on their breeds and genetic merit, cows must be fed appropriately to produce high yields. Feeding and management are the major indicators of productivity per head.
Below are the top 3 opportunities for increasing output per head:
- Careful pasture management to ensure high-quality herbage
- Offering low-cost, high-energy feeds
- High-quality pasture throughout lactation will support high levels of output/cow
A greater concentration of lipids in pasture grasses could help increase production for the same DM input.
For example, an increase of 3% lipids in grasses could supply an extra 1.1 MJ of gross energy/kg DM, significantly increasing output, since 5 MJ metabolizable energy equates to 1 L of milk
Syncing your herbage supply with your demand is the main goal of grazing management for dairy farmers. To make the most out of the situation, its best to assess your forage growth and predict levels of future growth.
A number of farms across Australia and New Zealand have used 5-day forecasts of forage growth rates produced for each local district from climate forecasts and current levels of soil moisture calibrated to data for forage growth.
This data can help you determine growth rates, forage availability wedges, help you calculate grazing allocations, assess the performance of individual paddocks, track milk sales, fertilizer applications and provide a detailed analysis of pasture performance.
Consumer’s Milk Quality Perception
Pasture-based cows produce better milk than stall-fed cows.
It’s as simple as that.
Just like how a diet of fresh fruits and veggies would make us look good and feel good, vs. a diet of deep-fried food. Grazed pasture leads to higher levels of good fats in the milk like polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), especially omega-3 PUFA and conjugated linoleic acid.
Statistics also show that supermarket shoppers are slowly but surely turning to pasture-based milk.
Milk processors and supermarkets are starting to favour pasture-based milk production systems over other forms of stall-fed milk production systems.
In response to this increasing consumer demand, new market opportunities are opening doors to progressive farmers who place greater value on animal welfare and nutrition quality by paying them a premium.
This validates your efforts, and also help you build a reputation of offering a nutritionally (in terms of fatty acids, proteins and fat-soluble vitamins) superior product.
But, just access to grass does not ensure increased production.
Another important point to consider is animal welfare. Because pasture-based systems help your cows express their natural grazing behaviour, it keeps them in much better physical and emotional health.
Thus making it a win-win situation for everyone involved.
However, there are a few important challenges to keep under check:
- Variable and unpredictable herbage growth
- Lower daily herbage intake
- Lower output per animal
- Inefficient grazing management
All of these can be addressed to a large extent by taking better farm management decisions based on evidence and data from your farm.
Services like Pasture.io can help you track your pasture growth, fertilizer requirements and irrigation needs.
You are the ones who are out toiling every day, taking good care of your cows and being the backbone of one of the world’s most important industries.
So why not go that extra mile, make the most of your farm assets and maximize your productivity as well as profits.
- Ollie Roberts, 26 Aug 2020