12th September 2022

Quality maize helps drive returns from milk contract

“We grow in some pretty harsh conditions but by selecting varieties carefully we are able to produce a good quality feed which is essential for our all year round calving mixed breed herd producing on a constituent based contract,” James explains.

A well-known Guernsey breeder and Chairman of the English Guernsey Cattle Society, James farms at St Buryan five miles from Land’s End in partnership with his mother Rosemary. The herd currently comprises 105 Guernseys, 110 Jerseys and 90 Holsteins.

“We started introducing black and white cattle a few years ago as our milk contract at the time wasn’t paying enough for the high milk fat and protein the Channel Island breeds were producing,” James continues. “They were a good way to increase litres and dilute constituents. However, in April 2017 we moved to a constituent based contract with Roddas, a local business best known for producing Cornish Clotted Cream, so are now pushing for milk quality. In November, milk sold averaged 5.28% butterfat and 3.72% protein which meant over 25p of the 38.24ppl received was directly related to butterfat payments.

“The Jerseys are currently averaging 6750 litres at 5.3% fat and 3.85% protein, the Guernseys are doing 7000 litres at 4.92% and 3.73% while the Holsteins are producing over 10,000 litres at 4.1% fat and 3.37% protein.

“Our aim is to produce high quality milk all year round as Roddas want level production, hence the all year calving.”

The herd is run as one principle milking group along with a small fresh cow group. Dry cows are run as two groups. The cows are still grazed by day from early March until early November. At night they graze but have access to a partial TMR in the yard, in part to support production and in part due to their being a limited grazing platform with only 100 acres around the buildings. Dairy cake is fed through the parlour.

The herd is fed a single TMR with diets developed by Matt Jenkin from ForFarmers who says the challenge is ensuring adequate energy intakes for the high quality milk.

“Producing such high quality milk requires more energy per litre and we have to also address the reduced intakes of the Channel Island breeds,” Matt explains. “The base of the diet is high quality forage. James has been investing in the quality of grass swards grown and while four cuts of grass silage are made, the milking herd is fed predominantly on first cut.

“To achieve a consistent ration we also feed maize all year round, believing it is better to feed a bit less per day if this means it can be fed every day. It will usually be around 30% of total forage intakes.”

The milking cow diet comprises grass and maize silage, whole crop, fodder beet, potatoes, a bespoke blend, molasses, minerals and a protected fat. The M+ value of the diet is adjusted for the different breeds to reflect the milk quality and an 18% high starch compound is fed to yield in the parlour.

“We have always fed fodder beet as it is great for milk quality and we have recently added protected fat to drive butterfat further this year. Since adding the fat this autumn, herd butterfat has increased by 0.45% to 5.25%. Keeping the diet consistent and feeding high quality forage should mean we can maintain these levels.”

Maize is an integral part of the system and James has been growing the crop for 15 years, starting with a modest 15 acres but now growing 110 acres as he looks to feed more maize to more cows.

“We are not in a brilliant maize growing area being five miles from Land’s End but manage to get respectable yields at 14-15tFW/acre and importantly get a high quality feed,” James continues. “A large proportion of the crop is grown on rented land, usually rotated between potatoes and cauliflowers which are grown by local vegetable contractors.

“There is a lot of competition for land so we work closely with the vegetable producers and it works well. They appreciate the large amounts of slurry we apply, while the soil pH after vegetables is around 6.5 which is ideal for maize. By comparison soil at home is closer to 6.0.

“In total we rent around 250 acres on a mix of long and short term arrangements with maize grown on this ground, meaning we have a number of different soil types and growing conditions.”

Variety selection is essential and James works closely with Louise Woolacott, Forage and Arable Specialist from ForFarmers.

“James looks for Group 9 maturity class as he does not want a late maturing crop. Then it is all about forage quality and we are looking to produce a crop at around 35% dry matter and 35% starch,” Louise explains. “So we look closely at dry matter yield and the factors affecting quality, particularly starch content and cell wall digestibility.

“While 100% of the starch in the cob is digestible, half the total energy is in the vegetative part of the plant. So it’s also important to consider how much nutrition can be derived from the rest of the plant which is indicated by cell wall digestibility. Cell walls make up a large part of the maize plant structure and the higher the cell wall digestibility, the greater the availability of nutrients.

“LG Ambition has been a consistent and reliable performer and this year James tried 20 acres of Pinnacle, a new LGAN accredited variety and one of the highest starch yielders, combined with high cell wall digestibility. This means it provides an excellent balance of energy from both starch and digestible fibre, leading to high ME content in the silage.”

LG Animal Nutrition (LGAN) varieties have the genetic potential to deliver superior nutritional value, whilst maintaining excellent agronomic qualities and yield, thereby improving ration performance.

James doesn’t expect to drill the crop early in the year and waits until soil conditions are suitable. Being close to the coast, the wind and exposure mean he has to wait rather than going early. This year it was May 8th but can be nearer the end of May. By delaying drilling he got good establishment and early growth setting the crop up well. Harvesting was on 22nd October and the Pinnacle has analysed at 33.7% dry matter, 11.4MJ ME and 32% starch.

“It wasn’t the best maize growing year but the Pinnacle always looked good,” James comments. “It got away well and despite the wet weather from July onwards it matured well with full cobs. In the diet it is complementing the grass silage which is 36% dry matter, 11MJ ME and 13.1% crude protein really well.

“Our focus now is a constant supply of high quality milk to make the best of the contract, and quality forage will be a major factor in how well we achieve this,” James Warren summarises.

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