Forage focus: Precision feeding of dairy cows at Lyons Research Farm

The autumn-calving dairy herd on UCD’s Lyons Research Farm is currently being fed a mix of maize and grass silage; beet pulp; and soya. Farm manager Eddie Jordan has been asked: ‘Is the operator of the Keenan feeder filling it with a spoon?’

Noel Cullen is filling the feeder within an accuracy of 0.37% and has made it down to as low as 0.1%. It’s all part of a day’s work on the research farm, where a huge focus is put on forage quality. From diet formulation to weekly dry matter measurements, everything is about quality.

Autumn-calving dairy herd

The winter-milk herd calved down in September and October. There are 70 cows milking at present.

“Those cows calved in September and October, so they’re pushing on in the lactation.

We are currently feeding 0.75kg of soya, 1.75kg of beet pulp, 31.6kg of grass silage and 21.6kg of maize silage. They were on wholecrop, but that’s gone. They’re on maize now.

Wholecrop silage

“We started off with some of last year’s (2016 harvested) maize. We opened the wholecrop when that was finished and they’re now on this year’s (2017 harvested) maize.

2017 was the first year that the farm cut wholecrop wheat. Eddie was happy with it and said that they will grow it again next year. Once harvested, the land where the wholecrop grew also provided an ideal seedbed for the farm’s cover crops.

Also Read: Forage focus: Getting a head start with ‘Redstart’

“The wholecrop wheat was cut on July 13. It had a dry matter (DM) of 36% and this stayed consistent throughout the season. Dry matter digestibility (DMD) was 72%, metabolisable energy (ME) was 10.4 and starch content was 28.9%. We used an additive on the wholecrop as well.

The wheat had been hit a little by septoria and there was damage done to the leaf, so we pitted it.

“We ended up with quite good wholecrop. The vast majority of the wholecrop was used on finishing cattle. We finished 140 short-stay cattle for trials and they finished very well. They had good conformation scores and they didn’t get over fat.”

Maize silage

The 2017 harvested maize silage results came in at 31.1% DM. It had a DMD of 71%, a ME value of 11.3 and the starch content was 30.2%.

The 2016 maize crop was fed to the cows at the beginning of the season. In comparison, this had a higher DM content at 33%; the starch content was over 35% (the analysis does not give a reading over 35%) and the ME value was higher as a result at 12.1.

Maize silage on Lyons Research Farm

High-protein grass silage from red clover

The first-cut of grass silage was made on May 10.

The grass silage analysis came back with the following results:
  • DM – 34.7%;
  • DMD – 81%;
  • pH – 3.9;
  • Protein – 16.6%.

Eddie explained why the protein in the grass silage is so high, adding: “There’s red clover in the sward. Previously, we fed a 24% protein nut. We’ve gone back to 20%.

“They’re on an 18% nut at the minute and are getting soya in the diet as well. Once they get out to grass, we’ll drop the soya from the mix. They will come in at night.”

Weekly DM measurements

The DM of all silage pits on the farm are measured each week for the research trials that are taking place. This allows Eddie to adjust the DM figures of the diets on the Keenan system each week, so more or less fresh weight can be given.

At the moment, the grass silage is coming in at a DM of 26% from that pit.

While measuring DM each week isn’t practical on every farm, the varying results that Eddie is getting shows that silage testing is very important and taking a representative sample from the pit is critical.

Turnout to grass

“We hope to have the cows out to grass next week. We’re not going to get them out this week,” Eddie explained.

All of the grazing ground received half a bag of urea on January 26.

“The last cover we had on that ground was 876kg/ha on January 29 and we had a growth rate of 9kg/ha/day.

“If we look at soil temperatures over the last seven days at Casement (the nearby met station), they are at 3.3°C. The only place anywhere near grass-growing conditions is Valentia Island at 5.9°C.

We’re only at 90% rain. We’ve done quite well. We got a good bit of rain last Friday and Saturday and it has set us back.