Early Spring Feed Efficiency

Michael Garvey, CAFRE Dairying Development Adviser, Armagh

Maintaining herd yields at current milk prices can improve profitability but feed efficiency still has a major impact on the cost of production. How do you maximise yield and feed efficiency this spring, where individual cow’s daily milk yield can vary from 15 to 60 litres? The most important issue is the targeting of concentrate feeding to those cows which need it most. This will require that:

  • Cows are batched into yield groups for grazing /partial housing /full-time housing
  • Supplementary concentrates are fed using “feed to yield”  
Batching cows into yield groups for grazing / partial housing / housing
With spread calving predominant in herds, individual cow daily milk yields can range from 15 to 60 litres. Early season grazing and parlour supplementation will meet the nutritional needs of the lower yielding cows in the herd.  Cows producing in excess of 35 litres will still need access to a TMR ration.  Individual daily milk yields should be used to sort cows into groups for: -
  • Grazing full time.
  • Grazing by day and housing by night
  • Housing full time
Each group will have a set base production litres of milk that the ration will produce (M+).  For the partial housed or fulltime housed groups the M+ should be formulated so that the lowest yielding cow in the group is not overfed.  For the grazing group the M+ will depend on grass availability and grass quality. Higher yielding cows in the groups will require supplementary concentrates.
Table 1 outlines a plan for turnout of cow groups to grass at Greenmount.  Grazing should be started by March, and the lowest yielding cows should be grazing full time by mid to late April.  Highest yielding cows with a higher nutritional requirement will be the last cows put to grass and will continue to housed and TMR fed.  The availability of parlour automatic ID, milk meters, drafting gates and computerised feeding will play a role in managing the herd this spring.  At milking cows are identified and their yields recorded.  As they leave the parlour they will be divided using the drafting gate into lowest yielding groups for grazing or highest yielding group for continued feeding in the house.  After morning milking, the highest yielding cows will be retained in the house, where they will have access to a TMR feed.  The lowest yielding group will make their way to the grazing paddocks.  In early April the lowest yielding cows may also be housed after evening milking and fed silage depending on grass availability and weather conditions.
Table 1.   A plan for Cow Groups to grass at Greenmount
High Yielders Low Yielders
Early April Housed Out day
Late April Housed Out day and night
Early May Out Day / Housed night Out day and night
Supplementary concentrate feeding using “feed to yield”
Supplementary concentrates can be fed either in or out of parlour.  All farms should target concentrate to cows on a “feed to yield” basis above their group M+.  A standard supplementation rate of 0.45 kilos of concentrate per kilo of milk can be used.  Thus feeding cows 10 kilos daily of parlour concentrate can sustain 22 litres of milk (above the M+ of the cows diet).  In early April this will allow a group of cows at grass by day and fed silage by night yielding 15 to 37 litres be successfully managed together.
The M+ will change as cows are transitioned through groups from housing, through partial grazing to full time grazing.  Last spring (25 April) a group of Armagh farmers attended a “Feed Efficency” farm walk.  Table 2 shows the spring transition M+ used on the farm.
The cows were divided into two groups.  A group of highest yielding cows were housed full time.  These cows were on average 3 months calved and averaging 46 litres. Their base TMR was made up of grass silage and 6 kg of blend.  It was formulated to the lowest yielding cow in the group, ensuring that cows were not overfed. Cows were then topped up in the parlour above 22 litres.  The maximum daily parlour feeding was 10 kilos per cow.
A second group cows were longer calved and averaging 27 litres daily.  These cows were grazing quality grass during the day and eating silage at night. Cows yielding more than 15 litres received parlour top up. Once the weather conditions improved they would be turned out full time and parlour feeding would be restricted to cows giving more than 20 litres.
Table 2 Spring transition M+.
High Yielders Low Yielders
Late April M+22 (Silage + 6kg blend) M+15 (Quality Grass by day and silage by night)
Early May M+22 (Silage + 6kg blend) M+20 (Good supply of quality grass fulltime)
To maximise daily yield and feed efficiency this spring you should: -
  • Identify your cows into yield groups for grazing / partial housing / housing.
  • Set an M+ for your cow groups
  • Formulate TMR rations to suit the lowest yielding cow in the partial / housed groups
  • Supplement concentrates cows above the M+ at 0.45 kilos per litre.
  • Keep a check on the daily milk yield and concentrate fed.
It you require help to set the appropriate M+ for your cow groups or assessment of your herd’s performance contact your local CAFRE Dairying Development Adviser.

Michael Garvey pictured assessing grass quality in a County Armagh dairy herd

Michael Garvey pictured with Kinnear Brothers Keady during the grazing season