Feed Efficiency at Curlew Fields Farm, Yorkshire
I recently went on a trip down the Berkshire in October, where I was given the opportunity to present at the EuroDairy Feed Efficiency Workshop. The workshop brought dairy farmers from across Europe together to think about feed efficiency and why it’s important.
At Curlew Fields Farm in North Yorkshire, feed efficiency is a central concern in everything we do. To me, it is very important to manage feed efficiency correctly; my moto is ‘Do our best with everything’ and if you look after the small issues, the bigger ones will look after themselves. Attention to detail can make a huge difference.
Here are my top tips from my farm practice at home to improving feed efficiency:
1) Base your business performance on profit/cow.
2) You can achieve results by producing high-quality home-grown forage, maintaining the highest possible level of animal health and providing excellence cow comfort.
3) Maximise herd lying time, so cows have as much rest time as possible.
4) At Curlew Fields farm we aim to have 100 per cent of our herd lying down and exercise precise heifer rearing to hit target daily live weight gain.
5) Identify ‘bottlenecks’ in your system first will mean you can remove them first, making your farm more efficient.
6) One way to ensure good results annually is to adapt the maize varieties you grow to make sure that you hit your targets at harvesting.
Maize silage and clamp management at home
Maize silage is an essential crop for our farm, especially in a dry year. We normally expect to hit target yield of 20 tonnes fresh weight per hectare with our crops, but the drought conditions this year have held us back, averaging 42 tonnes fresh weight per hectare.
It is important for us to harvest the maize at 30 per cent DM and starch content to have the best quality forage possible.
We conserve our maize crop in a narrow clamp (6m wide), and try our best to use this clamp in the summer to make sure we go through the face as quick as possible.
Before filling the clamp we use a power wash to clean it out, during harvesting we make sure the clamp is filled quickly and that shoulder sheets and clean fill on top are always used to minimise waste.
On our grass silage fields, we practice a multi-cut system as we find that this keeps us in control. The diet consists of 50:50 grass: maize diet. To reduce pressure on forage stocks this year our young stock will have a diet of straw on concentrate.
We believe that providing the best environment is key for healthy animals, which helps to promote feed efficiency. Following a CowSignals training course, we adopted a few suggestions and now push up six times per day, clean out water troughs regularly, provide outside lounging area and ensure ventilation is optimised.
I also believe that one key factor to improve feed efficiency is to have a disease-free herd. We follow a vaccination programme and are free of BVD. This can really affect efficiency if not managed properly, so we vaccinate to prevent the disease from entering our herd.
The drought this year has had a great effect on dairy farmers across Europe. On our farm, we have seen our milk from forage dropped due to the drought, from 4600 to 4200 litres of milk from forage. We hope to be back up to normal production levels next year.