Farmer technical comment - Alistair Cliff

Published 4 July 14

Alistair Cliff milks two units, a spring calving herd with 180 cows and an autumn calving herd with 240 cows, on 580 acres near Chester. Cows in both units are Holstein Friesian crosses. The farm also has around 25 acres of wholecrop, sown as a cover crop for reseeding. Below, Alistair runs us through grass and cow performance of both herds and explains what a late first cut, followed by dry weather, has meant to them.

Spring calving herd information

Grass supply

Average farm cover        2,028kg

Pre-grazing cover           2,800kg

7-day grass growth         48kg DM/ha/day

Herd grass demand         30kg DM/ha/day – this has been reduced by feeding quite a bit of silage, to help with the grass shortage (see comments below)

Cow performance

Milk yield and quality         23.5 litres/cow/day, 4.23% fat, 3.52% protein.

Concentrate feed level       6kg/day – again, as a result of grass shortages

“The wet weather meant we weren’t able to harvest first cut until 11 June. This was about three weeks later than planned,” says Alistair. “Since then, we have had little rain, meaning growth has dropped off and covers have been dropping. Yields have held and we’ve put in the silage and extra concentrate just to help us get on top of these covers and make sure we’re not causing problems for future rounds. Things are looking green so with a bit of moisture forecasted this weekend, grass should get going well again.

“We’re eight weeks into serving, and had a 94% submission rate after three weeks. The bull is now in with the cows and we’ll have to wait for the results of the PD to see how he’s done!”


Autumn calving herd information

Grass supply

Average Farm Cover       2,340kg

Pre-grazing cover            3,100kg

7-day grass growth          64kg DM/ha/day

Herd grass demand         46kg DM/ha/day


Cow performance

Milk yield and quality        16 litres/cow/day, 4.47% fat, 3.78% protein.

Concentrate feed level      1kg/day – “When, and if, they need it.”

“We’ve actually got surplus grass for the autumn calving herd as cows are beginning to dry off,” says Alistair. “But I don’t mind covers being high as we graze round this unit with youngstock. Any real excess we have we make into big bales.

“The quality of our first cut silage, which was cut so late, is nothing to write home about, and the plan is to have a shorter interval between first and second cut. We’re looking at big baling second cut and getting back on track with third cut.”

More information about big bale silage can be found in this week’s article by Chris Duller and in chapter 9, ‘Managing your silage-making’ of DairyCo’s Grass+.