Farmer technical comment - Matt Senior

Published 18 July 14

Matt Senior, from Crewkerne in Somerset, milks 320 spring calving organic Jersey crossbred cows. The farm covers 140ha in a grazing block, plus an additional 40ha for forage and youngstock.

He recently has been pre-mowing before the cows to improve quality, after a hard start to the season.

Grass supply

Average Farm Cover         2,210kg

Pre-grazing cover              2,800kg

7-day grass growth            38kg DM/ha/day

Herd grass demand           30kg DM/ha/day

Cow performance

Milk yield and quality 18 litres/cow/day, 4.9% fat, 3.8% protein.

Concentrate feed level 4kg/day – “We’d usually be on about 2kg/day, and I’ll drop to this once we can get onto our summer buffer rape.”

“We had such a wet and cold spring, and grass never really performed as it would have in a ‘normal’ year”, says Matt.  “After the really wet start, we then had a dry spell, and the grass seemed to go straight to head. It means we’ve been mowing before the cows in order to reinstate residuals and correct rejection sites.

“We pre-mow anything from 1 to 24 hours before the cows go in. This depends on what other jobs we’ve got going on, and I’ve seen no difference in the quantity or quality of milk in these circumstances. The cows clean up really well, and allocating the right amount of grass is fairly easy.

“We have struggled a bit with our forage this season after the cold wet start. Grass growth is certainly not what it has been in previous seasons. I’m predicting we’re going to be about three or four ton of DM/ha down on normal. I don’t know if the rain washed the nutrients out of the soil and really affected the spring growth. Though, certainly as an organic farmer, I’ve noticed it’s taken longer than usual for the clover to wake up. Grass analysis has also shown quality has suffered a bit this year, another reason I’ve kept the cake higher.

“Looking back at the data of the last five years, we’ve always been within five days of the average magic day, but this year we were three weeks behind. I probably could have done with feeding a bit more silage this spring, and I think we went round the rotation a bit quick, but I was always expecting a magic day that took a long time to come!

“We’d usually have about 30 acres of rape as a summer buffer by this point in the season, but the cold wet spring means we’re still ten days to two weeks off that. I’m feeding about 2kg DM/cow/day from round bales, to help make up the shortfall, but I’ll drop those when we can start on the rape.

“We were about two weeks late turning out in the spring, due to the wet weather and, then, just as it started drying up, we had a deluge that put us right back where we were. We did a lot of on-off grazing this spring, and the cows have milked well throughout. In fact, they seemed to adapt much better to it than we did.

Matt concludes: “I’m not that worried about the forage situation going forward. We have rape coming in and grass growth is steady at the moment. If I have to, I’ll purchase in some organic hay, as I know there’s a lot about this year, but I’m also looking forward to a nice autumn flush!”