Standing hay 2014

Published 18 July 14

Standing Hay

James Major, who farms near Marlborough, Wiltshire, fed standing hay to his cows in the close-up calving group last year as he made the transition to block calving.

Now, in his first year as a tight autumn calving herd, James is due to calve 240 cows in 13 weeks, starting on Tuesday 5 August. He has just started cows grazing on standing hay for the three weeks before calving.

“We started cows on standing hay last Wednesday (16 July), mainly due to the simplicity it gives our system, and because it worked so well last year,” explains James.

“About six weeks ago, we shut up around 14 hectares (30 acres) from the grazing rotation, and we will be closing up another five or six hectares for those cows calving towards the end of the block. The paddocks are near to the buildings so we can check the cows often, and move fresh calvers easily.

Covers in the standing hay are about 5,500kg DM/ha, and James strip grazes the cows, moving the electric fence every 12 hours. This year, he is going to use the fence as a feed barrier and feed 2kg of dry cow roll under it at about 16:00.

“We’re out checking the cows on a regular basis, so it makes sense to keep moving the fence for them. We also give them a slightly bigger area in the evening as I read somewhere that it stops them calving overnight if they are busy eating!” James continues.

“Last year, I worried about milk fever, and the genetics we have here (predominantly Holsteins) made me fear the worst but, in fact, we only had one case. This was even after rain meant there was quite a lot of lush growth in the bottom of the plants. We did feed magnesium flakes in the water.

“We tend to allocate area by eye and, if anything, would rather give them not quite enough at a time than too much. The cows are perfectly capable of shouting if they want the fence moved and, if you allocate too much standing hay, the cows will only lie on it. In some areas we’re getting down to covers around 1,800 or even 1,500kg DM/ha.

“You do need to keep an eye on mastitis, with cows moving through the tall crop, but as cows are checked regularly anyway, we just keep our eyes open,” he says.

“Last year, after we’d grazed the standing hay in August/September, we put some bulling heifers across the area in November, and it was fit to graze and back in the rotation in March. We were impressed by how well the grass recovered and came back,” James concludes.