Investing in infrastructure makes financial sense

Published 9 March 12

Investing in the infrastructure that allows you to get cows out on grass early and stay out longer makes financial sense, whichever way you look at it, says DairyCo extension officer Piers Badnell.

"Cows that are out at grass longer, on well managed grazing, have more access to the cheapest feed, at a consistently high feed value (metabolic  energy (ME )of 12, 25% crude protein (CP) and dry matter (DM) of 15-25% depending on the weather), making you more money," says Piers.

"Cows out grazing more means less reliance on ensiled forage," he explains. "Silage costs two to three times more than grazed grass and add to that the potential to save on bought in feeds, straights or concentrate, and the figures soon add up.

"Grass with dry matters intakes of 10, 12 or 14kg, with well managed grazing and an ME of 12, will give an extra three to four litres of milk per cow compared to poor grass at 10.5 ME. If you increase dry matter intakes by about 2kg, which you will with confidence, and again at 12 ME the cow can give about seven litres more milk. This can equate to a saving of about 2-2.25kg of concentrate. 

"DairyCo grass sampling over the last four years has shown average CP of 25%, with the vast majority of all samples in the 20-30% range," says Piers. "When the proportion of grass in the diet increases look to reduce the protein in the supplement for both cow health and cost saving. Look at the difference to you financially between feeding an 18% and 14% concentrate and of feeding less of it.

"Getting cows out earlier in the grazing season and having them out for longer not only saves on feeding costs but reduces housing costs (calculated as between £0.54 and £1.71 per day depending on your system) and saves you time," he adds.

"With cows out grazing it might mean one less load in the mixer wagon. And what will that save you, 30 to 45 minute a day? You may spend more time moving electric fences but this is time you would have spent on the yard and it's saving you money!"

The recent DairyCo Milkbench+ report shows that the key driver for profitability is the cost of production. Make the savings on feed and housing costs and drive up profitability.

"The report  also demonstrates that in herds with in excess of 5p per litre feed costs," says Piers, "an extra 1p on feed costs means an increase in total costs of 1.99p (storage costs, fuel etc). So by the same token a decrease in feed costs by 1p could save 1.99p.

"In order to make these saving and increase grazed grass you need the right infrastructure. This isn't just for lower yielding herds. There are many 9,000 litre herds taking advantage of quality grass and high dry matters of 20 -25% at the moment, in the dry conditions much of the country is experiencing."

Piers continues; "You need to be looking at three areas tracks, fencing and water. There is cost to install and then maintain the infrastructure but it is far cheaper than installing and maintaining buildings. The figures above will give you a good idea of the costs the investment willsave you. It soon adds up."


"Good cow tracks primarily allow early and late access to pasture and good access to heavier ground throughout the year. Multiple entry and exit points to paddocks minimise damage to swards," Piers explains.

"Tracks need to be in place for the heavy usage areas like near the buildings but at the far ends of the grazing block and in
certain conditions or certain soils you may get away with no material track just a grass sacrifice track. I know one farm that has used these in low
traffic areas for the last 10 years with no problems," he adds.

"Tracks should give you maximum access for the least cost so flexibility is the key. You need to decide if your track is going to be for the tractor of the cows track? Cow track is half the cost so keep machinery off it!

"The main materials used for cow track construction are building rubble, stone and concrete railway sleepers. The tracks need a camber to drain water off swiftly as water flow will ruin them very quickly.  Watch where flow is running and avoid runoff to water courses," he warns.

"For 200 cows you will need a 5m width of track and an extra 1m for every 100 cows, but beware of bottle necks, for instance a
tight turn or a narrow bridge which will restrict cow flow.

"When it comes to positioning tracks you need maximum access for least cost, so get a map of your farm or look at google earth and plan your tracks. Go and look at other peoples' tracks to get tips on what to
do and what not to do!"


"Water troughs need to be in the middle of fields to give maximum access to water, using electric fencing and clever allocation. Don't site them in the hedge where water access is restricted and there is no flexibility.

"Don't worry about silaging and troughs in the middle
of field. If the mower man can't mow round a water trough get a new mower man!
The most important thing is the cow and her access to water.  Milk consists mostly of water so why would
you want to restrict her?" he asks.

"Check water flow and trough volume so cows do not run out of water. Ideally cows should not have to walk more than 100 metres to
drink. There needs to be enough room for a good number of cows to drink at the same time, so that the boss cow does not hog the trough."


"Ideally you need 20-30 paddock areas because for the majority of the season the rotation will be somewhere in the region of 20 to 30 days. If you have six fields in your grazing areas split them with electric fencing to create this number of areas. Make sure the electric fencing is sound and you have a good current. You should dictate where the cows go and not them!

"These paddock areas should be roughly the same area but it's not essential to match areas exactly as your grazing demand will vary through the season, see example below."

Paddock area example

100 cows grazing with a 10kg dm intake equals a demand of 1000 kg.  If they are entering a cover at 2700 kg dm/ha and grazing to a good residual of 1500 kg dm ha then there is 1200kg available. So they need 0.8 ha. But later in the season you may have 120 cows grazing 15kg DM ha per day so the demand is 1800 kg dm per day. The area required will then be 1.5 ha.


"The best fencing is semi permanent wooden stakes with high tensile wire and sub divisions with normal electric fencing although I do know someone who just uses electric fencing. Try and make the areas as square as possible as cows will wonder less and on heavy land cause less treading and potential soil damage. The key to good fencing is flexibility," he concludes.

Infrastructure bullet points

  • Your infrastructure needs to be flexible and
    easy to use

  • Use a farm map or google earth to plan and fine
    tune your infrastructure plan
  • Visit other farms to see what they have done
  • Plan again
  • There is money to be made from grazing - do the
    calculations yourself and work it out.
  • If you have not put anything in place yet then
    look for your bottle neck areas. Plan the infrastructure now and make a start
    on it this season and you will reap the rewards through better grassland
    management quickly in terms of quality and quantity