Archive: Wholecrop round up

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With wholecrop harvested for many in the last couple of weeks, two farmers explain why it plays an important role in their cow’s diets.

Robert Mallett milks 220 autumn-calving cows in north Wiltshire on heavy clay near the Thames. The herd has an average yield of 10,000 litres plus, and is milked three times a day.

After an arable neighbours suggestion Robert tried spring-sown whole crop as part of the cow’s diet for the first time last year.

“We have in the past relied very heavily on maize, with it making up to 75% of the cow’s diet,” explains Robert. “However, it let us down in yield in 2012 and 2013, probably due to damage to the soil from flooding and the late harvest in 2012. Last year, we put in 48 acres of a mix of barley and peas, and found it performed really well, especially for transition cows. We only had three cases of milk fever with the bulky, palatable straw component of the feed really filling the cows up. Wholecrop yields were about 10t/acre and DM was about 32%.

“We tried to repeat this on about 40 acres this year but, although the mix was exactly the same, the barley came to dominate. We harvested around 10 days ago and both yields, at about 12t/acre, and DM, at 34-40%, were higher than last year.

“I’ll keep an eye on protein levels with the higher barley content of the feed, and we’ll start to feed the wholecrop to the transition cows just before they begin to calve, from 20 August.

“In an early year, I could get grass in after harvesting maize, but you can get locked into maize following maize. With the wholecrop harvested in July, I know I’ll have the time to subsoil and get grass in. I’m just waiting for a bit of rain now!” Robert concluded.

Michael Sainsbury milks 240, all-year-round calving cows, under an organic system in Badminton, Gloucestershire.

“The drive is for quality forage here at Lyegrove Farm,” says Michael. “With 44% of our milk cheque coming from our forage, it demands all the attention we can give it. I try to exercise as much control as possible over forage production, which is why we use our own machinery.”

The farm has 300 acres of red clover/Lucerne ley, as well as 40 to 50 acres of wholecrop, which Michael values for its fibre structure and as a fermentable energy source.

“We sowed early this year and managed to hit a dry spell, which meant the wheat really struggled to begin with. It has caught up now but has really just brought us into line with an average year. We harvested about two weeks ago and yields are average at about 10t/acre fresh weight.

“We undersow with either a grass clover mix or Lucerne, as getting another ‘bite of the cherry’ from the same area is too good an opportunity to miss. If we’ve not undersown, we might put in an overwinter green cover or a winter cereal crop, depending on the rotation.

“Having our own kit for harvesting means we can go when the crop is in the perfect shape (we aim for about 35% DM), and when the weather is at its best. It costs somewhere between £10 and £15 per acre (about £30/ha) more for us to harvest ourselves but the investment we make in our forage pays back on the bottom line,” Michael concluded.