Dutch forage management

Published 14 August 15

A recent trip to the Netherlands, looked at how Dutch dairy farmers manage forage. Nick Berni, Ruminant Product Manager at ForFarmers, looks at some of the key messages of the visit.

The Dutch dairy industry is an industry of highly skilled dairy farmers, the vast majority of whom operate a high input, high output system. Trends on a farm level have seen an increase in both scale and professionalism. Average herd numbers have risen from 40 in 1990 to 96 in 2015, with a predicted rise to 150 by 2020. Milk production per cow has risen from 6,000 litres in 1990 to 8,500 litres in 2015. Again, these are predicted to rise to 8,900 litres by 2020.

About 90% of cows are automatically recorded and 20% of cows in the Netherlands are milked by robots. More home mixing is taking place with 60% of farmers using a feeder wagon.

“We’re seeing a continued improvement of technical performance, in both feed efficiency and animal health, among Dutch dairy farmers,” says Nick Berni. “And part of that picture is efficient milk production from quality forage.

“Dutch dairy farms are getting 1,600–1,700 litres/cow more milk from forage than their UK counterparts, and the best farms are getting 2,500–2,600 litres more milk from forage. On average, the Dutch are feeding 750kg less concentrates/cow, a feed saving of £165–£170/cow, or 2ppl. On a 180-cow herd, this is an average saving of £30,000/year.”

Both grass and maize silage quality is high in the Netherlands, as seen in the tables below.

First cut grass table

 Table 1 Early first cut grass silage 2014: Source ForFarmers 


 Maize table

Table 2 Maize silage 2014: Source ForFarmers

It’s attention to detail in all aspects of silage making, clamp management and diet formulation, that is so noticeable,” says Nick Berni.

“Dutch dairy farmers do benefit from smaller scale operations, and they tend to look to cut silage little and often, making the decision to cut every five to six weeks for quality reasons, rather than labour/management/contractor issues. Good clamp management is key to their high-quality silage, with very little mould or wastage tolerated.

“Other factors play a part in their excellent forage management. The environmental constraints Dutch farmers have been operating under for some time mean most farmers have a nutrient plan with clear advice on the targeted application of N, P and K. They are absolutely on the ball with their reseeding policy, targeting underperforming areas.

Most Dutch dairy farmers use central forage analysis service, based on dry NIR, to provide accurate results for diet formulation. Depending on the time of year, comprehensive core or face samples are taken for nutrient analysis. At the laboratory, the forage samples are dried for 24 hours then ground in order to produce a truly homogenous sample for NIR.

“It’s with these accurate silage analysis results that farmers produce efficient cow rations, allowing more targeted use of concentrate feed. Dutch farmers pay more than €100 for silage sampling and analysis services, so obviously value the service they get,” says Nick Berni.

“The land limitation means that Dutch dairy farmers have had to produce the highest quality forage possible from every available acre. For them, forage quality has long been key to profitability.”

For more information on planning and managing silage making, download section 8 and 9 of Grass+.