Its time to make housing and buffer decisions!

September 20, 2019

Winter Housing

The British summer has fought back! After a reasonably dry start to the grazing season across most areas, mixed weather and high rainfall totals in recent weeks has led to a scramble to open silage pits and bales. Supplementing grazing to maintain yields has been a common discussion point of late, and with the correct buffer in place, yields and constituents have been maintained as well as the all important management of body condition leading into the winter period. 

The decision to hold back on supplementary buffer feeding will now start to show and will lead to an uphill struggle to get cows back to where we would like them to be for winter housing.

When to shut the field gate?

On that note, winter housing for grazing herds is now upon us, with some now housed full time, some housed at nights and others thinking about it. The common theme appears to be that despite the recent wet weather, grazing covers remain strong and the urge to keep grazing remains. Recent fresh grass analysis would show reasonable energy levels, seasonally good levels of crude protein and NDF, but with very low Dry Matter levels.

It is the Dry Matter levels that have been causing yield from grass to decline over recent weeks, with cows physically unable to consume enough grass to meet dry matter requirements.

When cows reach this point, and with grazing quality slowly declining, housing/buffer decisions should be driven by cow performance: if intakes from grass are declining, daylight hours are shortening and grass quality is compromised as well as less than ideal field conditions, a decision needs to be made.

Forage Quality

As always at this time of year, analysing forage stocks for the winter ahead is crucial. Unlike 12 months ago, forage stocks this year have been bolstered, and along with full pits, the quality generally appears to be good too.

That said, we are seeing through our analysis a wide variation between cuts. Crude Protein levels generally appear to be lower than 2018, with wide variations in energy, NDF and dry matter levels, from farm to farm and cut to cut. The importance of knowing what forages you have for the winter and how to manage them to achieve performance cannot be understated.

Dry Cows

Often the forgotten ones, with focus on end of season harvest and transitioning the milking herd onto winter rations, dry cows still at grass need to be prioritised. As with the milking herd, the dry group will be struggling to maintain sufficient dry matter intakes over recent weeks which will start to compromise body condition. The link between poor dry cow rumen fill and metabolic issues at calving is strong, paired with any nutritional imbalance at grass has the potential to cause issues at calving. Prioritising these cows at least 3 weeks before calving, providing a balanced dry cow ration and comfortable housing conditions will pay well into the winter 2019 lactation.

Looking ahead over the coming weeks and months, no matter how long or short the grazing window that remains, analysing forages, discussing winter targets and balancing rations to suit is a worthy time investment. Having a plan in place for all groups of stock on the farm will certainly make for a better winter once the shed doors are closed.

James Bendle, Technical Feed Advisor, Davidsons Animal Feeds

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