Milking more from grass at AFBI Dairy Farm Walks

Date published: 16 August 2017

Making the most from grazed grass will be a key focus at next month’s AFBI roadshows ‘Dairy Innovation in Practice’ which will be held on three farms throughout Northern Ireland from 12 - 14 September.

Drs Suzanne Higgins and Debbie McConnell will be outlining the latest research findings on soil and grazing management at the Dairy Innovation in Practice roadshow taking place on 12 -14 September.

At the event, AFBI researchers will be showcasing the latest research findings to help farmers drive both increased grass production and utilisation and in turn increase milk production from forage.

Previous AFBI research estimates that, on average, grass yields of 7.5t DM/ha are achieved on Northern Irish dairy farms throughout the season. However, AFBI research is now showing that there is potential to increase this by over 60% and achieve yields in excess 12t DM/ha on commercial farms. AFBI’s dairy grassland researcher Dr Debbie McConnell commented “grazed or ensiled, grass remains the cheapest feedstuff available to us here in Northern Ireland. Although milk prices have improved it is important we keep a strong focus on building efficient grassland management practices to help lower overall costs of production.”

AFBI Dairy Innovation in Practice: Dates and Locations
Tuesday 12 September Wednesday 13 September Thursday 14 September

Ian McClelland
64 Moss Road
BT32 3NZ

Aidan McManus
BT92 3BP
David Hunter
43 Droit Road
Bt78 4DS

Improving both grazing and silage production through better nutrient management is an area that will feature at each of the farm events. AFBI’s soil scientist, Dr Suzanne Higgins comments “there are major opportunities to increase the amount of grass we grow by improving our management of soil fertility and soil structure. For example, research from AFBI shows that sub-optimal pH on some farms is resulting in grass yield losses of up to 2t DM/ha/yr.” 

Each of the farms involved in the Dairy Innovation in Practice roadshow are also currently taking part in this year’s GrassCheck project, conducted by AFBI and funded by AgriSearch. This project has been recording grass and weather conditions across 12 dairy farms throughout the current growing season and aims to provide livestock farmers with the latest grass growth and quality information to assist in making grassland management decisions.

Dr McConnell who leads the project commented “through the GrassCheck project it has become very clear that regardless of production system it is possible to achieve high levels of grass production and utilisation.”

Each of the three host farms operate very different systems including: conventional autumn-winter calving in Banbridge; zero-grazing with robotic milking in Enniskillen; and spring-block calving, intensive grazing in Newtownstewart.

“Despite having this wide range of farm systems, each farm in the GrassCheck project has already produced over 7t DM/ha this year from April to July, with some farms reaching over 10t DM/ha in these four months” continued Dr McConnell.

Options for managing autumn grass will also be discussed at the event. Previous AFBI research has shown that autumn grass has a key role to play in the diet of both spring- and autumn-calving cows. For both groups, giving access to pasture during the autumn period was found to increase milk yields by over two litres/cow/day compared with cows fed ad-lib silage and flat rate concentrate supplementation.

“This can be worth over £1/cow/day in lower feed costs, improved milk yields and delayed housing” commented Dr McConnell. “However it’s important we manage this correctly to avoid potential soil and sward damage, and to help prepare swards for the 2018 grazing season.”

Other demonstrations at the farm walks will cover a range of dairy related issues from calf colostrum and animal health to winter feeding practices. The events which are being organised in partnership with AgriSearch, CAFRE and the Ulster Grassland Society, will start at 10.30am on each host farm, with tours leaving every 30 minutes and lasting approximately 2.5 hours. The last tour will start at 12.30pm.

Pre-booking for these events is essential, please REGISTER HERE for your preferred timeslot and chosen farm before the 8th September.

In the interests of biosecurity those attending are asked to wear clean clothing not previously worn while in direct contact with their own animals. Outdoor work boots should not be worn. Protective overalls and footwear will be provided.

Notes to editors: 

AFBI carries out high-quality technology research and development, statutory, analytical, and diagnostic testing functions for DAERA and other Government departments, public bodies and commercial companies.

AFBI's Vision is “To advance the local and global agri-food and bioscience sectors through scientific excellence”.

All media enquiries to AFBI Press Office 028 9025 5326.

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