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Cows At Grass

1 May 2018

Cows at grass

Consistent Nutrition At Grass by Tom Hough

When cows are indoors we have complete control over their diet and can ensure that each mouthful is of consistent nutritional value.
The same principle should apply with grass management. We should aim for consistency and maximum efficiencies within each farm system. Two areas to consider are:

Reseeding increases grass yield, digestibility and palatability. Consider which seed varieties are most suitable; pastures will benefit from growing different grasses to silage fields. Are you are aiming for good quality silage as a basis for your ration, or targeting optimum milk from grass?

Soil sampling is important to ensure you are using the right product to provide the optimal conditions to support the crop. How can you select the correct fertiliser if the soil status is not known? The acidity (pH) of the soil determines nutrient efficiency uptake. The soil needs to be around pH 6.5 for optimum nutrient uptake; any lower and the uptake of nutrients becomes limited, meaning any fertiliser added is mostly wasted and will not give an efficient return on investment. At pH 5.5 33% of fertiliser is wasted, at pH 4.5 this increases to 71%!
With the current emphasis on increasing efficiencies, there is a huge focus on making more and better quality forage. To achieve this, we need to focus not just on grass quality, but also what the cows are telling us. CowSignals at grass focus on the six freedoms of pasture; air, light, rest, space, feed and water.

1. Air
Ventilation is not something we worry about when cows are outside, but access to shade is vital. Heat stress reduces dry matter intake, which has a knock-on effect on production, fertility and rumen health. If forage intake levels have been affected, it is important to make sure cows are receiving adequate quantities of digestible fibre. Raw materials such as palm kernel, sugar beet and soya hulls can help. Rumen health and function is key.
• Monitor cows for signs of panting and high breathing rates (normal is 26 to 40 breaths per min)
• Also for signs of acidosis such as; loose, bubbly muck, dirty backs and swishing tails
• Rest.Consistent Nitrition 

2. Light
Light has a big influence on eating habits. Time spent grazing drops from around 10am and between the hours of 11pm and 4am. Grazing peaks around 3pm and again between 7pm and 9pm. To maximise intakes from grass it could be worth turning cows out in the evening when the temperature is cooler and time spent eating is highest.

3. Rest
Muddy fields mean muddy udders; greater risk of mastitis (environmental or clinical), longer milking times and higher cell counts.

4. Space
You might think that you don’t have to consider cow space when they are grazing. However, we still need to focus on the bottlenecks in our systems. These could be:
• The collecting yard
• Gateways and water troughs
• Cow tracks. 

Lameness can be a problem when cows have to walk long distances to grazing pastures, or stand for long periods of time in collecting yards. Good cow tracks are essential. They also help to prevent the poaching of fields.

5. Feed
Milk potential from grazing will be affected by Dry Matter Intake (DMI) levels. Cow intake levels are at their highest during early morning and late evening and fluctuations in milk yield whilst grazing often reflect fluctuations in DMI. Periods of rain will reduce the grass dry matter resulting in lower intakes, as will periods of high temperatures and heat stress. During these times buffer feeding can help balance intake variability. 

• Practical monitoring tools include body condition scoring (target 2.5-3.0) and rumen fill (target a minimum score of 3). 

Mole Valley Farmers has access to Trouw Nutrition’s Grass Watch data, a weekly monitoring service. The report is compiled from milk yield from grazing and fresh grass samples analysed through the Trouw Nutrition GB laboratory. We can also analyse individual farm fresh grass samples to use within our Precision Nutrition rationing programme. 

6. Water
As over 85% of milk is made up of water it makes sense to maximise intake. When at grass consider the cow’s access to water; how and where troughs are placed, as well as the quality and quantity of the water supplied. Cows should not have to walk more than 250 meters to a water trough. There should also be adequate space around the trough, so that low ranking animals are not discouraged from drinking. The ground around the trough should also be considered. It will be an area of heavy cow traffic which is likely to become poached, posing a high risk of liver fluke and contributing to increased somatic cell counts. Cows can easily drink 120 litres of water a day, at a rate of more than 15 litres a minute. Adequate pressure and flow is very important and water provided should be clean and taint free. If water is sourced from a bore hole it is advisable to have a sample tested. 

• Signs of good water intake include shiny, smooth coats and elastic skin.






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