Feeding out - when do I start?

By Katherine Byrne, GippsDairy and Matt Harms, Independent Consultant

The decision to start feeding out can be an overwhelming one as there are many factors to consider. Leaving it too late can result in an increased production drop on top of what will already occur due to the seasons change and starting too soon can be an inefficient use of resources. So what are the key triggers to hit the start button on feeding out? Speaking with Matt Harms from ONFARM Consulting gives us this insight. “When to feed silage is always contentious. Typically, silage is harvested from pasture that was ‘beyond milker feed quality’ and therefore feeding it at the expense of short but leafy pasture may result in fuller cows but lower production. The aim should be to provide the best quality pasture to cows, and add silage in to fill a gap, only if there is a gap, and remembering in the process that full cows may not be the most productive cows…is the silage better quality than early summer, albeit short, pasture? Usually not, if the below management practices are adhered to:

  • Allowing cows to graze silage regrowth paddocks to ensure better quality, leafier pasture intake
  • Topping to reduce stem and therefore encourage plants to remain vegetative (leafy) rather than reproductive (seed head and stems)
  • Increase protein level in the concentrate to deal with declining protein in the pasture
  • Use of nitrogen to promote leaf growth and prevent plants going into “stress mode” where they want to send up a seed head and die off
  • Irrigation at the right frequency on irrigated farms to promote leaf and again to prevent plants going in to shut down mode
  • Keeping round length at 22-30 days through mid-November to late December helps to maintain quality. But as leaf emergence may be slowing, you find the need to be grazing at 2-leaf stage to prevent a rapid seed-head development taking place and pasture quality declining

Physical signs to watch out for: Seed stems: Quality of pasture declines from the onset of stemming in grasses, as the plant is transitioning into the reproductive stage. This means less leaf matter for consumption and at a reduced nutritional rate.

Cow intake: There will be a reduction in cow intake as the pastures on offer reduce in quality (lower energy, lower protein). This is due to the higher Neutral Detergent Fibre (NDF) in the plant matter. Cows physically cannot eat as much of this material. “This means that cow intake is declining at the same time as a decline in quality is taking place making it a double whammy!”

Production drop: The effect of pasture quality decline starts to be noticed 10 days from the beginning of stemming. This is seen in reduced litres produced by the herd and is often noticed from mid- November through to early December, of course dependant on the seasonal condition and on the pasture base of the farm.

Paddocks: Maintaining good records of your paddock rotation pinpoints your poorer areas and eventual quality decline across the farm over the warmer period. By knowing which paddocks attribute to a short term drop in the milk vat, clearer decisions can be made to reduce temporary downturns.

Milk Protein: Protein % is a good measure of the herds diet quality, so can be a telling sign as to how your pastures are faring (reductionin protein shows lower quality and lower energy intake). A downward trend would indicate action is warranted, whereas if it were traveling upwards with production relatively stable, this would indicate that things are most likely ok.

Following these guidelines will put you in the best position for making this critical decision for your farm.

More information:

Want to feel more confident with your pasture and feed management? Feeding Pastures For Profit will be starting in April 2022. To join the program, contact Katherine Byrne: Katherine.byrne@gippsdairy.com.au or phone: 0409 487 275

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