Continuing depressed milk prices have caused many dairy farmers to take a long, cool look at the economics of their business, and Gloucestershire farmer David Merrett is no exception.
The Merrett’s farm near Arlingham sits in a bucolic sweep of country enfolded by a broad meander of the River Severn. It has over 100 acres of grassland and until 2011 the herd of 125 cows grazed the pastures. At that point, the Merretts invested in the DeLaval Voluntary Milking System (VMS).
“VMS has been a real asset to our production,” said David, “but the cows do need to be able to access the milking stations easily which makes outdoor grazing impractical. With the milk price taking another tumble from last year we had to examine our costs again and one of the largest elements was feed and concentrates.
“Instead of using our grass for silage we began to think about a zero grazing system during the summer months, with fresh grass being harvested on a rotation of about three weeks from March to October and brought in daily to the cows. After all, cows are meant to eat grass so what could be better?!”
T H WHITE, which has helped the Merretts with other installations including the robotic milking, recommended a system developed in Ireland by Grass Technology Ltd – the Grass Tech Grazer. Designed to cope with the high fresh weight of grass found in the UK, the Tech Grazer is a specially constructed trailer fitted with a Galfre twin drum mower and an elevator that lifts the cut grass into the trailer body. The trailer is offset from the tractor during mowing avoiding any pre-compaction of the grass and the mower is driven from the tractor PTO. Once cut, the grass is lifted by a high capacity elevator which rotates at just 70rpm to avoid damaging the young grass, thus ensuring that maximum nutritional value is maintained and it stays fresher for longer.
The whole unit is designed with weight-saving in mind to minimise ground impact, allowing the cut grass to regenerate rapidly. Unloading the cut grass exactly where it is needed is made easy by the Tech Grazer’s hydraulic tailgate and moving floor.
“We have only been using the Tech Grazer for a fairly short time but already the figures suggest that replacing feed with fresh grass looks likely to save us about a ton of feed per animal every year. That’s a huge saving,” said David.
Milk quality and yields have remained largely unchanged but animal health is good and the cows clearly love the fresh grass… “We never saw them come to eat as eagerly as they do now when we bring the grass in! Of course, we still target-feed any animals that need special attention, but we can do that in the feed dispensed in the VMS units.”
Associated benefits of zero grazing include a dramatic increase in grass utilization. Traditional grazing results in grass utilisation of 55-60%, but with zero grazing this is increased to about 95%. “It has also given us more flexible crop rotation,” David added. “When we used to put the cows out to graze, practicality dictated that they had to be in the fields nearest the cow shed. Now we are free to rotate the crops in any of our fields to get the most out of them.”
Built to last, the Grass Tech Grazer is available in three models – the GT80 Tandem, GT120 tandem and GT 160 Tri axle to suit herds of all sizes. Full details are available by contacting Bob Gallop at T H WHITE on 01373 465941.