Get the most out of what you grow

As we start to see more frosty mornings and day length slowly starts to increase, the reality that Calving season is upon us sinks in. Long days in the cold, checking cows, collecting calves, and getting cows into the milking shed are here.

It is at this time that, despite being super busy, planning needs to be added to the never-ending list of chores to ensure everything gets the best possible opportunity to provide a return on investment.

This starts with the Cows: After calving she is ready and wanting to produce milk. To do this, she needs to be fed as much as possible. Over the first 10-20 days her rumen capacity is limited (because of lower feeding levels over the dry period and less gut space due to having a 30-45kg calf in the gut cavity) so it’s vital to try and provide the highest quality feed to fully meet her milk nutritional requirements. If you don’t meet her requirements, she ends up stripping body weight, or reducing the possible volume of milk produced.

Feeds like grass silage don’t provide what she needs. It is generally lower ME, lower protein and is effectively like trying to run a high-powered drag car on regular unleaded fuel. It will still run but it won’t perform as well as it could. This silage will be better held and used when the cow has a higher intake level and other feeds (like pasture) might be limited, for example during summer.

Stored winter pasture on the milking platform is also going to be lower quality than a Spring pasture, so be mindful of what you are feeding. This pasture must be eaten to allow for Spring growth and failing to harvest it well impacts the quality of the pasture in the second and future grazing rounds.

The key here is to ensure you top up with the highest quality feeds (products with lower NDF% and higher digestibility are key), this will help to utilise the stored pasture, while also helping the cow produce as much milk as possible.

The first 3 months of feeding is where the greatest economic returns can be achieved.

  1. If fully fed: The cow can produce milk without stripping weight. This in turn sets her up for a quicker return to cycling and greater opportunity to get back in calf.

  2. Feeding quality feeds (high energy & starch) will complement pasture and increase utilisation of the pasture. Animals that are producing more milk will lift the amount of feed they want to eat (voluntary feed intake VFI), which in turn allows better grazing control of paddocks. Feeding high filler (NDF%) products like PKE, poor quality silage or Soya hulls is effectively filling the rumen up and making the cow feel content. They have their place in rations, but not as a main feed, and not in times when trying to maximise an animals production. Products with higher energy & starches break down faster so the animal will look to be eating more, an increased VFI.

  3. Driving peak milk. Every litre of milk that can be produced over the first 8-10 weeks of production (peak milk flow) has a flow on to potentially create 200 litres of milk over the season. For example, lifting peak milk from 30 litres per cow to 33 litres per cow will provide an extra 600 litres per cow, or approx. 50kg MS per cow.

Cows eating silage.jpg

Setting up the cows for the season ahead and ensuring that you utilise all the available feeds you produce is the highest priority for everyone, it’s also where you can make the biggest economic impact on your business. Making silage is a necessity as it’s a way of maintaining pasture quality and provides a valuable ‘filler’ feed when cows are short of volume of feed. Overall, the key is to ensure that cows are fully fed. A cow that is fed to capacity everyday (if balanced and meeting her production requirements) will get back in calf quicker, will produce more milk & will reduce overall animal health costs.

By feeding quality, rather than filler type feeds, as a base line or top up for the cow will see benefits for both production and pasture utilisation & quality over the grazing round.

The team at Castlegate James are happy to visit on farm and discuss feeding options, review current feeding programs, and suggest options to assist you to produce more milk, and most importantly utilising your pasture to maximum benefit.

We understand the benefits of feeding and ensuring that our clients can maximise the utilisation of the feed they grow as well as the best possible ‘long term’ response for your business. At Castlegate James, we value long term, productive relationships where our clients can grow and prosper.

All the best for the coming season,

Kind Regards

Greg Pillar.


  • Published: 20/07/21
  • Author: Castlegate James
  • © Castlegate James