Forage Crops Case Study
Ladylees Farm, Derbyshire
“Grass is critical to our business; why wouldn’t we give it as much attention to detail as a field of wheat?”
– Farm owner, Jason Bayley
Treating grass like any other crop on the farm enables dairy farmer Jason Bayley to achieve high-quality forage all year round. And, with silage making up over 50% of the milking ration, consistency is key, which is why he opted for a hybrid grass mix fit for purpose.
Based in Swadlincote, Derbyshire, Jason switched to a multi-cut silage system in 2018 but needed a grass variety to complete the job.
“We’ve been playing around with the best approach for several years,” says Jason. “To feed our milking herd, who are housed all year, we need a good quantity of forage but don’t want to forgo quality.
“The total mixed ration (TMR) includes around 15.5kg DM of grass silage so the forage makes up a large proportion of the diet. To not see yields drop, we need to consistently produce high-quality silage cut after cut.”
Prior to Jason moving to a six-cut multi-cut system, the main variety in the grass mix was Italian ryegrass, but going forward this was not going to achieve the quality or consistency he required.
“We found it went to head early and wasn’t going to yield well in this new system. I discussed our options with Harry Abell, our agronomist, who put us in touch with Richard at Kings.”
Getting more 'bang for your buck'
Frontier agronomist Harry, who has worked with Jason for nine years, discussed the option of investing in a hybrid mixture to allow the forage to meet the dietary requirements of the milking herd.
“Jason was keen to explore the most cost-effective options as a return on investment (ROI) needs to be seen in the bulk tank,” says Harry. “However, what was evident after a year was that the cheaper option didn’t perform consistently for all six cuts.
“We went back to the drawing board and recommended the X-seed Quartz – a three-to-four-year ley which contains a variety of hybrid, intermediate and late ryegrass species. It can achieve a consistent cut throughout the year in terms of bulk and quality.
“It easily produces six quality cuts in the season, averaging 27% DM, 12.2% ME and 18% CP.”
Richard Barnes, Kings technical advisor, supports Harry and Jason, and explains that switching to a hybrid mixture will show a ROI for Jason long-term.
“What’s great is that Jason is keen to try new options. If you can showcase financial gains as well as benefits to productivity, it’s a win-win.”
Treating grass as a crop
What is evident at Ladylees Farm is that grass is treated as if it were an arable crop which, for Jason, includes crop walking and utilising the wider Frontier services.
“Grass is critical to our business; why wouldn’t we give it as much attention to detail as a field of wheat?” he notes.
“Harry and I crop walk weekly throughout the growing season to monitor performance and identify any areas of the field which aren’t growing at the same rate as others. This also helps to determine when the field should be cut throughout the season, ensuring we take the best cut possible every time.”
Jason adds that to get the most from each field, Harry and Richard introduced him to the SOYL team to begin satellite mapping.
“This means we’re able to analyse and review areas of concern which may be underperforming so we can apply the correct amount of N, P and K, as well as monitor the pH,” he explains.
“It’s really useful to map field performance and it supports our slurry management to ensure this is accurately applied. Along with the new investment in a slurry injector, the nutrient management of the crop is becoming as precise as possible.”
Looking ahead, Jason is keen to utilise more technology and the services available through SOYL and MyFarm.
“As the farmer, I know the farm as well as anyone, and working closely with Harry means I feel my agronomist is on the same page. However, technology helps us take the next step to knowing above and below ground in detail, and this is what will push us to maximise performance from the farm.”
Harry adds that by paying this much attention to forage, Jason is setting himself and the business up for the future.
“Getting more milk from forage is going to be a big push in the next few years and there’s going to be a greater focus on achieving as much of the nutrition requirement from home-grown forage rather than topping up with concentrates,” says Harry.
“It’s great to work with a progressive farmer like Jason who isn’t afraid to rip up the rule book or make tweaks throughout season. We’re able to work collaboratively to enhance the performance of his farm, which is a great relationship to have and ensures the best results.”
Stewardship on the horizon
Looking ahead, Jason is working with Harry and Richard to form an approach to turn some of the farm into Countryside Stewardship.
“The industry is going in the direction of farming with the wider environment in mind and we’re looking to see how we can adapt our approach,” says Jason.
“Having the relationship with Harry means he’s already aware of which areas on the farm are unproductive and most suitable for stewardship to create a plan of attack.
“We need to adapt to working with Countryside Stewardship while maintaining efficiency and productivity. Having the insight from Harry and the Kings team on what will work best for our farm will be invaluable.”
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