Investment in the production of high quality grass silage with crude protein levels approaching 20% is helping Devonshire milk producer Kevin Davis produce outstanding quality milk and take advantage of an exceptional marketing opportunity.
Good forage planning combined with meticulous clamp management and minimum forage wastage is helping his Rivermead pedigree Jerseys produce milk ideally suited to high value paneer, halloumi and mozzarella cheese production.
"Our whole business revolves around the quality of grass and maize that we grow," he explains.
"We've built up our own milk marketing business based on the consistent supply of high quality milk for manufacturing over the last seven years and being able to match the expectations of our customers at all times is absolutely key.
"We cannot risk a drop in supply or quality so everything we do is geared up to building the forage stocks we need and maintaining high feed quality."
Basis of rations for the 210 milkers is a 60:40 maize to grass based TMR with a high energy blend added, he explains.
"We're producing around 1800 tonnes of grass silage and 2500 tonnes of maize every year and this what really drives the production of the herd.
"Up to 6kg/cow/day of concentrates is fed in the parlour simply to keep the cows happy but the majority of their nutrition is coming from the TMR.
"Yields current stand at 7600kg/cow/ year, which is exceptional for Jerseys, with 5.5% butterfat and 4.2% protein, so the TMR is really working hard to deliver that.
"Last year our maize yield was around 16t/acre (40t/ha) freshweight and ended up with an analysis of 12.08 Mj/KgDM ME, 35% starch, 30% drymatter and a crude protein of 9.5%
"On the grass front we focus mainly on perennial ryegrass without any clover being added and this year our second cut silage was 18.6% crude protein and the third cut was 19%, which even surprised our nutritionist. ME was 11.6 Mj/KgDM so it was high energy too.
"We made the decision to invest in Nitrogen despite the high prices and keep our rates the same as usual. It was probably one of the best decisions we made as we ended up with clamps full of high quality feed whilst others that cut back are really struggling.
"This year will be the same as our markets demand consistency of supply and it just does not make sense to cut back on Nitrogen and risk a shortfall in production."
Clamp management a priority
With such an investment going into producing the high quality material going into the clamp, Kevin is equally keen to make sure it remains that way.
"We make sure we pick up the grass within 24 hours of cutting and don't use an additive unless we absolutely have to.
"Compaction is key so I do the buckraking myself and then we have a second machine rolling on top of the clamp to make sure we get a good even density all around.
"One of the biggest changes we've made recently is switching to a single high oxygen barrier (HOB) film which not only makes the whole process of silage making much simpler, it also helps ensure wastage in the clamp is avoided as far as possible.
"We used to use cling film and traditional black plastic but it was very labour intensive and you're always having to deal with two sheets, which is difficult at the best of times but when it is windy it is almost impossible.
"As the Silostop Max film we use is just one big sheet you don't have the problem of joints which can let air in.
"We've definitely seen less wastage than before in both the maize and silage clamps and clamp management is so much easier, particularly when you're filling the clamp."
Lucy Johnson of Silostop Agri says HOB films used properly should be able to keep dry matter losses to less than 5% and this has been proven by research across Europe and user experience in the UK.
"A single continuous HOB film keeps air out of the clamp very effectively both by minimising potential air flow through the film and also by avoiding any gaps between sheets.
“But you need to be careful. A proper HOB film like Silostop Max will have an oxygen transmission rate of less than 5 cm3/m2 of film, which means almost no air can get into the clamp in use, but with typical black silage plastic this is more like 300 cm3/m2 .
“When this is stretched out to make an imitation oxygen barrier cling film, it can reach 1000 cm3/m2 so quite a lot of air is able to pass through the film resulting in considerable spoilage and dry matter shrinkage in the top layers.
“As the majority of dry matter losses occur in the top one metre of the clamp and density in this region is generally low, it's essential to keep air out of this.
"The imitation polyethylene oxygen barrier sheets can help with surface waste but do nothing to reduce dry matter losses through shrinkage due to their porosity to oxygen.
"So it's essential producers understand the difference between the systems and make sure they are using genuine HOB sheets."
Significant return on investment
Management is significantly improved with the HOB sheets too, she says.
“Using a single cover sheet will then mean the clamp can be quickly and fully sealed whenever you want plus you’ll be cutting down on the amount of plastic being used on-farm.
“If you use a HOB film properly you should see a 6:1 return on your investment in terms of the extra silage you will get from the improved fermentation and reduction in wastage and DM losses.”
For Kevin Davis such improvements, against a backdrop of rising input costs, are essential to ensure the grass they grow produces the highest possible return.
"We're forever looking at ways we can fine-tune the system and get more out of the resources we have.
"Home-grown forage is still the most cost-effective feed source we have, so it makes sense to continue to invest in it and we are always be on the lookout for ways in which we can improve productivity from it.
"As far as clamp management is concerned it makes no sense to cut corners at the final stage and risk all that hard work and care being wasted.
"Sealing the clamp properly to minimise wastage is a great example of this and this is precisely where the benefits of HOB films come in."
Rivermead Dairy - box out
Rivermead dairy, the organisation that markets the high quality milk produced by the Rivermead dairy herd, was set up Kevin's father Gordon in 2016.
Originally taking in milk from four additional farms and trading this to specialist markets in London and the Midlands, the business now takes milk from 20 predominantly Jersey producers and has its own dedicated fleet of tankers.
"Much of the milk is used to produce high end cheeses and quality desserts, alongside traditional products such as Devonshire clotted cream and yoghurts," Gordon explains.
"It's delivered daily to our processing customers with the aim of providing a first class product alongside an equally first class service to a core of premium customers and return a fair price to its suppliers."