3 .Aug.2020

Producing more milk from forage

Welsh farmer looking to achieve 5,000 litres from forage

The changes father and son Mike and Glenn Lloyd have made to Gate Farm, their 98ha dairy farm at Llandyssil, near Newtown in Powys over the past five years have been significant. But without them, Glenn believes they would no longer be in business.

“The background against which we are farming has changed beyond all recognition,” says Glenn. “If we were doing all the things we were doing ten years ago, with all our overheads and borrowings, we would not have survived. We have had to become much more efficient and produce milk at a much lower cost.”

Glenn Lloyd and family

The Landyssil Herd of pedigree Friesians was established in the 1950s and has been a really important part of Mike’s life. Despite being 70 years old, he is an intrinsic part of the business and still works ‘like a train’. Out of the 175 cows in the herd, 25 cows are graded Excellent and 40 Very Good. While the herd has moved between Friesian and Holstein Friesian over the years, they are now back to pure Friesian bloodlines.

More milk from forage
The underlying driver to the recent changes has been to produce more milk from forage. Before conversion to organic in October 2017, the autumn/winter calving cows were yielding an average 9,000 litres of milk a year, with just 1,800 litres coming from forage. 

Maize was grown on 16ha for 20 years but being tricky to grow organically was replaced by a barley, maple peas, spring peas and spring vetch wholecrop. This was over-seeded with Broadsword Hi-Pro, a four to five-year ley from Oliver Seeds, which has hybrid and intermediate ryegrasses, Lofa festulolium and white and red clover in it. This added to the overall wholecrop yield and provided another silage cut eight weeks after the wholecrop harvest. 

All the grazing fields have been sown down to Megabite, which contains a high proportion of diploid ryegrasses with top disease resistance. Persistent, late heading ryegrasses such as Cancan and Thegn, provide a good dense sward for grazing.

“We worked with Osian Rhys-Jones at Oliver Seeds to take Megabite, which is already good, and make it even better,” says Glenn. “We added lots of additional herbs and chicory – which made it more expensive, but it has turned out very good indeed. The roots of the chicory go down very deep and pull up trace elements and minerals for the cows to eat.

“It proved unbelievable in the summer of 2018, when all the neighbours were struggling for grass, our fields kept on growing and looking green.

“We have seen a real difference in the cows’ performance now they are getting their energy from the grass and not out of a bag. They are definitely healthier and are lasting for at least one more lactation. Our medicine use has dropped dramatically and we now receive an antibiotic-free bonus.

“Wildlife has also benefited from the herbal leys and red clover – attracting a lot more bees and insects. The honey producer in the valley has also noticed that there is more for the bees to pollinate – saying his honey is much richer and darker than before.”

New-Zealand grazing
Glenn now follows New-Zealand style paddock grazing with a return to paddocks every 22 to 23 days at peak growth. Last year the cows went out on 14 February and stayed out until 10 November. Glenn measures the grazing platform during the season. The cows are pushed hard to take down the swards to 1500kg DM/ha before leaving a paddock, which are pre-mown every third or fourth round to maintain grazing quality and prevent plants becoming too stemmy.

Grazing mixtures are established using the kale/rape hybrid Winfred, which is sown as late as possible in late August or early September. Being organic, means the field has to be ploughed and power-harrowed before planting with Winfred and Crimson clover – an annual clover that fixes nitrogen as soon as it establishes through the winter, keeping green cover across the soil during the worst of the weather.

The Lloyds do not outwinter any animals but they can be grazing the Winfred/crimson clover with in-calf heifers in early spring. The field is then flat-lifted and power-harrowed before Megabite is broadcast in the spring.

Significant changes
In 2017, concentrate feeds were cut back from 3.2 tonnes per cow a year to 2.2 tonnes and milk yield dropped to 8,000 litres, but with milk from forage increasing to 3,100 litres. The target was to produce 4,000 litres from forage.

Since then the arable silage has also been dropped and all the silage fields are sown with Broadsword Hi-Pro.

Concentrate usage has been cut to 923kg/head and average annual milk yields stand at 6,500 litres, with 4,600 litres from forage in 2019. Glenn has set a new target of 5,000 litres from forage.

“With organic feed at £400/tonne and the spring B milk price below 20p/litre – we had to take a long hard look at where we were going,” says Glenn. “I am really happy about being organic – but it has been a long journey to get where we are today. 

“We sell our milk to OMSCO on an organic white-water contract, with fat at 3.91% and protein at 3.18%. I would like to push for greater milk solids. But actually, what I really what to do is push for being as sustainable as we can.”

The Upper Severn Carbon Farmers
Glenn is a member of a group called the Upper Severn Carbon Farmers, who believe looking after their soil is the first step to achieving sustainable dairy farming businesses.

“The group is facilitated by Nuffield Scholar Gareth Davies and includes Adrian Kinner-Smith, who used to work for LIC and now works with the Severn River Trust. He has a real passion for grass and soils and takes a catchment-wide view of what we are doing.

“We can store more water upstream if we have more organic matter in our soils. Growing more grass and clover is a really good start and our soils measure an organic matter of 9.2%.  I have a massive interest in this – but little knowledge. Our meetings and farm walks are inspirational.

“Five years ago, we grew 70 acres of maize which led to a lot of soil-loss on the roads. Now we are a 100% grassland farm and doing everything right from the soil upwards. Healthy soils lead to healthy plants leads to healthy animals, and finally to healthy milk for consumers to drink.”

Which leads to the formation of the Daisy Bank Dairy brand. Glenn’s grandmother Daisy lived at Gate Farm and she owned a shop and sold milk from it. So, Glenn has taken her name as his business – selling organic, non-homogenised, gently pasteurised milk through three vending machines at local convenience stores.

“I am working with my partner Sandie, as we see this as the obvious final brick in what we are trying to do to ensure the survival of our small family dairy farm. 

“Everyone is talking about sustainability and I have grown a real hunger for it. There is little financial gain to be had from being organic and stopping there – it is part of the bigger picture for food production.

“Coronavirus has delayed our launch plans, but we have the brand and the van and the machines all ready to go. I love social media and it has given me confidence, seeing and talking to other farmers, that we are heading in the right direction.” 

This article first appeared in British Dairying, June 2020