Technology Demonstration Farms for Feed Efficiency

Date published: 24 May 2019

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is currently establishing a network of Technology Demonstration Farms (TDFs) and applications are being invited from dairy farmers.

Cows grazing

TDFs will showcase the use of innovative technologies and farms will be recruited under three themes, one of which is Feed Efficiency.  Two farms are being sought to host demonstrations in relation to this important issue on dairy farms.

On Northern Ireland dairy farms feed is the single largest cost. For CAFRE benchmarked farms, purchased feed (concentrates) accounts for 65% of variable costs.  Within herds which are above 8,000 litres/cow/year the range in concentrates fed per litre is 0.23-0.54kg. The reasons for this range between farms can be attributed to different management factors. The following techniques below link into improving feed efficiency.

The first component of improving feed efficiency is producing high quality grass and/or grass-silage. This involves good nutrient management which is making the best use of nutrients available both on and off farm. Some areas which this encompasses are proactive soil sampling, targeting slurry to fields that need P and/or K and selecting appropriate fertiliser types and application rates. The importance of producing high quality silage cannot be understated, as this has the potential to reduce concentrate feed requirements.

Irrespective of milk yields, an efficient grazing infrastructure in terms of design and layout is important, and can allow more days at grass through early turnout and extended grazing. Regardless of grazing system, in order to maximise grazed grass, cows must be able to access fields easily through the correct setup of cow lanes which for example help minimise sward damage in wet weather.

Grass budgeting is a key aspect of grazing management and has two components namely, the amount of grass available and the herd demand. Regular field walking at least once per week using a rising plate meter or equivalent allows for grass cover assessment. When this data is used within a grazing management programme, more timely grassland management decisions can be taken. During the grazing season decisions on concentrate feed levels (maintenance +) can be taken proactively and based on factors such as grass quality/supply, weather conditions and cow body condition score.

In terms of feeding, the aim should be to target concentrates to cows based on production level and nutrient requirement. Irrespective if feeding through in or out of parlour feeders, concentrate adjustments (maintenance +) should be based on factors such as forage quality and dry matter intake. In a TMR feeding scenario grouping is particularly important, as there is a risk that low yielding cows can be overfed. If grouping is not practical in a TMR scenario, set the M+ for the lowest yielding cow in the group and top up additional concentrates in the parlour.

If you are a dairy farmer who is focussed on improving feed efficiency in your herd and have a yield of over 8,000 litres/cow/year, apply to become a Technology Demonstration Farm. To find out more details about the scheme and complete an online application go to the CAFRE website.

Applications opened on Wednesday 8th May and will close at 4.00pm on Wednesday 5 June 2019. Technology Demonstration Farms will help DAERA’s College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) to deliver the Innovation, Technology, Evaluation, Demonstration Scheme.  This new scheme, is part of the NI Rural Development Programme and is funded by DAERA and the European Union.

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