By Debbie James

Shifting from a traditional ‘summer grazing, winter housing’ system to a fully-housed dairy herd has offered a Pembrokeshire farm greater control as it has scaled up but producing high quality homegrown forage remains key to its milk production model.

Hugh and David James farm in partnership with their mother, Margaret, and were host farmers of the 2019 RWAS Grassland Event.

Ten years ago they planned to increase cow numbers from 300 to 700 when they installed a 60-point rotary at Langdon Mill Farm, Begelly, but they have significantly exceeded that goal, now milking 2000 Holstein Friesians and farming 2,200 acres.

“We didn’t have any ambitions to get to that acreage but we were fortunate to be offered extra land and gradually grew cow numbers to match that,’’ explains Hugh, whose business is supported by a team of 15, including his 24-year-old son, William, and David’s son, Edward, aged 22.

A major part of the cow diet is made up of home-produced grass silage, maize and wholecrop.

This year 1200 acres of first crop silage was made in the first week of May; the second cut will be of a similar acreage followed by two smaller harvests later in the year.

Slurry is applied pre-harvesting to silage ground followed by 70 units of nitrogen an acre and more slurry after the crop has been cut. On off-lying land where slurry is not applied, higher levels of nitrogen are used.

A strategy for maximising grass quality at cutting and at clamping includes use of an additive and consolidating the clamp by rolling it with a four-tonne silo compactor. “The compactor definitely helps us get more grass into the clamp, 15-20 per cent more,’’ Hugh calculates.

The clamped silage is protected by side sheets and covered with layers of cling film and green sheeting, topped with a covering of split tyres.

The business had been carrying a three-month surplus of silage but stocks were depleted by the poorer yields resulting from last summer’s dry spell so the aim this year is to produce sufficient quantities to provide feed for a full year.

In the dry conditions around 20 per cent of silage yield was lost but what was lost in quantity was made up for in quality – last year’s first cut analysed at 33.5 per cent dry matter (DM), 12.1 MJ/kg ME and 15.7 per cent crude protein.

The hot weather took its toll on grass production but this was offset by record yields and quality in the maize crop.

“We often struggle to get 25-30 per cent starch and DM but last year we achieved more than 35 per cent for both,’’ says David.

The crop was harvested in the first week of October and yielded an average of 19 tonnes (t)/acre at 38.6 per cent DM, 35.7 per cent starch, 11.1 MJ/kg ME and crude protein of 6.8 per cent.

Maize complements grass silage in the ration, says David. “It is the synergy effect of combining forages with different characteristics, but it has to be good stuff.’’

Maize costs the business £80-£90t/DM to produce. “It is a relatively expensive feed but cheaper than anything comparable for maintaining milk quality and cow health,’’ says David.

The business grows significant amounts of forage and a focus on quality means that feed can be converted into high volumes of milk.

Intakes are maximised by producing the best quality forages and mixing them with quality imported ingredients.

Cows are offered fresh feed twice a day, after the morning milking and again in the afternoon.

Milk has been produced on a three times a day milking system for the last nine years, with up to 1kg of concentrates per cow fed in the parlour, spread across the three milkings.

Milk yield per cow averages 11,000 litres at 3.9 per cent butterfat and 3.45 per cent protein but some cows produce 14,000-15,000 litres.

The brothers agree that they have reached capacity on cow numbers but are considering rearing more of their beef calves for finishing in the future.