Verslag van de EGF 2015
A comparison of two grazing regimes during lactation for improving the sustainability of Latxa dairy sheep system
Land use and grazing management practices have changed during the last decades as a result of the intensification of traditional pasture-based systems. These changes have potential adverse environmental consequences. Dairy sheep production in the Basque Country has been based traditionally on a pasturebased farming system with a local dairy breed. The objective of the study was to determine the effect of two grazing management regimes, differing in the number of grazing and rest days per paddock, on pasture and dairy sheep production variables. There was no difference in herbage mass or dairy production variables between the two regimes but the regime with the longer rest periods resulted in greater amounts of herbage being harvested for conservation. The longer rest periods could also reduce the carbon footprint and benefit carbon capture by the pastures.
The ability of soils to meet nitrogen (N) requirements of grass via mineralization of organic matter is of economic and environmental importance to farmers and society. Soil N mineralization is controlled by soil organic matter dynamics and regulated by water availability and temperature. In the Netherlands, the soil N supply in grasslands is estimated by a statistical model relating N supply to the total amount of N present in soil. We showed that a single N index is insufficient to predict the contribution of N mineralization at field scale, limiting the farmer’s possibilities to optimize yields and N-use efficiency. Based on experimental data, we integrated routine soil and climatic parameters in simple empirical models explaining more than 50% of the variation in annual N supply. Combining this information with recent organic manure applications, national fertilizer regulations and optimum N dose-response relationships we showed that the net N efficiency of farming systems can be improved, both on field and farm scale. The developed algorithms are implemented in Dutch advisory systems and will boost the efficiency of N fertilizers.
Several commercially available devices automatically record feeding behaviour of dairy cows on farm, but independent validation studies are often not available. The objective of this study was to determine the accuracy of the FeedPhone® device, developed in France by Medria, to record eating and rumination activities of dairy cows. The FeedPhone is based on a tri-axial accelerometer placed on a collar, data being radio-transferred and processed automatically. The main activity (eating, rumination, or rest) is recorded every 5 min. Validation was performed on 7 lactating dairy cows fed on maize silage and concentrates for a total of 89 full day records. The actual times were determined by a reference method, by recording continuously the weight of the trough and the jaw movements at the minute scale. At the day level, the mean prediction error was 11.5% for eating time and 11.1% for rumination times, with low mean and slope biases (error mainly random). Eating and rumination activities are clearly distinguishable. This precision enables the detection of between-day variations of both eating or rumination times of 20, 10, and 5%, at cow level, small-herd level (4-7 cows) and larger herd level (>20 cows), respectively. This accuracy makes the FeedPhone valuable for studying relative variations of both eating and rumination times of dairy cows fed on total mixed ration.
An estimated 70% of grassland soils in England and Wales exhibit signs of surface compaction. Soil compaction can result in reductions in grassland productivity and utilisation, impact on soil traffickability and health, and cause an increase in nitrous oxide emissions. Mechanical aeration of soils has been identified as a potential method of remedying soil structure in compacted soils. However, conflicting evidence exists as to the impact of these techniques on grassland productivity in compacted soils. Two commercial farms in the UK were used to demonstrate the effectiveness of sward-lifting and slit aeration on the dry matter yield and quality of grazing pastures. One site was located on a sandy loam soil and one on a clay loam soil. Average precipitation on the two farms ranged from 710 to 800 mm per annum. Both sites are located on improved, lowland grassland. Aeration was undertaken in the autumn and grass growth and utilisation were measured in the following season. Across both farms, grass yield response to surface aeration varied from -18 to +11% when compared with a non-aerated area. Negative results obtained at one site probably reflect inappropriate soil conditions at the time of aeration. There was no identifiable impact on sward quality.
This paper synthesizes a selection of socio-economic studies from France and the Netherlands, and an ethnographic study in Belgium. It compares grassland-based farms with ‘more intensive farms’. The first ones use less concentrates, crop less green maize, manage grasslands better and can be smaller (surface, quotas) than the intensive farms. The grassland-based farms of these studies have similar or better economic performances per farm than more intensive farms. They are also more resilient; they can better survive periods of low milk price and high price of concentrates. These studies show that alternative paths to scale enlargement and spurred intensification are feasible.
Achieving high milk production performance at grass with minimal concentrate supplementation with spring-calving dairy cows: actual performance compared to simulated performance
The aim of high-profitability grazing systems is to produce milk efficiency from grazed pasture. There is very limited information available on the milk production capacity of dairy cows offered a grass-only diet for the main part of her lactation. In this study, spring-calving dairy cows were managed to achieve high milk production levels throughout the grazing season without supplementation. The calving date of the herd was 12 April; the herd had access to grass as they calved and remained full-time at grass until 20 November. During this period the herd produced 5,513 kg milk, while receiving 130 kg concentrate supplementation. The herbage mass offered was maintained at 1,490 kg dry matter ha‑1 (>3.5 cm) and the herd grazed to 4.5 cm across the grazing season. The weekly milk production performance achieved was then compared to the Herd Dynamic Milk model. The root mean square error (RMSE) and relative predicted error (RPE) for milk yield (as expressed weekly across lactation) was 1.47% and 6.09%, respectively, for body condition score the RMSE and RPE were 0.093% and 4.14% respectively. Offering spring-calving cows high levels of high quality grass resulted in excellent animal performance, however, this can be achieved with very good daily grazing management.
An experiment was conducted with the objective of evaluating whether the combined data from grazing and rumen pH sensors could be used to support grazing management. Data were collected during the 2014 grazing season from a 60-cow herd. The average milk yield was 26.1 kg milk cow‑1 day‑1. The cows were housed during the night (16:00-06:00 h) and received 8.4 kg dry matter (DM) of conserved forage cow‑1 day‑1. During the daytime (06:00-16:00 h) the cows were strip-grazed. Daily, the cows were given an edible herbage allowance of approximately 8 kg DM above 5 cm stubble height cow‑1. Automatic milking system visits and milk yields were collected per cow. Concentrates were fed during milking with a transponder-controlled concentrate dispenser. Each cow was equipped with a grazing sensor to measure grazing time. Eight cows were equipped with boluses to measure rumen pH. Milk yield was recorded for each milking and milk composition was recorded weekly. Pre- and post-grazing sward height and herbage composition were recorded daily. Relationships between grass and sensor data and cow performance were derived on the basis of retrospective analysis of milk performance, grazing behaviour and rumen pH data. Rumen pH sensors appear to be of little value. There was no clear relationship between grazing activity and pasture characteristics.
Classifying earliness, or adaptation to a certain climate, is very important in varieties of maize (Zea mays L.). The most common classification system is the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) maturity class. This study systematically explored the response of maize varieties with different earliness in the maize-growing area in Sweden and examined possible alternatives to the FAO system for classifying earliness in maize varieties in Sweden. Based on differences in maturation rate according to the FAO index, four maize varieties were selected from variety trials in Sweden 2009-2011. At four sites (56°02- 59°71N), the development of these varieties was determined on four occasions, when the standard variety Avenir was at silking, milk, dough and dent. Aboveground dry matter (DM) yield, DM content and starch content were measured on the latter three occasions and at final harvest of Avenir. Ontario Corn Heat Units (CHU) were calculated for all sites. DM and starch content in the varieties Avenir and Jasmic showed a significant high linear correlation with CHU (R2=0.79 and 0.75, respectively). It was concluded that an index based on the correlation between DM or starch concentration and CHU could be an alternative to the FAO maturity class system for ranking earliness in maize varieties in the Nordic countries.
Benchmarking European permanent grassland production and utilization at national and regional levels
Grassland benchmarking was defined within the EIP-Agri Focus Group ‘Permanent grassland’ as an important subject because within Europe there are differences in grass production between countries and within countries. As yet there has not been clear benchmarking of national grass dry matter production within EU member states. For the grassland community to advance forward with knowledge of how to increase and improve grass dry matter (DM) production, benchmarking and understanding national levels of grass DM production and their differences will be an important first step. The objective of this work is to benchmark real grassland data based on local and regional site conditions, to establish the reasons for differences in grass output, differences in botanical composition, grazing season length, ratio of grazing to cutting and finally to establish a clear view of the level of grazing intensity in different member states. The secondary objective is to establish which grassland tools will work at farm level, to ensure grassland technology are available to improve farmers grassland knowledge and efficiency.
Festulolium (× Festulolium) has been listed as a grass genus on the European list of Plant Varieties since 2004. DLF-Trifolium has made many trials with Festulolium varieties under different managements and climatic conditions across Europe. Results of these trials show the benefits of Festulolium and give a basis for recommendations on how to use varieties either as pure crops or in mixtures in various European regions.
The botanical composition of clover-grass silage is said to affect nutritive value and nutrient degradation kinetics. But does the production response of the cow reflect the standard chemical analysis which underlies the determination of feed value, and the morphological differences between grasses and clover? This study aims to investigate the effect of clover-grass silages differing in botanical composition on feed intake and milk yield. A 4×4 Latin square was carried out with first-cut 2013 silages under controlled conditions. Silage based on perennial ryegrass with white clover gave the highest intake and energycorrected milk (ECM) yield together with a tall fescue-based silage. The latter was surprising, given the general lower organic matter digestibility of tall fescue. Silage based on perennial and hybrid ryegrass with red and white clover produced the lowest intake and ECM. Unexpectedly, the measured variable which correlated best with the results was the content of red clover in the silages: intake and ECM decreased linearly with increasing content of red clover. This may, however, be confounded with effects of grass varieties among treatments. Results indicate that intake and production response may not be described solely by a standard chemical analysis of the silage, and that botanical effects have an effect on the cows.
Calibration of an automated grass height measurement tool equipped with global positioning system to enhance the precision of grass measurement in pasture-based farming systems
Irish and European pasture-based systems of farming rely upon precise grass measurement and allocation to (1) achieve optimal economic return, as grazed grass is the cheapest feed source, and (2) to maintain the regrowth of high quality grass in each subsequent grazing. On farms implementing an intensive grazing system, grass management is usually carried out by subjective visual measurement and intuitive decision-making. To add objectivity to this process an automated grass measurement tool has been developed which will increase the precision of grass measurement and allocation for pasture-based systems of farming. The aim of this study was to calibrate this tool, to provide a decision support tool (DST) for farmers capable of precise grass height measurement with global positioning system location information. The operation of the DST involves the use of a micro-sonic sensor that finds the distance from a module, placed on the shaft of a rising plate meter, to the plate, by recording the time difference between the transmission and its reflective return from the plate. The results of this study indicate that the absolute height measurement of the DST is similar to that of a ‘gold-standard’ rising plate meter.
To obtain good grassland management, especially under grazing, requires accurate information about grass growth. In the Netherlands several methods have been introduced to estimate herbage mass. At present the rising plate meter is the most accessible tool for Dutch farmers; it is cheap and easy to use. However, the equations for translation of grass height, as measured with the rising plate meters, into measures of herbage mass, have been developed in the countries of origin of the meters. To check the equations for the situation in the Netherlands in 2014 five rising plate meters were calibrated. Grass height was estimated with the five rising plate meters on small plots on which the grass was then cut and dried to measure the dry matter (DM) yield. For each rising plate meter a calibration curve was estimated. DM yield was estimated from ground level and from 5 cm stubble. Information about the herbage mass in the stubble was also estimated by cutting the stubble to ground level. The results show that for three rising plate meters the same equation can be used. Two rising plate meters need a different equation. The rising plate meters are relatively reliable for a measured grass sward of 20-25 cm in height from ground level. This means that a good estimate of DM yield can be made for up to 2,500 kg DM ha‑1 above 5-cm stubble height.
Pioneer® has patented a silage inoculant containing Lactobacillus strains of which L. buchneri produces ferulate esterase. The product is claimed to improve silage quality and aerobic stability as well as cell wall digestibility. The effect of the inoculant added to grass and whole-plant maize was studied using micro-silos during two years. Each year, grass was mown at 4 growth stages and maize was harvested at 2 maturity stages. Compared to the grass silage without additive, in the treated silage more sugars were fermented to lactic and acetic acid, resulting in a lower pH, less dry matter (DM) and protein degradation and a better aerobic stability. The inoculant lowered neutral detergent fibre (NDF) content of the grass silage from the early cuts, but not that from the late cuts. In situ rumen degradability of NDF (NDFD) was not affected, whereas in vitro organic matter digestibility tended to be better for the treated grass silage. In the early harvested maize, treatment resulted in less lactic and more acetic acid, a higher pH and higher DM-losses; the aerobic stability was better. Silage quality of the late-harvested maize was not affected. The additive did not affect chemical composition nor NDFD of the maize silage. It appears that the ferulate esterase in the inoculant is only able to affect less-lignified cell walls.
To study the effect of grassland renewal on soil quality and the eco-efficiency of grass production, we compared ten young grasslands (aged 5-10 years grassland without tillage) with ten old grasslands (age >20 year grassland without tillage) as pairs on ten dairy farms on marine clay in the North of the Netherlands. On these 20 grasslands we measured the capacity of a soil to decompose organic matter. This was tested by using the Tea Bag Index (TBI). TBI is determined through the burial and retrievement of green and rooibos tea bags, following by the measurement of mass loss after 90 days. The decomposition rate k and the stabilisation factor S of young grasslands were not significantly different from older grasslands; however, variation between locations was high. A negative correlation was found between age of the grassland and the stabilisation factor S, meaning that decomposition of organic matter in older grassland continues for a longer time and may be an indication of a higher soil biological activity.
Milk yields in Germany are still increasing for economic and other reasons. Cows with higher yields need diets with higher protein and energy content. This necessitates changes in the amounts of individual feedstuffs within the diets. Accordingly, these changes result in a shift in land use from grassland to cropland. The relationship between the diets of dairy cows (including replacement) and the associated use of grassland and cropland was studied. For this purpose, the fixed amount of the annual milk production in Germany was set as a basis. The milk yield was varied from 4,000 to 12,000 kg energy corrected milk (ECM) cow‑1 year‑1, in steps of 2,000 kg ECM cow‑1 year‑1. The results show a decreasing use of utilized agricultural area (UAA), especially grassland, with increasing milk yield. The total use of UAA is similar for the higher milk yields. Thus, the lowest use of the resource land (UAA and grassland) associated with a defined amount of produced milk occurs at milk yields of 10,000 and 12,000 kg ECM cow‑1 year‑1. The use of cropland is growing with milk yields increasing over the whole investigated scope.
Fresh herbage is an important natural source of protein, fibre, fatty acids (FA) and vitamins in ruminant diets and it is desirable for farmers that they minimise losses. Thus the concentrations of vitamins and FA in herbages during the growing season as well as their fate after cutting are of interest. A study was conducted in Denmark in which a red clover (Trifolium pratense) – perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) sward was mown eight times during the crop growing season. Swaths were subjected to three wilting strategies, and sampled at six time intervals after cutting. Dry matter content and concentrations of α-tocopherol, β-carotene and FA were determined. Fatty acid and α-tocopherol concentrations were highest in October, followed by May, and lowest in summer. Total FA and vitamin concentrations showed a significant overall decline from freshly cut to 29 h-wilted forage. Weather conditions and swath management practices had significant effects on the drying rate of cut forage. The magnitude and rates of decline of concentrations of vitamins and FA during the wilting process were not affected by swath management or herbage drying rates. Choice of harvest date and wilting duration could be used as management tools to optimise concentrations of vitamins and FA in forage.
Pre-grazing herbage mass (PGHM) affects grass quality and intake. Higher PGHM swards usually have lower dry matter intake (DMI) and in vitro dry matter digestibility (DMD) than lower PGHM swards, leading to reduced performance in lactating dairy cows. In vivo digestibility experiments involving cows are often laborious and expensive and, as a result, sheep are often used instead. The objective of this experiment was to compare the in vivo DMD of perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) at high and low PGHM in lactating dairy cows and wether sheep. A Latin-square design experiment was repeated twice (TS1 (April-May) and TS2 ( July-August)) using eight wether sheep and eight spring-calving lactating dairy cows to determine the in vivo DMD of two different PGHM swards (1,700 kg dry matter (DM) ha‑1 (low mass; LM) and 4,000 kg DM ha‑1 (high mass; HM)). There were no interactions between PGHM, animal species and TS. The in vivo DMD of perennial ryegrass reduced from LM to HM and from TS1 to TS2. There was a tendency for cows to have lower in vivo DMD of perennial ryegrass than sheep. The greater in vivo DMD of LM compared to HM may be due to the greater proportion of leaf and lower true stem proportion in LM. As there were no interaction effects on in vivo DMD, sheep DMD and cow DMD are similar to each other across all PGHM and all seasons.
Comparison of feeding time in barn and pasture under a given grass allowance in a system with robotic milking and strip grazing by using collected sensor data
In the Autograssmilk project funded by the EU-FP7 programme an experiment was conducted with the objective to study the potential of using new technologies for the optimisation and integration of automatic milking with cow grazing. Data were collected during the 2014 grazing season from a 60-cow herd. The herd was kept in the barn during the night (16:00-6:00) where 8.4 kg dry matter (DM) per cow per day of conserved forage was fed. During the day (6:00-16:00) the herd had access to a strip of grass with approximately 8 kg DM per cow per day. Cows were free to return to the barn for visiting the milking robot. Automatic milking-system visits and milk yields were collected per cow. The average milk yield was 26.1 kg milk per cow per day. Feeding time was measured with a sensor attached to the neck of each cow. The cows spent an average of 346 minutes per day for feeding/grazing. For forage fed in the barn, cows spent an average of 6.7 minutes feeding time per kg of milk, while for grazing 8.8 minutes per kg of milk was spent. Older cows were significantly more efficient than heifers in their feeding time in the barn, whereas for grazing the differences were smaller.
Competitive forbs in high-producing temporary grasslands with perennial ryegrass and red clover can increase plant diversity and herbage yield
In highly productive temporary grasslands in Europe, plant diversity is usually low. Some non-leguminous species have shown a high competitive ability in temporary grasslands and can increase plant diversity without compromising yields. In an experiment, the competitiveness and productivity of three forb species: chicory (Cichorium intybus), ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and caraway (Carum carvi), grown in different proportions in mixtures including traditional sown grassland species, perennial ryegrass and red clover, were examined with slurry application as an additional factor. Dry matter (DM) yield and botanical composition were measured during one complete growing season. Annual DM yields were mostly similar when forbs were included in the grassland mixture. A three-species mixture (perennial ryegrass, red clover and ribwort plantain) had the highest yield potential, especially for the slurry application treatment. Chicory and ribwort plantain were highly competitive in the mixtures. The response in the DM yield of perennial ryegrass to slurry application was considerable, but no consistent trend was found in the forbs. In conclusion, forbs contributed to increased plant species diversity and herbage DM yield, and fertilisation had positive effect on herbage yield of grassland mixtures.
Voluntary movement of cows from paddock to milking yard is an inherent aspect of an automatic milking system (AMS) integrated with grazing. The motivation for the cow to present at the milking yard, during the main grass-growing period, is the trained knowledge that they will be rewarded with fresh grass in a new paddock. In late-lactation concentrate supplementation assists in ensuring the cow receives adequate nutrition. Although the cow decides to present at the milking yard, AMS settings determine when the cow is milked based on milk yield and time since last milking. The aim of this study was to investigate the influence of milking permission and concentrate supplementation on milk production and cow traffic. There were 4 treatments with combinations of milking permissions, 3.2 or 1.8 times per day and concentrate supplementation allowance of either 3 kg or 0.84 kg per day. This study has highlighted strategies to maintain consistent milk production and cow traffic in the latter stages of lactation, through adjusting AMS settings for concentration supplementation and milking permission.
Controlling docks (Rumex obtusifolius L.) using herbicides applied to seedling or established grassland
Docks are a widespread problem associated with intensively managed grassland. The experimental site was reseeded with perennial ryegrass in October 2009. A plot experiment (plots of 5m × 10m) was laid down in a randomised complete block design with nine treatments and eight replicates. Four treatments were each of four herbicides: (1) Linuron + 2,4-DB + MCPA; (2) MCPA + 2,4-DB; (3) CMPP; (4) Fluroxypyr + Triclopyr) applied at the seedling stage (SSH) in April 2010 and another four treatments (5) Amidosulfuron; (6) thifensulfuron; (7) Fluroxypyr + Triclopyr, and (8) Aminopyralid + Fluroxypyr) applied to established grassland (EGH) in April 2012. The ninth was an untreated control. Dock numbers and herbage production were measured over five years (2010-2014). SSH gave more (P<0.001) effective, enduring and eco-efficient control than EGH. EGH varied (P<0.001) in their effectiveness. In 2014 dock herbage dry matter (DM) production (Mg ha‑1) was 3.41 in the control compared with 1.38 for EGH and 0.55 for SSH. Across treatments in 2014 dock herbage suppressed grass herbage DM production (Mg ha‑1): grass = 11.17 – 1.047 × dock (R2=0.73; P<0.001). Cost-effective long-term control was achieved by herbicide application during sward establishment.
Forage is a major source of micronutrients for dairy cows. This study examined the concentrations of micronutrients in birdsfoot trefoil (Bf ), red clover (Rc), timothy (Ti) and meadow fescue (Mf ) at different sites, years and cutting dates. Mixtures of Bf+Ti, Rc+Ti and Rc+Mf were established at Skara (58°21’N; 13°08’E) and Umeå (63°45’N; 20°17’E) in Sweden. First-year leys (Umeå 2005, Skara 2005 and 2007) were cut on three occasions in spring relative to the maturity stage of timothy: one week before heading, at heading and one week after heading. Summer growth was cut six weeks after each of the three occasions in spring growth. The results show that there was a need for Cu supplementation in all treatments because of low Cu concentration. The relatively high Mo concentrations compared to the Cu concentration in both grasses at Skara, in Mf in second cut at Umeå, and in Bt in the second cut at Skara may further increase the demand for Cu supplementation in dairy cow rations because there is a risk that Cu can be bound to a sulphate-Mo-complex in the rumen. The Zn concentration was lower than required for dairy cows, except for the mixture with Ti and Rc in the second cut at Umeå. For Mn and Fe, concentration levels were appropriate for expected dairy cow requirements for all treatments.
Nowadays, a wide range of dairy farms coexist: from family farms to large-scale dairy farms. In order to determine the feeding systems of the dairy farms in Asturias (Spain), a sample of close to 2% of the total number of dairy farms (2,446) was randomly selected and surveyed. Farms were stratified according to their milk quota into four groups: <175, 175-325, 325-500 and >500 Mg year‑1. Milk yields in each group were 6,120, 7,525, 7,997 and 9,537 kg cow‑1 per lactation, respectively (P<0.05). The 54.5% of the cows in smaller farms use grazing, while this percentage decreases to 7.1% in the larger farms. The preserved forage used is different between groups. Maize silage is more frequently used on large farms (0, 41.2, 80 and 100%, respectively), while the use of grass silage is higher in smaller farms (100, 76.5, 70 and 64.3%, respectively). In conclusion, feeding systems are influenced by the size of the farms. The use of grazing is associated primarily with the smaller farms (less than 175 Mg milk year‑1), whereas maize silage has become the main part of the diet on larger farms (more than 325 Mg milk year‑1).
The aim of this article is to describe the status of the dairy sector and future development paths of the various cattle farming segments in Slovenia. Agriculture is carried out under very diverse circumstances. About 73% of agricultural land is defined as ‘less favoured areas’. The agricultural area (472,918 ha) consists of 58% of permanent grassland and 36% of arable land, mostly used for production of feed. Cattle husbandry on family farms, of which there are 7,000 dairy farms, is the most important agricultural activity. Three farming systems can be observed: summer grazing with the dual-purpose breeds in the mountains; grazing with suckler cows in the hills; and intensive dairy farming in the valleys. These farming systems were characterised on the basis of 1,346 questionnaires collected in 2007. Farmers of the local Cika breed were interested in protecting nature elements and in organic farming. Dairy farmers expressed a more economical attitude towards the farm business. Of the developing dairy farmers, more than half looked for specialisation and less than half for diversification. Management of grassland was ranked as of relatively high importance. Regular contact with some Western European institutes resulted in lowland areas receiving high N applications around the turn of the century. Land fragmentation is a huge problem. In a recent ‘life long learning’ project with Poland, Lithuania and the Netherlands, dairy farmer strategies were analysed. Of the participating 365 Slovenian dairy farmers, 40% applied grazing and the average farm had 30 separate parcels of land. Farmers in the Eastern European countries (n=1,028) were more concerned about the market and abolition of milk quota than were the farmers in the Netherlands. Farmers in Slovenia were more consumer-oriented. A challenge for Slovenia is to utilize the existing consumer orientation of farmers for direct selling or agro-business purposes, as well as a strengtening of the dairy-chain structure to gain better access to the international milk market.
In Finland milk and beef contribute 50% of the agricultural gross return. The growing season is short, 125-180 days, and therefore the indoor period plays a major role relative to the grazing season. This leads to high capital costs for production (winter-proof housing systems, forage and slurry storage, harvesting machinery). Thus, production demand per animal is high and Finnish cows produce ca. 8,000 kg energy corrected milk per cow per year. Milk production is mostly located in central and northern parts of Finland where climate and geology restrict other agricultural land use options. Finnish dairy farms and herds have been small, but there has been a continuous increase in herd size, currently averaging 33 cows per herd. Grass silage contributes 55-60% of the dietary dry matter. Hard winter conditions limit the choice of forage species; the most important are timothy, meadow fescue and red clover. Potential annual grass yield is 9-12 Mg ha‑1, typically harvested 2 or 3 times per season. Silage is mostly prewilted and additives are commonly used. Concentrates typically include barley, oats and rapeseed meal. Grassland covers 32% of the agricultural land and therefore the forage production practices have strong environmental impacts.
Improving agricultural sustainability through innovative mixed farming systems (MFS) is the scope of the EU project CANTOGETHER. MFS may refer to activities on a single farm and/or to cooperation between farms (e.g. animal and crop production). Combining agricultural production with biodiversity and environmental goals may also be involved. To design such systems, participatory methods were used. This paper discusses two regional case studies dominated by intensive dairy farming that aim to reduce N losses. The first case study concerns the region of Winterswijk (NL), where intensive dairy farming is combined with nature conservation areas to maintain an attractive landscape and improve water quality. In cooperation with the District Water Board, practices to reduce both N and P losses have been implemented. The second case study concerns the Lieue de Grève catchment (F), where dairy farmers aim to reduce nitrate leaching by implementing, at regional and farm levels, a set of systemic indicators for N inputs and stocking rates per ha of grassland. Here the aim is to guide production systems towards better agro-ecological performance. Reduction in farm losses have been scaled up to the regional level using simple calculations for the Winterswijk region and the CASIMOD’N model for the Lieue de Grève region. For the region of Winterswijk, application of the practices to all suitable fields would reduce potential losses of N by 123 Mg and of P2O5 by 72 Mg, amounting to 8-9% of the N applied in the area as manure and chemical fertilisers and 19-20% of the P2O5 applied. In the Lieue de Grève catchment, increasing the percentage of grassland in the agricultural area (by 25 percentage points) would maintain milk production and decrease nitrate-N losses by about 30% (-8 mg NO3 - l‑1). Conditions for implementing changes at the regional level are mentioned.
Questionnaires are a frequently used instrument to analyse the productivity of farms. As surveys might include wrong or incorrect data, there is a need for validity testing. A validity test aims at generating an adjusted, reliable data-set with fewer outliers. Large data sets require an automated approach. We conducted a survey on 47 German dairy farms to evaluate the role of grassland in milk production. The farms are located all over Germany with a focus on Lower Saxony and Hesse. In a first step, we developed a generally applicable validity test for assessing the milk yield directly related to grassland. Several simple, directly measurable parameters were defined which correlate with important parameters with a high error rate. These relations were put into a formula and applied to the data set. We found that out of the 47 data sets three had to be excluded from further analysis because of large deviations from the defined confidence limits. The experience with the validity test did not only result in a more reliable data set, but helped to optimize the questionnaire for future surveys. The farms in this survey produced 4,916 l grassland-milk ha‑1.
Water shortage is one of the most important constraints limiting yield in agricultural production. Global climate change will also limit yield of one of the most important grass species in Europe, perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.). To improve drought tolerance of perennial ryegrass by breeding new varieties, natural genetic diversity for this trait was screened in field trials. 200 accessions, comprising genebank material from all over Europe and breeding material as well as some drought-tolerant grass species for comparison, were tested under natural drought conditions. Appropriate methods for an efficient selection of droughttolerant genotypes were evaluated within the presented project. On a plot basis the visual scoring of biomass growth provided a suitable data base for selection with good correlation to drought symptoms and yield data. Broad genetic diversity for drought tolerance was observed within the material, which can be used for detailed investigation of drought-tolerance mechanisms and the development of new drought-tolerant varieties.
In temperate regions grazed grass is the most economical means of feeding dairy cows. Grass growth is highly variable within and between years. A model capable of simulating daily grass growth depending not only on weather conditions but also on N fertiliser application and farm management would provide valuable information allowing farmers to make better management decisions around supplementation, silage making, fertilisation and grazing. The Moorepark Grass Growth Model (MGGM) is a mechanistic grass growth model developed to take into account weather, soil water and soil N dynamics. The response of the model to weather conditions, frequency of harvesting, initial soil N content and N fertilizer application was evaluated. The responses from the model were comparable with published studies. The MGGM responded coherently to grass harvesting and N fertiliser application and can predict the grass growth rate taking into account management and weather.
Scandinavian milk and beef production is based on high-quality grass silage. Harvesting time of grass, especially in the first cut, is the major factor that determines the optimization of dry matter yield and forage digestibility, and the subsequent improved feeding efficiency and productivity of the animals. The aim of this study was to explore how the number of harvests, three different cultivar mixtures and timing of the last harvest affect the amount and nutritive value of total yield and overwintering of the sward. The experiment was conducted at Maaninka and Sotkamo, Finland, during the 2013-2014 growing seasons. Experimental design of the study was split-split-plot with four replicates. Plots were sown with a mixture of timothy (Phleum pratense L.) and meadow fescue (Festuca pratensis Huds.). Three different mixtures of varieties of these species were used. The three-cut harvesting strategy produced higher dry matter and energy yield and higher digestibility than the two-cut harvesting strategy. Delaying the second cut increased the total dry matter yield and decreased D-value more than delaying the third cut. Differences between cultivar mixtures were observed but the interaction with number of harvests was minor.
The objective of this work was to analyse the differentiation of selected cultivars within five pasture grass species with regard to leaf tensile strength (LTS). The investigations were carried out in 2011- 2012 on plant material obtained from two cultivar testing experiments, in which Dactylis glomerata (10 cultivars), Festuca arundinacea (10 cvs), Festuca pratensis (15 cvs), Lolium perenne (16 2× and 15 4× cvs) and Phleum pratense (10 cvs) were analysed. LTS was estimated on fully developed leaf blades using a prototype testing stand for measuring tensile strength of biological material, designed on the basis of a subassemblies of the Höttinger Baldwin Messtechnik (HBM) Company. The fresh matter and dry matter weight, width and specific leaf area of leaf blades were also determined. The LTS of investigated species ranged from 4.06 N (L. perenne 2×) to 12.46 N (D. glomerata). The differentiation of cultivars within species was also high and statistically significant. Performance of precise tensile strength measurements of leaf blades could be a helpful plant breeding tool for the development of improved pasture grass cultivars and selection of appropriate components in seed mixtures, particularly in high output dairy farming systems.
Duration is important in the effect of pasture allowance restriction on subsequent milk production, in early lactation
In pasture-based dairy systems, feed supply can be limited in early spring due to inadequate pasture growth. The objective of this experiment was to investigate if different pasture allowances offered to early lactation grazing dairy cows, for different durations, influenced milk production. Cows were offered one of four pasture allowances (60, 80, 100 or 120% of intake capacity) for either 2 or 6 weeks. Once the 2- and 6-week time durations had elapsed, the cows in all treatments were offered 100% of intake capacity. At the end of the first 2 weeks of the experiment, milk yield was significantly different between all four allowances (18.5, 19.8, 21.4 and 23.1 kg cow‑1 day‑1 for 60, 80, 100 and 120% treatments, respectively). During weeks 7-10 there were no differences in milk yield between the 2-week treatments (23.5 kg cow‑1 day‑1). Milk yield of the 60×6 treatment was lower than the 100×6 and 120×6 treatments, but was similar to the 80×6 treatment. The 80×6 treatment was similar to the 100×6 treatment, but different to the 120×6 treatment. The 100×6 and 120×6 treatments were similar to each other. This indicates that differences in pasture allowance imposed for a 6-week period affected subsequent production and the data suggest that in early lactation the effect of pasture allowance on milk yield depends on the amplitude and the duration of the treatment application.
Overview of scientific content EGF 2015
Grassland covers 70% of the Swiss agricultural area, resulting in a large proportion of grass in the diet of Swiss dairy cows. In recent years, an increase in milk yield has been achieved, which has led to an increasing use of concentrates. The Federal Office for Agriculture has started to subsidize the inclusion of a large proportion of grass in the ration of ruminants. In two studies we assessed the environmental performance of dairy systems with different proportions of grass in the ration, by life cycle analysis according to SALCA. The comparison of the Swiss dairy system, with low use of concentrates, with systems in France, Germany and Italy showed that despite the lower milk yield and concentrate input, the Swiss system performed equally or better in all environmental impacts analysed, with the exception of land use. In the comparison of an intensive and a pasture-based dairy system within Switzerland the pasture herd performed equally or better for most environmental impacts with the exception of global warming, ozone formation and land occupation. This shows that despite the lower milk yield, grass-based systems can be eco-efficient.
Eco-efficient pasture based dairy farm systems: a comparison of New Zealand, The Netherlands and Ireland
European and New Zealand dairy farmers pursue high productivity, while meeting the requirements of environmental legislation. Due to market constraints, New Zealand dairy farming has traditionally relied on low-input grazed perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) – white clover (Trifolium repens L.) pastures and on grazed forage crops in seasons with low pasture production. However, in the past three decades the use of synthetic nitrogen (N) increased, allowing higher stocking rates and more milk production per hectare, but increasing N surplus per hectare and therefore potential N loss to the environment. The use of supplements has also increased, with an increasing number of farmers investing in infrastructure to feed cows off-pasture during the winter. This is seen to benefit the animal as well as the environment because supplements provide the opportunity to reduce surplus N intake, and collected urine and faeces can be applied efficiently on pastures or crops. In Europe, indoor systems, use of supplements and efficient manure application methods are common. There is interest in improving production and utilisation of home-grown pastures and crops to reduce costs and overall environmental footprint. This is where the challenge for European and New Zealand dairy systems meet: there is a common need to examine how crops and forages can be used to improve N efficiency in the soil-plant-dairy cow system. Combining best practices and recent advances in European and New Zealand research provides scope for cost- and nutrient-efficient and highly productive dairy farm systems.
In an exploratory study on the impact of land use options on environment and farm income we considered closing nutrient cycles, clustering of agricultural activities and, as a combination of these two, the cooperation between dairy and arable farms. In the search for alternative feeds that can reduce the use of soybean from Brazil for feeding cattle, we investigated to what extent the growing of feed concentrate replacers by arable farmers within the region could be of interest economically. For this study our pilot area was part of the provinces of Brabant and Limburg (larger Peel region). We quantified the effect of growing up to 20, 40, 50, 60, 80 or 100% of the feed concentrate replacers within the region by replacing the least profitable arable crops by these crops (e.g. lupins, peas and beans). We found that the farm income would not be affected by replacement of up to 60% of the foreign feed concentrates by regionally grown feed concentrate replacers. However, replacement of more than 60% would reduce income. Cultivation of the new crops hardly affected nitrogen and phosphorus leaching to groundwater. But spatial optimization of land use conversion resulted in 10 to 20% reduction of nitrogen and phosphorus leaching. This means that cooperation between arable farmers growing feed concentrate replacers and dairy farmers using these products for feeding their livestock could be both economically and environmentally viable.
Automatic milking Systems (AMS) have been practised for a number of years in Denmark, France and the Netherlands. During these years, combining automatic milking (AM) and pasture access for feeding has remained problematic. Grazing has, however, many benefits, both for farmers, animals, landscape, biodiversity, and for the overall image of dairy farming. In this study we compared the economic results of dairy farms with AMS (AMS farms) which practice grazing with those of AMS farms without grazing. The economic impact of grazing dairy cows on AMS farms was analysed using accounting data of commercial dairy farms in Denmark, France and the Netherlands. In the Netherlands grazing was economically beneficial but this effect declined with increasing farm size. In France, income tended to be higher on farms that practised grazing, and in Denmark no economic difference of farmer incomes were found. A complicating factor of the analysis was that the actual feed uptake during grazing was not recorded in the database in any of the three countries. A key recommendation from this study is that the level of grazing and intake from grazing as a proportion of the total diet is recorded in the future.
The dietary cation and anion difference (DCAD) is an important property when assessing feed for dry cows in order to avoid hypocalcaemia following calving. Low values of DCAD may reduce the risk of milk fever. DCAD is often calculated as the difference between the cations Na+ and K+ and the anions Cl- and S2-. Research has shown that chloride fertilization may reduce DCAD, and that there might be differences in DCAD between commonly used grass species. In a research project in Central Norway the effects on DCAD of different rates of chloride fertiliser application were investigated. Fertilization with 70, 140 or 210 kg Cl per hectare in calcium chloride did significantly reduce DCAD in forage from leys dominated by timothy and meadow fescue. Pure stands of seven grass species were fertilized with either 0 or 140 kg Cl per hectare in spring. The lowest values of DCAD were found in reed canary grass and perennial ryegrass.
Red clover (Trifolium pratense L) is the most important perennial legume cultivated in Central and Northern Europe. Its lack of persistence is the main limiting factor which hampers its wider use in permanent grassland. Once the plants in the 2nd or 3rd harvest year disappear, the remaining grass sward needs more nitrogen fertilizing, over-seeding or renovation. The aim of this paper was to evaluate the effect of four red clover cultivars and two cutting frequencies on dry matter (DM) yield and clover persistence in mixture with grasses. The highest DM forage yield in the 3rd harvest year and persistence index was achieved by the cultivars Astur and Amos for 3- and 4-cut management, respectively (15.7 vs 16.6 Mg ha‑1 and 0.82 vs 0.95, respectively). There was a significant interaction between cultivar and cutting frequency in the 3rd harvest year, when only cultivar Amos increased yield and persistence index under 4-cut management. The cultivar Amos, in comparison with other cultivars, demonstrated the best results under more frequent cutting management and should be recommended, in preference, for intensively harvested permanent grasslands and/or leys.
Effect of different doses of an amendment and an organo-mineral fertiliser on the production of forage maize
Animal feed is the main cost on dairy farms. Maize can produce quality silage for dairy cattle at less cost than silage from grass, and at the same time increases milk yield and milk protein content. Moreover, supplementation with concentrates can be reduced and profitability is improved. The correct use of amendments and fertilisers could improve maize production and its nutritional content and also reduce costs. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect on forage maize production of different application rates of an amendment (5, 15, 25 and 35 Mg ha‑1) and an organo-mineral fertiliser (50, 100, 150 and 200 kg N ha‑1) developed with organic matter from industrial wastes and with inorganic sulphur from a refinery, in comparison with the mineral fertilisation usually carried out in the area where the experiment was conducted (Spain). The results obtained did not show a significant effect of the different rates of the amendment on maize production, probably because the amount of N applied to the soil was similar. However, high rates of the organo-mineral fertiliser increased the production of forage maize, probably by the soil fertility improvement associated with this treatment.
Sixty farms located in the Galicia region (NW Spain) were sampled four times during 2012 and samples of ration ingredients and bulk-tank milk were taken with the objective of studying the relationships between dairy cow ration and the fatty acid (FA) composition of the milk. Diets were grouped into five clusters based on ration ingredients and significant differences among clusters were observed for saturated, polyunsaturated, omega-3 and conjugated linoleic fatty acids, as well as for the omega6- omega3 ratio. In general, milk from grazing extensive systems and from intensive systems based on silage and concentrates supplemented with extruded linseed showed the highest contents of human-health FA. The ability of FA-based discriminant functions for assigning farm tank milk samples to a particular diet was deemed as not satisfactory.
Dung pats in pastures limit grass production, and lead to grazing losses and a lower eco-efficiency in dairy systems. Immediate harrowing after grazing could help to break up the pats and distribute the manure more evenly. However, in the absence of rain this may result in flattened, manure-smeared grass. Harrowing after some days of dung deposition may overcome smearing of the grass. Watering the pasture immediately after harrowing can help to wash the manure off the foliage. In a field experiment we compared the disappearance of (artificial) dung pats in the following treatments: (1) dung pat – untreated (control); (2) harrowing immediately after deposition (day 0); (3) harrowing + watering (10 mm) immediately after deposition (day 0); (4) harrowing at 7 days after deposition; and (5) harrowing + watering (10 mm) at 7 days after deposition. The results after three weeks show that harrowing fresh dung pats (day 0) did not significantly increase the disappearance of dung (43% disappeared versus 40% disappeared of the untreated pats). Harrowing 7 days after deposition resulted in a significant lower dung disappearance (31%) than observed for the untreated pats (40%), even when watered (34%). The best result was obtained when fresh dung pats were harrowed in combination with water at day 0 (61% disappearance).
The effect of indoor silage feeding on pasture time was studied in an automatic milking rotary system with batch milking two times daily. The objective was to study how pasture time is influenced by offering only pasture (PP) or both grass silage and pasture (SP) in the barn during grazing hours, in a night-time grazing system, where cows could move freely between barn and pasture during pasturing hours. From 9 June until 18 August, treatments SP and PP were repeated three and two times, respectively in two-week periods using the second week for measurements. During each measurement week, ten animals were fitted with HOBO® loggers that estimated grazing time from head position. Results were analysed in a mixed repeated measurement model using only cows (83) present during all periods. Results showed that animals on treatment PP spent approximately 8.5 hours on pasture with no difference between primi- and multiparous cows. In contrast, cows on treatment SP spent less time on pasture (P<0.001) and furthermore, time on pasture differed significantly between ages (P<0.001) in this group, with 4.7 h and 5.9 h for primiparous and multiparous cows, respectively. Analysis of data on the grazing hours, obtained from the HOBO loggers, showed a significant (P<0.001) difference between treatments with 3.8 and 2.2 hours of grazing on treatment PP and SP, respectively.
The emission of methane by dairy cows, as enteric and manure fermentation, is the main source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission in the dairy sector. The second most important GHG is the N2O emission as a result of nitrogen addition to the soil. An empirical model was used to predict the methane production by dairy cows feeding on two diets based on maize silage grown with organic (MSF) or conventional (ChF) fertilization (IPCC Tier 2) and the emission of N2O by both types of fertilization (IPCC Tier 1). The results were converted to carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq) using the Global Warming Potential of 25 and 296 for CH4 and N2O respectively. More than 70% of GHG emissions were due to enteric fermentation. Milk production did not show differences between treatments; however, a 10% higher production of CO2eq kg‑1 of milk was observed in ChF than MSF. The difference observed was due to the diet and not to the type of fertilization, because there were no differences between both soil managements. The results demonstrate that it is possible to reduce GHG emissions with the use of manure and slurry as fertilizers, without affecting milk production.
Effect of sulphur fertilization on the rate of photosynthesis and yield of Lolium × boucheanum Kunth cultivated in monoculture and mixture with Trifolium repens L.
The aim of this study was to determine the effect of sulphur fertilization on the rate of photosynthesis and yield of hybrid ryegrass (Lolium × boucheanum) grown in monoculture and mixture with white clover (Trifolium repens). The study was conducted in a split-plot design with four replications. Soil conditions were degraded chernozem formed from loess. The fertilization scheme was 50 and 100 kg N ha‑1, 35 kg P ha‑1, 83 kg K ha‑1, and sulphur at 5, 10 and 15 kg S ha‑1. The intensity of photosynthesis was measured in each regrowth at weekly intervals using a portable gas analyser (Li-Cor 6400). Plants were mown 3 times during the growing season. Both nitrogen and nitrogen-with-sulphur fertilization positively influenced the rate of photosynthesis in each regrowth. Sulphur fertilization compared to nitrogen fertilization increased the rate of photosynthesis in hybrid ryegrass grown in monoculture. Total dry matter yields of hybrid ryegrass grown in monoculture were lower than in mixture with white clover, irrespective of the amount of nitrogen or nitrogen-and-sulphur fertilization. The biggest difference in yields between the monoculture and the mixture was found with 100 kg N and 15 kg S ha‑1. The smallest difference was shown in treatments fertilized with 50 kg N and 5 kg S ha‑1.
Using shallow tillage (e.g. direct drilling) is one approach that farmers could use to reduce establishment costs within dairy systems, but soils are often compacted by machinery during field operations. Research has shown that different forage species may alter the physical properties of soil. An experiment investigating the effects of forage species established by direct drilling, either with or without sward-lifting, on soil compaction was established on a previously compacted area of silt loam at Trawscoed, Aberystwyth University. Treatments consisted of perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne), white clover (Trifolium repens) or lucerne (Medicago sativa) established by direct drilling compared to ryegrass established by ploughing, with each of these treatments set up either with or without prior sward-lifting. The existing ryegrass sward was used as a control. Triplicate plots (17×3 m) of each treatment were sown on 17 July. Sward-lifting reduced soil penetration resistance for all treatments in all soil layers between 7.5 and 37.5 cm, but increased resistance in the 0-7.5 cm layer. Ploughing reduced soil penetration resistance in all soil layers between 0-22.5 cm. Soil penetration resistance within the 0-7.5 cm layer of soil was lower in existing ryegrass plots than lucerne plots during early establishment.
Intensive livestock production is concentrated in the northern part of Serbia, particularly in the vicinity of Belgrade. This area is very important for forage production, but the main power stations of the Serbian power supply system are located in this region and these produce high emissions of fly ash. Forage plants are exposed to the pollution effects of fly ash, and some agricultural systems are located very close to the Nikola Tesla A (TENT-A) power station. A study of three forage plants (Medicago sativa, Phalaris arundinacea, Melilotus officinalis) was done on ‘TENT-A’ ash deposit in order to analyse bioaccumulation of maximally exposed plants. Plant samples were collected at tillering stage and concentrations of 10 elements were analysed. The results show lower concentrations of trace metals in the herbage shoots than in the ash, which had excessive contents of As, Ni and Cr. None of the examined species accumulated a high amount of the above-mentioned elements, even though they were from different families, with different morphology and dry matter yield. Alfalfa had the highest concentrations of As and Ni among the species that were analysed.
The Dutch dairy sector is leading in production efficiency with research and innovation achieving great improvements by focussing on the cow as the central production factor. Grass and soil, while also being essential production factors, have received much less attention. Recent developments mark a turning point for attention to grass production and grazing. While increased focus on grass production and grazing is generally considered as sustainable development, it is centred around the dimensions of people or planet; the profit dimension is under-represented. This paper builds the economic case for an increased focus on grass production and grazing by modelling the exploitable yield of grass production in the Netherlands. The current dry matter (DM) production is assessed at 6.0×106 Mg. The potential production is modelled at 9.3×106 Mg, thus leading to an exploitable net yield of 3.3×106 Mg. This is over 1.5 times the current grass production. Financially, the additional production implies a gain of 500 million euros when taking into account the market price for grass DM. When considering the feed value profits may rise to 750 million euros.
Farm-level phytodiversity of dairy farms is related to within-farm diversity of grassland management types
We analysed 163 vegetation relevés from grassland plots of 24 conventional dairy farms in Lower Saxony, NW Germany. The sample covered farms with a different magnitude of the contribution of pasture to the roughage ration of the dairy cows: zero-grazing, grazing for <6 h d‑1, or >14 h d‑1. At each farm, the sward botanical composition of two plots per existing grassland management type was determined in one quadrat of 25 m2 per plot. Average plot-level species numbers was distinct among types of plot management (P<0.001) and ranged from 10.6 in intensively managed meadows to 15.0 in plots managed according to agri-environmental schemes. The species number of dairy cattle pastures did not differ significantly among farms implementing different daily grazing periods. The total species number at the whole farm-level ranged from 10 to 39 and increased significantly (P=0.001) with the number of grassland management types implemented on the farms. Our results emphasize the importance of farmlevel organizational structures for regional phytodiversity.
Pilot farm networks are very efficient in developing and implementing innovative measures and strategies to improve farm performances. At farm level, their specificities must be considered. A coordination of all actors, i.e. researchers, advisors, farmers and policy makers is essential. During the EU Dairyman project a strategy has been elaborated to establish coherent development plans. This method is applied on the four Luxemburgish commercial monitor farms, which are a part of the ‘Autograssmilk’ EU project with a farm network. Three steps have to be respected: (1) a detailed farm description; (2) a definition of objectives and their corresponding indicators; and (3) an implementation of a strategy, sub-divided into several actions. Farm data were collected and analysed during 2014, so that at the end of the year a specific development plan was elaborated on each farm. Due to the farm-specific approach, for identical farm objectives, concrete actions to reach the goal can differ significantly. Furthermore, the coordination between involved organizations is enhanced. The results were as positive as in the previous project and its seem therefore that they can be replicated. The method can be considered as an appropriate tool to monitor and improve commercial farms.
Fifty years of forage supply on dairy farms in the Netherlands Van Dijk H., Schukking S. and Van der Berg R.
Dairy farming in the Netherlands has shown big changes during the last 50 years as a consequence of various technical, economic and social developments. The cost of labour has increased greatly and therefore labour productivity has also increased. In order to achieve a reasonable financial income on the mainly small family farms, scaling up and intensification of those farms was necessary. Agricultural research and extension services significantly contributed to realising these goals. In particular, there was a need to increase the productivity of farmland, and both the quality and utilisation of the crops. The application rate of fertilizers, particularly nitrogen, increased strongly, as did the use of organic manures. Quality of grassland improved (due to re-sowing and use of high quality grass-seed mixtures) and the management was intensified. Planned grazing systems and new methods of hay and silage making led to significantly improved forage quality and a higher milk production. Including silage maize and concentrates, as well as the effects of breeding further contributed to increased milk production. All these changes meant that, over a period of 50 years, the average number of dairy cows per farm increased ten-fold, to about 85, the average milk production per cow doubled to somewhat more than 8,000 kg, the milk production per ha trebled to about 15,000 kg ha‑1 and there was a ten-fold reduction in the number of dairy farms to about 18,000. These developments have coincided with the introduction of modernised cow houses, mechanisation and automation. The introduction of milk quota in the EU led to a slowdown in the developments. EU rules with regard to derogation, manure residues and N content of ground water, but also national rules with regard to environment and nature, have during the last years limited the further scaling-up and intensification of dairy farms.
Animal production should be mostly based on farm resources as this reduces animal product costs. Forage legumes like peas are adequate for fulfilling part of the animals’ protein needs. Fertiliser prices have also added to high input costs for farmers in recent years, and this make the use of manures produced on farms more important. This study aims at evaluating the effect of two different rates of pig and beef cattle manure on forage pea yield, compared with the traditional mineral fertiliser used in the area. An analysis of the manures was carried out showing that pig manure has a higher level of nutrients than cattle manure. Both manures resulted in a higher seed yield than was obtained by using mineral fertiliser.
In the Po river valley, which represents the largest plain area of Northern Italy, the two main dairy farming systems are associated with cheese production: one for Grana Padano (GP) cheese using silage as the main forage source, and the other for Parmigiano-Reggiano (PR) cheese using hay, where silage fodders are banned to prevent Clostridium contamination and potential swelling defects in the cheese with the lengthy seasoning times. Maize silage is the mainstay forage base for fresh milk and GP cheese forage systems. Farm forage self-sufficiency is not always possible, mainly due to dry seasons and/or the practice of maize monoculture. In addition to the difficulties arising from low quantity production, problems of fodder safety (e.g. mycotoxins contamination of maize grain) and nutritional value occur. Regulations in force for PR production set the minimum level of dry matter intake from hay at 50% of dairy cows’ rations. Difficulties arise in optimizing nutritional values and dry-matter intake when poor quality forages are available. Research is ongoing to evaluate the optimal alfalfa-grass mix, investigating how to maximize forage nutritional value and digestibility. Moreover, both dairy farming systems are highly dependent on imported feedstuffs: soybean from overseas, maize and other starch grains. Ongoing research activities are seeking to establish whether maize or soybean can be partially replaced by other crops (e.g. sorghum, triticale, grains with high protein content, alfalfa and grain legumes).
Depending on the grass species, development of stem-forming tillers is strictly regulated by temperature and/or day length (DL). We studied the regulation of tiller development and growth of timothy (Phleum pratense L.) and festulolium (Festuca × Lolium) by vernalisation, temperature and DL in field and growth chamber experiments. Our results show that there exists significant genotypic variation in traits important for biomass accumulation in different harvests. It seems that the extent of the spring growth flush is dependent on the vernalisation state of the plants. In autumn, growth in timothy is strictly regulated by DL, whereas in festulolium temperature is a more important regulator. Knowledge of these differences between grass species in their responses to environmental cues, and understanding of the genetic variation in these traits, provide unique opportunities for breeding as well as for the selection of best-performing genotypes for forage leys.
Wales has some of the most favourable climates for growing grass in the whole of the UK. It means grass can be grown very efficiently and it makes economic sense to optimise the use of that grass. Dairy farmer numbers in Wales have been falling since the 1960s, but there has been a more rapid decline in recent years. The main reason for this has been the downward pressure on milk price and an increase in the cost of production. It was interesting to see that with the 2013-2014 improvement in price the rate of decline slowed down. Wales has always received a lower milk price than areas in England that are closer to the higher density population areas, so making the most of grass to keep production costs down is clearly a priority. Milk from forage used to be a more common benchmark of performance and still has a very close correlation with profitability on forage based systems. The reason for the reduced interest in milk from forage as a performance indicator has been the increase in high input systems where milk from forage is not considered to be the right benchmark of performance. However, on grazing and high forage systems 4,000+ litres per cow of milk from forage is achievable.
The dairy sector in the EU faces many challenges as a consequence of political, economic and societal developments. Many countries are responding to these changes by exploring the possibilities and constraints of scaling up and intensification. This also holds for Flanders and the Netherlands, where dairy farming systems are already intensive. This paper describes high output dairy farming systems in the Netherlands and Flanders and discusses their problems, solutions and perspectives associated with grassland and forages. The dairy farming systems are generally characterised by high fluxes of nitrogen and phosphorus through the systems. Research has led to a strong decrease in mineral losses to the environment in practice. The decrease in grazing is another concern of high output systems. Many activities have been initiated with the aim of stabilisation of the number of dairy cows grazing. Further scaling up of farms and intensification is thought to be possible in the Netherlands and Flanders because of high soil fertility, favourable weather conditions, a good infrastructure and well-educated farmers.
Grass-clover under cutting conditions: a highly productive system of intensive, high quality forage production
In this experiment, we compared grass in pure stand (300 Navailable ha‑1) and grasses mixed with red and white clover (150 Navailable ha‑1) under cutting conditions. The experiment was conducted on a sandy loam soil (Merelbeke, Belgium) in 2011-2014. Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne – Lp), tall fescue (Festuca arundinaceae – Fa) and Festulolium (Fe) in pure stands were sown with and without clover. Grass-clover with 150 N ha‑1 produced more dry matter (+ 1.11 Mg ha‑1 year‑1) with a higher protein content in terms of crude protein % (+4.5%) and true protein digested in the small intestine (+13 g kg‑1 dry matter (DM)), but lower energy concentration (-15 VEM (fodder unit milk) g kg‑1 DM) compared to grass with 300 N ha‑1. The energy content of Lp cv Meloni and Fe cv Lifema was lower in the grassclover 150 N management than in the grass 300 N and did not change for the other grasses. Barolex (Fa), Callina (Fa) and Hykor (Fe) had significantly higher DM production, but significantly lower energy and protein content in comparison with Lp. Lifema (Fe) was less productive than the other varieties/species but had a better quality compared to Hykor (Fe) and Fa.
Dairy herds in the Netherlands will increase in size in the coming years, due to the imminent abolition of milk quotas. Also more farms will make use of automatic milking systems (AMS). Both trends mean less opportunity for grazing. As the grazing area itself will not increase it has become a priority to explore new ways of grazing. At Dairy Campus – a Dutch experimental farm – two distinct grazing systems were tested: strip grazing with AMS and one-day rotational grazing with a fixed paddock area and a standard growing period of 23 days. The grazing time was restricted to daytime. At night the cows were fed silage and concentrates. In the one-day rotational grazing, the grass allowance depended on what was grown in 23 days on the fixed paddock. The silage feeding was adapted to the allowed amount of grass. The total allowance of grass and roughage for both systems was 16 kg dry matter cow‑1 d‑1 supplemented with concentrates. The strip grazing system had a fixed allowance of 8 kg DM grass cow‑1 d‑1 supplemented with 8 kg TMR cow‑1 d‑1. Model calculations showed a relation between grazing efficiency, milk price and income. Grazing will be more profitable than an indoor system at lower milk prices. At higher milk prices a high grazing efficiency is necessary to make a grazing system profitable.
Herbage and milk production from a grass-only sward and grass-white clover swards in an intensive grass-based system
White clover (Trifolium repens L.; clover) can increase the sustainability of grass-based dairy systems and has the potential to increase milk production. This experiment compared milk production from a perennial ryegrass (PRG) sward receiving 250 kg N ha‑1 yr‑1 (Gr250), a PRG-clover sward receiving 250 kg N ha‑1 yr‑1 (Cl250) and a PRG-clover sward receiving 150 kg N ha‑1 yr‑1 (Cl150) in a rotationally grazed system in 2013 and 2014. Three groups of cows were allocated to graze each sward in 2013 and 2014 (n=14 and 19, respectively). Clover inclusion into PRG swards had no effect on the total herbage production. There was a treatment×week interaction on sward clover content; Cl150 had greater clover content in the second half of the grazing year. Treatment had an effect on cumulative milk yield (MY) and milk solids (MS) production. The Cl150 had lower cumulative MY compared to Cl250 (6,055 and 6,343 kg milk cow‑1, respectively); there was no significant difference between Cl150 and Gr250 (6,055 and 5,912 kg milk cow‑1, respectively); and Cl250 had greater cumulative MY than Gr250 (6,343 and 5,912 kg milk cow‑1, respectively). The MS yield of the clover treatments were significantly greater than the Gr250 and were similar between both clover treatments.
This paper focusses on dairy production systems in France. First, the huge diversity in production backgrounds and systems will be presented to put its main variation factors to the fore: the differences between plains and mountains, the low level of specialization of the dairy farms and the differences in terms of density of farms on the territory. The relatively high availability of land as well as the moderate price of agricultural land in France compared to the other European and world dairy farming areas are put to the fore. The feeding systems for each class of production system are described to underline the strong link between land, forage production and performances of dairy herds. The search for high levels of self-sufficiency in dry matter, energy and proteins in French dairy farms also accounts for the relatively low levels of stocking rates and milk production per hectare reached in many areas. Finally, the relations between the high production output strategies and some environmental issues such as nitrate leaching and biodiversity are discussed. The issue of the definition of ‘high output farming systems’ in such contrasting situations is addressed.
The current tendency is for intensification of livestock farming, pursuing continuous improvement of quantitative and qualitative performance of products. Intensification of meadows can be achieved through the use of valuable species, highly productive varieties of perennial grasses and legumes, by cultivating perennial grasses and legumes in mixtures and by proper management of meadows. Unlike pure cultures, mixing alfalfa with orchard grass provides a more balanced energy-protein feed, while providing the opportunity of ensiling alfalfa in good condition due to the contribution of soluble carbohydrates provided by the orchard grass. The purpose of this research was the capitalization of pure-crop alfalfa and mixed crop of alfalfa with orchard grass as succulent fodder packed in bales. Objectives and activities are represented by quantifying the quantitative elements which express the quantitative value, as well as the elements which express the qualitative value of fodder. The highest average yields achieved over three years, for all three mixtures tested, were obtained by fertilizing with N100P50 kg ha‑1. The quality of the fodder was influenced by the proportions of the two species in the mixture and by the level of fertilisation.
In the mountainous region of Romania about 200,000 ha is covered by grassland, which is mainly dominated by Nardus stricta L. We have studied the influence of mineral fertilization on productivity, canopy composition and forage quality of Nardus stricta L. permanent grassland in the intra-mountainous depression of Vatra Dornei (North-Eastern Carpathians, 820 m.a.s.l.). Fertilisation was applied at rates of N100-200 P100-200 kg ha‑1 in one or several applications. These mineral fertilizer rates resulted in changes in the dominant species of Nardus stricta L. grasslands, by increasing the percentage of Festuca rubra L. and Agrostis capillaris L. Productivity increased by 119-224%, as well as forage quality compared to the unfertilized control.
The sustainable use of grassland resources is a good way to produce cheap fodder of adequate quality with usually short transportation pathways. However, many farmers do not know how much fodder they produce on grassland and how much milk is produced from this fodder, especially on pastures. The commonly used calculation method attributes milk production mainly to the energy taken up in the stable and only the remainder (plus the complete energy expenditure for maintenance) to pasture, probably leading to an underestimation of the contribution from pasture. Here, we compared this conventional method to another one attributing the energy expenditure for maintenance and milk according to the energy contributed by each fodder type. As a database, six years of data from a pasture trial carried out at House Riswick, Germany, have been used, with three years of full grazing and three years of half-day grazing plus silage and concentrates provided in the stable. In contrast to the alternative method, the conventional method underestimated pasture performance, especially at small shares of pasture in the ration. Adapting the alternative method in extension services may lead to a better appraisal of grass as a basis for milk production.
Regions in northern Germany that are characterised by high livestock/biogas plant density, light sandy soils and extensive silage maize production are facing major challenges with respect to environmental pollution, in particular nitrate leaching. The objective of the current study was to investigate a management strategy, i.e. an optimisation of maize harvest date and catch crop species, for mitigating the environmental pollution risk, based on a 2-year field study. Rye turned out more effective in N uptake than Italian ryegrass when sown no later than the second decade of September. A trade-off between maize yield, catch-crop N uptake, or N losses need not necessarily occur.
Optimal potassium (K) fertilisation stimulates grassland production. In 2011 and 2012 fertiliser trials on grassland were executed to update the 40-year-old recommendations. Farm field trials were executed on 24 locations on sand, clay and peat soils with varying K-availability and buffering capacity. There were three treatments on each site: with or without cattle slurry application, two nitrogen (N) levels (60 and 120 kg N ha‑1) and two K fertiliser levels (0 and 60 kg K2O ha‑1). Uptake of K in the first and second cut (to account for any residual effect) was determined to derive the optimal K-application rate. In parallel there was a seasonal trial with different N and K levels to test the interaction of K with N. Fertilisation with 60 kg K2O ha‑1 resulted in extra yield of the first cut of 200 to 650 kg DM ha‑1. The fertiliser increased the yield in the seasonal trials up to 2 tons DM ha‑1 year‑1. The experimental data were used to develop a new recommendation system based on the soil parameters of cation exchange capacity and available K determined in 0.01 M CaCl2. The new recommendation results, on average, in a lower K application rate than the previous recommendation.
In the Netherlands, more than 60% of agricultural land is used for dairy farming. Grass is the most important crop, followed by maize silage. To explore possibilities to increase nutrient-use efficiency and reduce nutrient losses, the method of prototyping a combination of system modelling and system implementation was applied on the experimental farm ‘De Marke’. To promote development and adoption of similar systems in commercial dairy farming, the project ‘cows & opportunities’ (C&O) was initiated in 1999 to bridge the gap in nutrient-use efficiency between experimental farms and commercial pilot farms. Total nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) application rate declined from 530 in 1998 to 400 kg N ha‑1 in 2013 and from 57 in 1998 to 48 kg P ha‑1 in 2013. Average grass dry matter yields were 11 Mg ha‑1 but with a huge variation amongst pilot farms. Substantial improvements in grassland management are possible on many commercial dairy farms, but strategies differ amongst farms.
This paper summarizes outcomes of a focus group that examined resource-use efficiency of permanent grassland in the context of profitable utilization, taking account of trade-offs needed to deliver other ecosystem services. Resource efficiency is considered at the levels of (1) improved herbage production and quality; (2) improved herbage utilization; (3) improved livestock utilization to deliver higher product value; and (4) resource efficiency to improve ecosystem services. A range of farm-scale and system-scale measures and innovative actions are identified that have potential for realizing improved resource-use efficiencies.
Influence of undigested and digested cattle slurry on grassland yield compared to mineral fertilizer
The of production biogas from cattle slurry is increasing in Estonia, but there is not enough information about the efficiency of using its by-product digestate as grassland fertilizer. Therefore a farm experiment was conducted to study the impact of cattle slurry digestate, undigested (raw) cattle slurry and inorganic compound fertilizer on grassland yield. Organic fertilizers were applied in amounts to provide 25 kg ha‑1 P yr‑1. The application rates of cattle slurry digestate and cattle slurry provided 80.7 and 61.1 kg NH4 +-N ha‑1 yr‑1 respectively, and the mineral compound fertilizer was 80 kg N ha‑1 yr‑1. Grass yield was measured three times in the growing period. Our research showed that NH4 +-N from cattle slurry digestate was not as effective as N from mineral fertilizer. Despite the higher NH4 +-N application amount with digestate its yield was similar to the cattle slurry treatment.
Maize (Zea mays L.) silage has become an increasingly important forage crop in high output dairy farming systems in Europe and North America because of its high energy density, relatively uniform nutritive value, and efficiency of production. But due to lack of surface residue and organic matter inputs and high nitrogen (N) fertilizer inputs, maize silage production is one of the most demanding cropping systems imposed on our soil and water resources. We investigated intercropping maize with the persistent rhizomatous legume, Caucasian clover (Trifolium ambiguum M. Bieb.), as a means to provide continuous living groundcover to minimize nitrate leaching, nutrient runoff and soil erosion. Maize was sown into existing stands of Caucasian clover that had been suppressed to reduce competition, and into areas with no clover. Total nitrate-N leached was reduced by 74% relative to the control monocrop maize under intercropped maize silage. On loess soils with 8 to 15% slope, during simulated, short, heavy rainstorms, Caucasian clover intercrop reduced water runoff by 50%, soil loss by 77%, and P and N losses by 80% relative to monocrop maize. Intercropping maize with Caucasian clover can eliminate N-fertilizer inputs and greatly reduce negative environmental impacts associated with maize silage production.
Is it possible for large herds to graze while keeping a high milk yield level? The experience of two Belgian dairy farms
Grazing is more and more abandoned because of increasing size of herds and automation of herd management (e.g. automatic milking system – AMS). In this context, this study aims to evaluate milk production and composition of 2 large Belgian dairy herds equipped with AMS during winter and summer. These herds were followed over 2 years. At grazing, 30% of the offered feed was grass. Milk production in both herds was similar in summer and winter (30.2±7.14 vs 29.7±7.8 in Herd 1 and 26.9±0.8 vs 26.4±0.8 in Herd 2) while milk their composition differed. In conclusion, it is possible for grazing to be preserved even in large herds without noticeably impact on the herd performance.
Lucerne (Medicago sativa) remains a widely grown forage crop globally. In Great Britain however, its use has been restricted by crop establishment challenges. With global demand for protein continuing to rise, the European dairy sector is tasked with increasing the use of home-grown protein forages. In 2013 the British Grassland Society and DairyCo embarked on the three-year-long Demo Farms project, whereby selected findings from the DairyCo-funded Grass, Forage and Soils research partnership involving a number of UK universities could be transferred to farmers via a network of trials and events on commercial farms. In 2014 a high-output dairy farm in southwest England in its second year of growing lucerne joined the project, providing knowledge exchange opportunities around the use of home-grown lucerne to reduce purchased protein costs and improve farm business scale efficiency. This paper explores the strategies employed at the demo farm growing and feeding the crop to date, and the farm’s use as a knowledge exchange mechanism.
In recent years, dairy production has been considered to be the most profitable farming activity in Poland. This study focuses on a sample of 40 randomly selected dairy farms from the north-eastern part of the Lublin province and compares their technical results. The research was completed in 2012 with a questionnaire containing 18 questions sent to the farm managers. The farms were classified into five production groups according to their annual milk sales. The largest research group accounted for 37.5% of farms; this group produced 100-250,000 litres of milk, with the average area of 47 ha and the average number of 30 cows. A large share of permanent grassland as a proportion of the agricultural area, and high stocking density on grasslands in the north-eastern Lublin province, indicate a change in the direction of grassland management.
With the aim to study the effect of protein supplement, two concentrate diets, one consisting of cereal grain only, and one with protein supplements added, were combined with two grass-clover silages with different contents of crude protein (130 and 170 g kg‑1 dry matter) and fed to 37 cows of the Swedish Red breed during 20 weeks. The silages, offered ad libitum, were of first cut, and to achieve the higher protein content additional pure red clover silage was added in a mixer wagon prior to feeding. The low protein silage was 95% dominated by timothy and meadow fescue. Concentrate type did not affect silage intake. Cows fed concentrate without protein supplement had a lower milk yield but a higher milk fat content (P<0.01), resulting in 30.9 kg and 35.3 kg energy corrected milk yield (ECM), respectively. There was no effect of silage type on milk yield or milk composition. The diet without protein supplement gave an increase in nitrogen efficiency by 20% compared with the diet with the protein supplement. The experiment was repeated a second year including only one silage quality. Results confirmed reduction in milk yield by excluding protein supplement, from 40.0 to 37.3 kg ECM (P<0.05).
As seen in other studies conducted over time, mineral fertilization provides an opportunity to improve grassland productivity and fodder quality. The aim of our research is to follow the effect of large amounts of mineral fertilizers on mountain grassland systems (for conditions specific to Apuseni Mountains, Romania) as well as to evaluate if increasing the quantity and quality of sward fodder value is applicable for the highly diverse grassland specific to Apuseni Mountains. The findings come from an experiment with 4 treatments (T1 = control (unfertilized), T2 = N50P25K25, T3 = N100P50K50, and T4 = N150P75K75). Mineral fertilization is directly proportional to dry matter (DM) harvested, which reaches up to 5.38 Mg ha‑1 DM. As a result, radical floristic changes occurred, Festuca rubra L. grassland type evolved into a Festuca rubra L. – Trisetum flavescens L. grassland, then into Agrostis capillaris L. – Trisetum flavescens L. grassland and then into one of Agrostis capillaris L. grassland type. The high inputs did not result in significant yield increases, but led to the disappearance of Festuca rubra L. grassland type and hence its specific diversity. Some nitrophilic species were better installed compared to oligomesotrophic species or oligotrophic species.
Models for predicting effects of management factors on per-cow and per-hectare pasture intake by grazing dairy cows
Robust modelling of pasture herbage intake by grazing dairy cows under a wide range of grazing and supplementary feeding strategies allows the better combination of high rates of pasture utilization and nutrition management in dairy systems. The GrazeIn model has been developed from 10 years at INRA (France) from extensive literature review and large experimental databases, and then validated at European level. It allows prediction of the effects of animal characteristics, sward nutritive value, grazing management (grazing system, pasture allowance, pasture mass, daily access time) and supplementation (concentrates and/or forages), along with their interactions, on daily pasture dry matter intake by grazing dairy cows. Grazing management and sward structural characteristics are, however, often unknown on farm. For that reason, a simplified version of the model describing sward state and management through only pre-grazing and post-grazing sward heights has also been developed, allowing easier use of the model for advising or teaching. After a brief description of the two versions of the model, the relative effects of the main factors affecting pasture intake are compared on a per-cow and on a per-hectare basis.
Nitrogen fertilizer replacement value of concentrated liquid fraction on grassland and effects on farm level
In the Netherlands, initiatives are taken to process animal manure. In a pilot of manure processing a liquid fraction of pig slurry with mainly mineral nitrogen (N) and potassium (K) is produced. The liquid fraction is concentrated into mineral concentrate (MC). To determine the nitrogen fertilizer replacement value (NFRV) on grassland, field experiments took place on sand and clay. The N yields with MC, calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN) and liquid ammonium nitrate (LAN) were compared. The responses to MC and LAN were lower than expected, compared to CAN. This resulted in NFRVs for MC that varied between 44 and 82%, with CAN as a reference fertilizer. To consider the consequences at farm level, a farm is simulated. By replacing 80 kg N ha‑1 of CAN with 10 m3 ha‑1 of MC, the farm saves €4,864 for fertilizers but yield reduction is 12 Mg DM of grass silage, which equals €2,040. This indicates that the MC should cost €7.40 m-3 maximum to reach an equal income on the alternative farm compared with the reference farm. If the NFRV were to reach 100%, the MC should cost €12.80 m-3 maximum, the costs of the replaced mineral fertilizers N and K2O.
Grasses have dense rooting systems, but nutrient uptake and drought resistance can be increased, and N-leaching reduced, if rooting is further improved. Improved rooting of grasses in agricultural systems should, however, not be a trade-off with aboveground biomass allocation and yield. In two field experiments on sandy soil in the Netherlands, we measured the variation in grass yield of sixteen varieties of Lolium perenne (Lp) during three years, and the root dry matter (RDM) at the end of the experiments. The Lp-varieties differed in aboveground and genetic characteristics such as productivity (classified according to the measured yields in the actual experiments), grass cover and ploidy. Results of the experiments show that RDM of perennial ryegrass differed significantly between varieties, and that these differences were not linked to grass yield. Our results indicate that it is possible to select perennial ryegrass varieties that combine high aboveground productivity with high RDM. Considering challenges in the areas of climate change, pollution and soil degradation, high yielding grass varieties with improved root systems could contribute to an efficient use of nutrients and water, and to erosion control, soil improvement and carbon sequestration.
Crop rotation in which grass and maize are alternated may contribute to efficient production of feeds for dairy production. However, in particular on dry sandy soils, proper transitions from the arable into the grassland phase and vice versa are crucial to control N leaching. From 1993 to 2010 we implemented four different systems on the experimental dairy farm De Marke on the basis of a grass-grass-grass-arablearable-arable rotation scheme. Each consecutive system was implemented to solve problems of the former system. This paper presents results on how various sources of information contributed to developments of crop rotation schemes on De Marke. Fodder beet was replaced by maize as first-year arable crop to avoid storage problems associated with fodder beet. This change tended to result in higher nitrate leaching to groundwater under first- and last-year arable crops. This was solved by leaving out N fertilization in the first-year maize. Smoothing the transition of arable land into new temporary grassland resulted in a more continuous presence of vegetation during winter. However, this had no clear effect on nitrate leaching to groundwater.
Semi-natural grassland in the Central area of Apuseni Mountains, Romania is fertilized only with organic fertilizers. Manure from cows and horses is applied in quantities of 6 to 10 Mg ha‑1. There has been a recent tendency for intensification of grassland close to human settlements and a decline or even abandonment of that located further away. An experiment with four variants was established in order to follow the effect of enhanced inputs of manure on Festuca rubra L. grassland, in terms of productivity, quality and biodiversity, as well as to recommend the optimum quantity of fertilizer. Production increased with increasing amounts of manure, but the quality of fodder did not show the same trend. The cover of Centaurea phrygia C. A. Mey and Pimpinella major L. increased in the treatments with large amounts of manure and these species contributed to significant reductions in fodder quality.
Grain legumes are an interesting alternative to grass as cattle forage owing to their nitrogen fixing ability and high biomass production. The objective of this study was to investigate the effect of a mixture of grass silage and faba bean-spring wheat (Vicia faba – Triticum aestivum) whole-crop silage (FB) on feed intake, nutrient utilization and milk production of dairy cows. Eight multiparous Finnish Ayrshire cows averaging 100 d in milk and producing 45 kg d‑1 milk were used in a replicated 4×4 Latin square study. Experimental treatments consisted of timothy-meadow fescue (Phleum pratense – Festuca pratensis) silage (GS) and a mixture of GS and FB (1:1 on a dry matter (DM) basis). Both forages were fed ad libitum and supplemented with 13 kg d‑1 of concentrate containing 2.0 or 3.5 kg rape seed meal (RSM). The crude protein content of the concentrate was 175 or 200 g kg‑1 DM, respectively. Replacing half of the GS with FB maintained silage DM intake and milk yield despite the lower digestibility of FB silage. Increasing RSM in the diet had no effect on milk yield but significantly decreased milk fat concentration with both forages.
Pastur’Plan: a dynamic tool to support grazing management decision making in a rotational grazing system
Efficient grazing management requires anticipation and flexibility and would be greatly facilitated by the development of dynamic tools with the capability to simulate different scenarios based on regular measurement of grass supply on the farm. Pastur’Plan, built on a spreadsheet within a partnership between INRA and a livestock management advisory association (Orne Conseil Elevage), combines two complementary concepts. The first is inspired by the Grass Wedge method adapted to French grazing conditions to highlight the distribution and coherence of grass supply on the paddocks on a farm and the requirements for grass based on the grazing rules and objectives. The second concept allows us to describe the evolution of the balance between grass growth and demand according to various grazing simulations on a paddock-by-paddock basis. This paper describes the hypothesis and calculations implemented, and subsequently the simulation method used and the illustrations dedicated to help support decisionmaking by grazing managers.
PastureBase Ireland (PBI) is a web-based grassland management tool incorporating a dual function of grassland decision support and a central database to collate grassland data. This database facilitates the collection and storage of a vast quantity of grassland data from grassland farmers in Ireland, providing infinite opportunities to increase the understanding around all aspects of grassland production and ultimately utilisation. The database spans across enterprises (dairy, beef and sheep), with grassland data recorded by all enterprise groups. Key questions that PBI can address include the quantification of seasonal and annual grass dry matter (DM) production, establishing the factors that affect production across different enterprises, including for example grassland management, region, and soil type. This database is designed to be functional at the paddock level. PBI has the potential to refocus grassland research in Ireland, while contributing to significant increases in productivity and profitability on grassbased farms. The objective of this paper is to briefly describe PBI and to demonstrate some of the outputs of the model.
The paper presents the effect of weather variables on performance and herbage quality of legume monocultures and grass-legume mixtures. In a field experiment, the total dry matter yield and its distribution during the growing period, content of crude protein and fibre of monocultures of Trifolium pratense and Medicago sativa and grass-legume mixtures under the climatic conditions of hilly region in Central Slovakia during two dry years was investigated. Medicago sativa cv. Kamila and Tereza grown as monocultures or as mixtures with Festulolium braunii (cv. Achilles) outperformed Trifolium pretense cv. Fresko and Veles and provided a well-balanced total and seasonal dry matter yield during both years. Across all experimental years, crude protein content was significantly higher at Medicago sativa monocultures and mixtures when compared to Trifolium pratense monocultures (P<0.05). Responses of nutritive parameters of both legume species to weather variables were different. The crude protein content in Trifolium pratense was independent of rainfall and temperature. In contrast, the fibre content correlated with temperature; correlations were stronger for Medicago sativa monocultures (P<0.05) than Trifolium pratense monocultures.
Perennial ryegrass variety ranking responses to inclusion of white clover and altered nitrogen fertility
Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) is the most widely used ryegrass species for high-output pasture based dairy farms in Europe. Repeated selective breeding has enhanced dry matter (DM) productivity potential, elevated nutritive value and provided a large diversity of varieties adapted to variant growing conditions and farming practices. With renewed interest in white ryegrass-clover swards mixtures, there is a concern that sward interactions between perennial ryegrass varieties and white clover will have a significant effect on the dry matter yield performance of a recommended grass variety. The aim of this study was to establish if perennial ryegrass varieties re-rank in DM yield when sown with/without white clover at two nitrogen applications under intensive grazing. Eight perennial ryegrass varieties were sown with (+C) /without (-C) white clover. Swards received two levels of nitrogen 250 (HN) and 100 (LN) kg N ha‑1. Treatments were HN+C, HN-C, LN+C and LN-C. A significant nitrogen by clover interaction occurred because LN-C gave the lowest yield, but although high nitrogen increased both the with and without clover treatments, the highest yielding treatment was LN+C. Grass variety had a significant effect (P>0.001) on DM yield, but the ranking of the ryegrass varieties was unaffected by the imposed treatments and so represented a robust estimation of the relative DM production potential of each ryegrass variety. The inclusion of clover also did not affect the relative performance of the ryegrass varieties, indicating that any inter-species competitive interactions were not variety specific.
Algal blooming caused by phosphorus (P) losses from agricultural soils to ground- and surface water is a major problem as P is typically the limiting factor for eutrophication in freshwater systems. To fine-tune the advice on P fertilisation and increase P-use efficiency, it is important to have up to date information on amounts of phosphate (P2O5) exported by crops. We re-analysed Flemish nitrogen fertilization experiments on silage maize (Zea mays) and cut grassland (Poaceae) to derive their quantities of exported P2O5. The median P2O5 export by silage maize increased significantly from 78 kg P2O5 ha‑1 in the last decade of the 20th century to 94 kg P2O5 ha‑1 in recent years (median of 2.1 g P kg‑1 dry matter (DM)). This increase is due to the higher crop yields. The median P2O5 export for cut grassland remained at approximately 110 kg P2O5 ha‑1 with a median of 4.1 g P kg‑1 DM.
Milk production is responsible for about 11% of global agricultural output in Portugal. Two regions, which together represent less than 10% of the land area of the country, contribute to 80% of Portuguese milk production: the Azores islands and the Northwest (NW) mainland area. The two systems are strongly specialized on milk production, but differ in terms of land use and intensity of inputs applied. The Azores dairy farming system houses 33% of national dairy livestock and is responsible for 30% of the annual 1,900,000 Mg Portuguese milk production. In this system, four-fifths of the surface area of dairy farms are occupied by permanent grasslands which are grazed all year round. Grazing is complemented by maize and ryegrass silage obtained from the remaining one-fifth of the farmland area. The more intensive NW dairy system is based on a double-cropping forage system (zero-grazing) that uses maize as a summer crop and Italian (annual) ryegrass as a cover crop in winter. This region is responsible for more than 50% of national milk production and holds 45% of national total of dairy cows. The high silage yielding potential and the annual use of up to 3.5 Mg concentrate feed per dairy cow allow animal stocking rates of 4-7 LSU ha‑1. This farming system may generate large N losses, particularly by nitrate leaching. Environmental issues currently play an important role driving changes and adaptation measures to improve system sustainability to comply with legal regulations. These modifications are being accompanied by very fast changes in farm structural characteristics; between 1993/1994 and 2009/2010 the number of dairy holdings has been reduced by more than 85% and the number of cows per farm has increased proportionally. The main problems affecting the Portuguese dairy sector at present are evaluated and possible solutions are suggested to face the upcoming challenges.
In temperate and oceanic regions, grazed grass is the lowest cost feed available for milk production. In other regions, grazed grass is less important but can contribute to the diet of livestock. Within high output systems the interaction between the animal and sward is challenging for a host of reasons, including intake and milk production potential, substitution, grass allowance, quality, etc., which often means that grass utilisation and quality are compromised. Adaptation of grazing management and implementation of a range of grazing strategies can provide possibilities to increase the proportion of grazed grass in the diet of dairy cows in high output systems. As Europe transitions to a non-milk quota situation, increasing scale, or herd size, will probably lead to a trend towards a reduction in grazing, and may lead to a loss of the benefits of grazing. Therefore, strategies are required to increase the level of grazed grass in the diet of dairy cows on high output farms through the integration of grassland measurement and budgeting within everyday grassland management practices. There is a growing body of literature describing the benefits of grazing from an economic, environmental, animal welfare and overall social dimension. However, there are fewer reviews highlighting the constraints and difficulties to maintaining a high level of grass utilisation and good grazing performance in high output systems. The objective of this review is to present a balanced overview of the possibilities and the constraints for grazing in dairy systems in the future.
The reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has created renewed interest in the implementation of agroforestry and silvopastoral systems. The multifunctional use of trees for energy and wood production, nutrient cycling, carbon storage, biodiversity, landscape quality and – last but not least – fodder makes trees a potential third crop next to grass and maize on farmland including high-output dairy farms. To decide which trees to use for planting, it is important to have insight into the feeding value of the different species. Therefore we created a database on the feeding values, using data from the literature. The database includes records of tree leaves, twigs, and twigs with leaves of 40 different temperate tree species (620 records in total) (www.voederbomen.nl/nutritionalvalues). Using this database, we compared the nutritive value of the leaves of a number of temperate fodder trees. The nutritive values for grass (Lolium perenne L.) are shown for comparison. These data show that, compared to grass, the in vitro organic matter digestibility of tree leaves is relatively low. However, for some species the concentrations of crude protein, and of macro- and micronutrients, are relatively high, which shows the potential value of tree leaves as an additional feed source on dairy farms.
In Germany, it is recommended to harvest silage maize at a whole-crop dry matter (DM) content (GTS) of 32 to 36% and a cob DM content (KTS) of about 55%. Predicting harvest date may be challenging for sites with a high risk of summer drought. Harvesting silage maize at the optimum stage of development is a prerequisite for maximising yield, forage quality and resource-use efficiency. This is especially challenging for sites that have frequent summer droughts, which cause fast maturation of the stover. The objectives of the current study were to evaluate the predicting ability of three modelling approaches: the semimechanistic MaisProg model, simulating GTS and KTS, and a temperature-sum driven tool (PAGF) predicting KTS. The study was based on an 8-year field experiment, conducted at Paulinenaue, northeastern Germany, where maize hybrids were harvested weekly from August until silage maturity. The results revealed that, under conditions of frequent summer droughts, MaisProg-GTS seems less suitable, as indicated by an unsatisfactory correlation coefficient (0.68). Better model fit was achieved by the KTS-based approaches (MaisProg: 0.92, PAGF: 0.96). In particular, PAGF showed a higher correlation for early harvest date predictions (mid/late August), which is advantageous in terms of arranging the hiring of contractors.
Production and cow-traffic management during the pasture season in large herds with automatic milking
A field study on management during the pasture season was conducted on 20 Swedish farms with at least two automatic milking (AM) units and over 130 cows registered in the official control system. The objective was to compare milk production during indoor and pasture seasons, and to study cow traffic management during the pasture season. Using data from the official monthly control milkings, average yield of milked cows during winter (November-March) and summer ( June-August) seasons were analysed using a mixed model with farm as repeated subject and season as variable. Days in milk and cows per robot were tested in the model but were non-significant. Milk yield was 30.1 and 28.4 kg energy corrected milk in winter and summer season, respectively (P<0.001). A more detailed analysis, using daily production farm data from the AM unit from the months before and after pasture let-out on each farm, showed a significant (P<0.05) decrease in the number of cows milked per robot after pasture let-out (57.5) compared with before (60.1). When number of cows per robot was included in the model together with season, a significantly (P<0.01) higher milking frequency per cow was observed before pasture let-out (2.57) compared with after (2.45). The effects of different management factors on production variables were also analysed but were not significant in this study.
In an automatic milking unit, a daytime grazing system with production pasture (group P) was compared with offering cows a small grass-covered paddock only for exercise and recreation, i.e. exercise pasture (group E). Two experiments (Exp1 and Exp2) were performed during 12 and 5 weeks with 53 cows and 42 cows, respectively. Group P was offered new pasture daily with night-time access to grass silage ad libitum (Exp1) or in restricted amounts (Exp2). Group E was offered exercise pasture and silage ad libitum during 24 (Exp1) or 16 hours (Exp2) daily. In Exp1, group P had significantly (P<0.05) higher daily milk yield (+1.6 kg Energy Corrected Milk) than group E and daily silage intake in groups P and E was 9.8 and 12.2 kg dry matter (DM) per cow, respectively. In Exp2, cows in group P had similar milk yield to cows in group E and daily silage intake was 6.2 and 11.5 kg DM in group P and E, respectively. These results show that it is possible to achieve either higher milk yield (Exp1) or considerably lower intake of supplementary silage (Exp2) on production pasture compared with exercise pasture.
Productive longevity of different alfalfa varieties depends on soil fertility, weather conditions, intensity of use and disease incidence. The pasture-type alfalfa (Medicago varia Martyn.) variety Pastbischnaya 88 was tested for long-term persistence on well cultivated soils. In the 5th and 6th years of use 36-72 plants were left per 1 m2 and dry matter yields reached 5-7 Mg ha‑1. Thinning of the swards was recorded both after unfavourable winter conditions and due to the diseases in the summer period. By the 15-17th year of use the productivity of alfalfa-based swards declined to 2.8-3.12 Mg ha‑1. Being well provided with P and K on the sod-podzolic soil, alfalfa persisted in the mixtures with smooth brome even in its 18th year of use. Presence of 1-7 alfalfa plants per 1 m2 provided significantly higher yields than pure grass stands. Smooth brome is a good companion grass in alfalfa-grass mixtures for long-term twice-a-season use. This species considerably resisted dandelion invasions and did not suppress alfalfa. The key condition of smooth brome persistence in mixtures with other gramineous grasses is annual application of N90. Without mineral nitrogen fertilization the swards were invaded by wild grasses and dandelion, and the share of smooth brome decreased to 10-18%. On moderately rich soils serious thinning of alfalfa-timothy swards was already recorded in the 4th year after sowing. Their productivity declined to a level of 1.58-2.92 Mg ha‑1. Productivity of alfalfa-grass mixtures exceeded that of the single-species timothy crop by 1.8-2.0 times.
Production potential of grassland and fodder crops in high-output systems in the Low Countries in north western Europe and how to deal with limiting factors
The farming community currently growing fodder crops and grassland in areas with intensive dairy production in the EU is confronted with opportunities and threats related to (1) characteristics of cropping systems, (2) scientific and technological developments, (3) tightening of regulations, (4) scarcity of land and restricted freedom of use of the land, (5) changing climate and (6) changes in consumer attitudes and behaviour. Using highly productive varieties in appropriate crop rotations, and applying good agricultural practices, offers opportunities for reducing environmental impacts hence proactively preventing further strengthening of the regulations. The scarcity of land in densely populated areas and ongoing restrictions on the freedom to use the land are confronting intensive dairy farmers with problems for which technical solutions may not bring relief. The decreasing consumption of animal products in the developed world may change land use in the future.
Inclusion of legumes in grasslands could enhance N-use efficiency of forage production. Performance of 7 binary grass-legume mixtures was studied to examine companion species with contrasting attributes. Perennial ryegrass (PR) was sown alone and with each of four forage legumes: red clover (RC), birdsfoot trefoil (BT), lucerne (LU) and white clover (WC); WC was sown with each of four companion grasses: PR, hybrid ryegrass (HR), meadow fescue (MF) and timothy (TI). Mixtures were studied in a smallplot (1.5×8 m) cutting trial with 4 replications in Denmark to test the effect of species composition on herbage yield, contents of nitrogen (N) and neutral detergent fibre (NDF), and in vitro organic matter digestibility (IVOMD). Plots were fertilised with 300 kg N ha‑1 from cattle slurry and harvested five times from May to October in year 1 and four times in year 2. With different companion grasses, the WC proportion was similar in mixtures with HR and MF, which had a lower WC content than with PR and TI. Annual herbage yield was highest for PR/RC (15.6 Mg DM ha‑1) which had, on average, the highest legume proportion of DM, the highest N content (33 g N kg‑1 DM) and the highest N yield (505 kg N ha‑1) across both years. The mixture with the lowest values was PR/BT (9.6 Mg DM ha‑1; 25 g N kg‑1 DM; 243 kg N ha1). PR/RC had the lowest concentration of NDF (375 g kg‑1 DM) and pure PR the highest (437 g kg‑1 DM). IVOMD ranged from 730 g kg‑1 organic matter (OM) in PR/LU to 774 g kg‑1 OM in WC/HR. Choice of companion grass had less effects than that of companion legume in the examined mixtures. Red clover contributed most to N yield.
Dairyman was an EU-Interreg IVB project for Northwest Europe which ran from 2009 to 2013 involving 10 regions. A pilot farm network was set up, comprising 127 dairy farms covering the partner regions. The farms were optimized regarding economic, ecological and social aspects, to provide a measure of sustainability. The collected data provided a clear overview of current production systems and the future potential in Northwest Europe. This paper describes the application of a multi-annual data-set used to assess and analyse development of sustainability of an individual farm. A multi-criteria assessment tool has been developed, the Dairyman sustainability index, incorporating economic, ecological and social indicators to describe and comprehend the complexity of the farm as a production system. Moreover this tool can visualize individual farm development and differences in milk production systems over time and between regions.
Quantifying the environmental performance of individual dairy farms – the annual nutrient cycling assessment
Dairy farming is characterised by extensive fluxes of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P): large amounts of these elements cycle via feed, manure, soils and crops. Losses and exports in the form of milk, meat and manure are compensated for by purchased feeds and fertilisers. At this moment, farmers lack accurate insight into the impact of their management on the functioning of these cycles. We therefore developed the model ANCA, based on the results of the pilot farm network ‘cows & opportunities’ and the experimental farm ‘De Marke’. The ANCA model quantifies the main performance indicator related to the nutrient cycles. The ANCA model is based on verifiable input data that can be collected with little effort, as the model is to be used by commercial farmers whilst being fraud resistant. The model outcomes help dairy farmers to demonstrate towards authorities and the dairy industry that they have produced their milk in accordance with sustainability standards. From 2015 onwards, ANCA will serve as a licence to produce for any dairy farm in the Netherlands with a manure surplus (about 70% of the number of farms).
Maize (Zea mays) cultivation for silage has negative impacts on soil and water quality: reduced soil organic matter, nitrate leaching, soil-biota decline, etc. These problems can be caused partly by intensive soil tillage, like ploughing. The suitability of less-intensive tillage alternatives for farmers, in terms of effects on yield and soil quality, is unknown. On three field experiments, two on sandy soils and one on marine clay soil, we compared ‘full-field inversion tillage’ with two reduced tillage systems: ‘full-field non-inversion tillage’ and ‘strip-cutter’. Reducing tillage intensity in silage maize cropping influenced both yields and soil quality: at two locations yields tended to be reduced, and at two locations soil organic matter content was lower in inversion tillage compared to reduced tillage. The possible implications of reduced soil organic matter mineralisation for nitrogen dynamics are discussed.
A regional feed centre buys crops from grassland farmers and arable farmers. These crops can provide roughage or concentrates for dairy cows. It processes these fodders into balanced total mixed rations (TMR) and delivers them to dairy farmers. A feed centre makes it possible to optimize fodder production at the regional level rather than at the farm level. It also stimulates arable farmers to grow fodder, like they produce concentrates, for the dairy sector. Calculations of another exploratory study (Walsum et al., 2014) showed that optimization of fodder production at regional level reduces nutrient losses to surface water by 10-20%. The advantage of a regional feed centre for dairy farmers is that they can outsource the storage of fodder and feeding of the cows. On the other hand, the feed centres provide an additional service that costs money and give more traffic. The cost of a feed centre depends on its size and its distance to fodder farmers and dairy farmers. A large feed centre creates less overhead costs, but more traffic. Therefore a model calculation (Waterwijs) has been made for the region ‘The Peel’ in the Province Brabant. In this study arable farmers grow 60% of the concentrates requirement of the dairy cows. This model optimizes the number and locations of the feed centres by minimizing the total overhead costs of the feed centres and the total transport cost of fodder (roughage and concentrates) to the feed centre and of TMR to the dairy farmers. When 10% of the total number of 150,000 dairy farmers participate in ‘The Peel’ the optimum is two feed centres. In this optimal situation the total cost of the service of a feed centre and transport is € 2 per 100 kg milk.
Lotus corniculatus L. (birdsfoot trefoil) is a perennial legume forage species native to the Mediterranean basin, well adapted to marginal environments. In the present study, the regrowth pattern of two L. corniculatus natural populations from different origins was examined under optimum and limited irrigation. Plants from two semi-arid areas of northern Greece (Macedonia) were selected and transplanted to pots. They were grown under a transparent shelter in two water regimes: (1) irrigation up to field capacity, and (2) limited irrigation (40% of optimum). Plants were harvested at different dates (phenological stages) in spring and left to regrow. The harvested plants grew for 8, 30, 39 and 46 days. The yield, the leaf and stem weight and the number of stems were measured and the leaf weight ratio (LWR) was calculated. The results showed that limited irrigation reduced the yield and the number of stems of both tested populations. There was a greater decrease in stem biomass than of leaves, giving higher LWR under limited irrigation, especially in the ‘Drama’ population. This decline in yield suggests that this species is suitable for cultivation in semiarid Mediterranean areas under rain-fed conditions.
Grazing is not currently a common practice on dairy farms in Hungary. There are several possible reasons for this situation: the necessary conditions are not available for grazing, or technical considerations about grazing are not favourable in practice. These questions were investigated on two dairy farms through farm visits and technical interviews. Farm 1 has grazing, whereas Farm 2, which used to graze its animals, currently does not graze but there are plans to establish pasture for grazing. The main results of the investigations are as follows: neither farm has enough pasture/land area available to meet the requirements of grazing; the period of adequate grass growth/supply is relatively short, it is a maximum of two months in the beginning of spring; the nutritive value of grass decreases sharply in spring, and for this reason only animals requiring less-intensive feeding can be grazed (dry cows, heifers and perhaps low yield cows); grazing can result in remarkable savings in terms of inputs and costs; grazing does not need specific labour, and staff currently on the farms can manage grazing at the necessary technical level; the safety of outdoor animals from theft were not considered to be an obstacle to grazing on the farms.
During the past decade trials have shown the value of species-rich grasslands for farmland biodiversity. On four highly productive dairy farms, where farming was combined with management of species-rich grasslands and habitat creation for meadow birds, we analysed the value of these species-diverse swards with respect to grass production and quality, farm management and biodiversity. Compared with grass, herbs and legumes generally contained higher levels of minerals and their herbage offered more structure in the cattle diet. Speeding up the creation of species-diverse swards is possible by reseeding with speciesrich mixtures. On these farms a species richness of 17-30 species per 100 m-2 was obtained. Previous research showed that replacement of 25-30% Lolium perenne silage by silage from comparable speciesrich swards is possible without a decline in milk production. When highly productive dairy farms create species-diverse swards on part of their acreage, it will be possible to produce healthy forage while also providing a good habitat for meadow birds.
The objective of this study was to explore under farming conditions the effect of reduced fertilizer N application rates on the dynamics of botanical composition and yields of grass-clover-swards. In both temporary and permanent grassland the percentage of highly productive grasses (good grasses) declined at a constant rate of 3.0 to 6.3% points y‑1 during the aging of the sward. Good grasses were replaced by less-productive grasses and herbs. The percentage of clover did not show a significant trend. Reduced N fertilization did not significantly change these dynamics. The percentage of white clover and, in some cases, high-yielding grasses in the sward, enhanced the yields of nitrogen and herbage dry matter, while the percentage of herbs reduced yields.
On the basis of a literature search, a compilation of agronomic, agri-environmental and phytosociological typologies of grasslands are presented at plot, farm and region levels.
The oceanic climate conditions of Asturias (Spain) are favourable for grass and pasture production. However, the use of concentrates in dairy-cow diets has increased in the last decades. The aim was to study the differences in milk composition in the four feeding systems identified in the North of Spain through the monitoring of 16 dairy farms. The criteria to describe feeding systems were: grazing (G) and nongrazing. Moreover, three subgroups were identified within ‘non-grazing’ in terms of the percentage of the usable agricultural area (UAA) designated to maize culture: less than 20% (20M), about 50% (50M) and more than 75% (75M) of UAA. Four dairy farms were selected by their feeding system. Feed and milk were sampled and analysed in summer, autumn and winter of 2014. The results show that the protein, lactose and solids-non-fat in milk were higher (P<0.05) in 75M than in the other feeding systems. The highest fat content (P<0.05) and the lowest content of linolenic acid (P<0.01) and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) (P<0.05) were in winter, when there was less use of grass. The concentration of saturated acids increased in the 75M system (P<0.05), reducing the ratio unsaturated:saturated (P<0.05). The fatty acid profile was influenced by feed management, with the grazing system producing an increase in vaccenic acid (P<0.001) and CLA (P<0.01).
The aim of the experiment was to investigate the activity and behaviour of dairy cows with access to different outdoor areas. The study took place on two commercial farms with loose-housing and automatic milking systems (AMS). One farm offered 2.8 hectares of green pasture and the other offered a 0.7-hectare exercise pen. Sixty-six percent of the cows with access to green pasture went outside whenever possible. More activity was observed on ‘pasture-days’. Most observations were spent grazing (72.2%). Milk yield was, however, lower (P<0.01) and number of visits to the AMS fewer (P<0.001), on days with access to pasture. In the farm with access to an exercise area, only 31% of the cows went outside when possible. Most of the observations were standing/walking with head up (43.2%) and lying (33.2%). The number of cows outside was mainly controlled by the indoor feeding interval. Access to the exercise pen did not affect the daily milk yield, but resulted in an increase in number of milking visits (P=0.005). In conclusion, access to outdoor areas, preferably pasture, is important for dairy cows and may have a positive effect on animal welfare and their ability to practice natural behaviour.
Development of yield and digestibility of grass leys was studied in Maaninka, Finland during the 2014 growing season. A field plot of 8 ha was sown in 2013 using a mixture of timothy (Phleum pretense L.), meadow fescue (Festuca pratensis Huds.) and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.). The field was divided into two sectors according to the timing of the first harvest. The early first cut was taken on 10 June and the late first cut on 23 June. Four sampling points were used per sector. Samples were taken around the first cut and during the regrowth approximately every fifth day. Digestibility of grass (D-value) was determined by near-infrared spectrometry. The primary cut produced higher dry matter yield than the regrowth. A low grass growth rate during the regrowth was partly compensated for by using a long growing period. The D-value of grass decreased almost at the same rate in both the primary growth and the beginning of the regrowth period. The D-value of regrowth increased at the end of growing period. Thus the rate of decrease of the D-value of the regrowth depends on the observation period.
There is an increasing focus on biodiversity and feed resources for pollinators. However, the integration of these elements into high-yielding temporary grasslands is a challenge. With the main aim of continuous flowering we examined three strategies with four cuts per year, in which the time of the spring cut varied. In total we had 10 different harvest times during the season. This was combined with 12 different species mixtures in two categories. One was high-yielding mixtures composed of perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne), white clover (Trifolium repens) and red clover (Trifolium pratense), either alone or with either chicory (Cichorium intybus), ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata) or caraway (Carum carvi). The other category was lower-yielding two-species mixtures composed of one legume (red clover, lucerne (Medicago sativa) or birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)) and one spring-flowering non-leguminous forb (salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor) or dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)). Annual dry matter yield was only slightly affected by cutting strategy. Feeding value and weekly change in feed value differed considerably between species. Weekly decrease of digestibility of organic matter ranged from 0.4% in caraway to 5.0% in birdsfoot trefoil. For the two-species mixtures, birdsfoot trefoil was the least-useful companion legume for non-leguminous forbs.
In the Netherlands, the amounts per ha of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) applied have been reduced by approximately 40% since 1996, due to legislative restrictions. However, as the reductions in N and P fertiliser application have not resulted in a reduction in the dry matter (DM) yield of grassland, we hypothesise that herbage quality is changing. We used a large database (n>350,000) with results of spring forage analyses from dairy farms in the Netherlands. In the period studied (1996-2013), crude protein (CP), crude ash, P, K, Fe, Zn, Mo, Cu and Co content all decreased. In the same period, an increasing content of energy, water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC) and selenium was found. The decreasing CP levels probably induced the increase in the WSC content of herbage. The increase in Se content can be explained by the increased use of Se containing fertilizers. In conclusion, almost all mineral contents in herbage seem to decrease because of the legislative restriction on N and P input. In order to maintain high animal production levels, farmers need to purchase high-protein feed and minerals for their rations to compensate for the decreasing CP and mineral contents in silage.
Fodder galega (Galega orientalis Lam.) is a forage legume that has been grown in Estonia for approximately 43 years. Pure galega is known to be a persistent and high-yielding crop rich in nutrients, in particular crude protein (CP). Galega is usually grown in a mixture with grass in order to optimize its nutrient concentration, increase dry matter (DM) yield and improve fermentation properties. There are certain grass species suitable for the mixture. In this study galega mixtures with reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea L.) cv. Marathon, timothy (Phleum pratense L.) cv. Tika, red fescue (Festuca rubra L.) cv. Kauni and festulolium cv. Hykor were investigated in two successive years (2013-2014). Three cuts were carried out during in both years. Nitrogen (N) fertilization (rate of N50) was applied in spring before the first and second cuts. Early-season N applications to galega-grass swards can prevent N-deficiency in the spring. The total dry matter yield varied from 7.6 to 13.7 Mg ha‑1. The CP concentration in the DM varied from 123-188 g kg‑1. Both DM-yield and CP were dependent on the year, mixture and fertilization. High N fertilization favoured grass growth and reduced the role of galega in the sward.
The effect of pasture allowance offered for different time durations on the dry matter intake of dairy cows
Milk quota abolition will increase herd size resulting in greater deficits in spring grass availability. 96 early lactation grazing dairy cows were assigned to one of four pasture allowances (PA; 60, 80, 100 and 120% of intake capacity) for either 2 or 6 weeks. All cows were allocated a 100% PA during the carryover period. Dry matter intake (DMI) was estimated during weeks 2, 6 and 13. During week 2, there was no difference in DMI between the 100 and 120% allowances (13.7 kg DM cow‑1) but their DMI was significantly greater than the 60 and 80% allowances (10.4 and 11.5 kg DM cow‑1, respectively), which were also significantly different to each other. During week 6, there was a significant interaction between PA and duration. Cows assigned to the 2-week treatment had similar DMI (13.9 kg DM cow‑1). The 120×6 treatment (14.6 kg DM cow‑1) was significantly different to the 60×6, 80×6 and 100×6 treatments (10.7, 12.3 and 13.3 kg DM cow‑1, respectively). There was no difference in DMI between the 80×6 and the 100×6 treatments (12.8 kg DM cow‑1), which were both different to the 60×6 treatment (10.7 kg DM cow‑1). During week 13, there was no effect of treatment on DMI (15.1 kg DM cow‑1). Differences in DMI were observed during the experimental period, but there was no effect of treatment on DMI during the carryover period. In conclusion, varying the PA of early lactation dairy cows from 60 to 120% of intake capacity for 2 or 6 weeks produced no carryover effects in terms of DMI.
The effect of potassium on dry matter production and nutritive value of grass on three different soil types
In Finland, grass yield response to potassium (K) fertilization varies with soil acid-extractable potassium (KHCl) availability, rather than the traditionally used measure of soil acid ammonium acetate-extractable potassium (KAAc). However, in previous experiments, no animal manure was used and grass nutritive value was only partially taken into account. The objective of this experiment was to measure the effects of cattle slurry, mineral K-fertilization (0, 50, 100, 150, 200 kg ha‑1 year‑1) and their interaction on grass (Phleum pratense – Festuca pratensis) dry matter (DM) production and nutritional value (organic matter digestibility, K concentration, Diet Cation Anion Difference = DCAD, grass tetany index) under three different levels of soil KHCl. Three-year field experiments were established at three locations: site 1, 2 and 3. The study was carried out as a split plot experiment. KHCl concentration of soil did not entirely explain the utilization of potassium by grass. Mineral K fertilization, given as KCl, decreased nutritional value of forage except for DCAD, on which Cl has a strong positive effect. K uptake was more effective without slurry application especially on soils with low and medium levels of KHCl.
The use of radar images for detecting when grass is harvested and thereby improve grassland yield estimates
Cutting date and frequency are important parameters which, together with weather, soil conditions, botanical composition and fertilizer, determine grassland yields. However, cost- and time-efficient methods for recording cutting dates of grassland are currently lacking. Therefore, we developed a method for detecting cutting dates using changes in radar images of the sward surface. The combination of this method with a grassland yield model will result in more reliable and region-wide data on grassland yield estimates. For determining when grassland has been cut, robust amplitude-change detection techniques were used evaluating the amplitude or backscatter statistics before and after the cutting events in a test area in Germany. All detected cuts were verified according to in situ measurements and recorded in a GIS database. This method will be further adjusted to Sentinel-1 data which will then enable an area-wide and cost-efficient cutting-date detection service. The cutting frequency and yield data gained by this method are essential for optimising the use of grassland, for yield adjusted fertilisation, and the assessment of unused potential of grassland for alternative energies (e.g. biogas, solid fuel).
The effect of tetraploid and diploid perennial ryegrass swards sown with and without clover on milk and herbage production
An experiment to investigate the impact of tetraploid and diploid perennial ryegrass swards sown with and without white clover on the productivity of spring milk production systems was established in 2012 (75%) and 2013 (25%). Four separate grazing treatments/swards were sown for the experiment: tetraploid only, diploid only, tetraploid with clover and diploid with clover. Eight cultivars (four diploid: Tyrella, Aberchoice, Glenveagh and Drumbo; four tetraploid: Aston Energy, Kintyre, Twymax and Dunluce) were sown as monocultures with and without clover. Thirty cows were allocated to each treatment after calving in February 2014. All treatments were stocked at 2.75 cows ha‑1 and received 250 kg of nitrogen fertiliser ha‑1. There was no difference in milk or milk solids yield between the tetraploid-only (4,895 and 414 kg cow‑1, respectively) and diploid-only (4,848 and 403 kg cow‑1, respectively) swards. However, incorporating clover resulted in 13.3% greater milk yield and 13.4% greater milk solids yield (5,532 and 464 kg cow‑1, respectively, and 5,506 and 462 kg cow‑1, respectively, for the tetraploid with clover and diploid with clover treatments, respectively). Pasture dry matter (DM) production was 16.8% greater on the grass-clover swards (17,400 kg DM ha‑1) compared to the grass-only swards (14,900 kg DM ha‑1).
Dairy farmers are under increasing pressure to maximise their use of home-grown high-protein forages to achieve sustainable intensification. The use of shallow tillage, such as direct drilling, is one approach farmers could use to reduce the establishment costs when incorporating these forages into high-output pasture-based systems. Lucerne (Medicago sativa) is a high yielding forage with high crude protein concentration which is highly palatable to ruminants. An experiment investigated the effect of establishment date and method on lucerne establishment. Findings showed that competition from grass was the main factor affecting the lucerne establishment. The yield of lucerne, established after either a first or second silage cut, either by ploughing or direct drilling, did not differ among treatments where herbicide was used. If lucerne is to be successfully established without the use of herbicide, it should be sown after ploughing not by direct drilling, and after a first silage cut.
Out-wintering replacement dairy heifers is commonly practised among low input pasture-based dairy systems, and is potentially an option to facilitate expansion for high output dairy farms. The effects on performance of Holstein dairy heifers out-wintered on perennial ryegrass, fodder beet, or housed during the winter of 2013/2014 in the UK were examined. Forty eight, 23-(±2.8) month-old, in-calf heifers were randomly assigned to one of three treatments: out-wintered on perennial ryegrass and grass silage (G); out-wintered on fodder beet and grass silage (F); or housed and fed grass silage and concentrate (H). The study commenced in November 2013, with heifers continuing on their respective treatments for 13 weeks, before being housed for six weeks before parturition. Post-partum all animals received the same diet with performance measured for 12 weeks. Mean live weight (Lwt) and body condition score (BCS) during the winter was unaffected by treatment, but BCS of heifers that received G tended to be lower (P=0.090) at housing. Post-partum, mean Lwt was unaffected by treatment; however, mean BCS was lower (P=0.022) in animals that received G. Milk yield was not affected by treatment, but milk fat (g kg‑1) was lowest (P=0.027) and milk protein (g kg‑1) highest (P=0.026), in F. The results indicate that Holstein heifers can be successfully out-wintered without impacting on first lactation performance in a high output dairy system.
Well-supplied trace elements are necessary for production and animal health. The Water Framework Directive requires a reduction of the output of heavy metals. The tool ‘Spoorwijzer’ (Trace element guide) is used to calculate the supply of Zn, Se, Cu and Co of different groups of dairy cattle. Zn and Cu are necessary for animal health. Zn is amply supplied on most conventional Dutch dairy farms. Young stock, dry cows and end-lactation cows receive little or no concentrate feed, causing low supply of Se, Cu or Co. Using tailor-made mineral mixtures on a number of farms did not have a negative effect on production and animal health. The surplus per ha on these farms was decreased by 52% for Zn, 28% for Cu, 22% for Se and 56% for Co. It is concluded that Zn is not necessary in mineral mixtures on Dutch conventional dairy farms. Considerable cost reduction is possible by using tailor-made mineral mixtures. In conclusion, the studies found that using tailor-made mineral mixtures is positive for high-output dairy farming and eco-efficient farming.
Inclusion of red clover (Trifolium pratense) in grasslands improves productivity. However, poor persistence, particularly under high fertilization rates, is a major limitation for wider utilization. Earlier observations indicated that the type of grass may influence the grass-clover balance, besides, e.g. cutting strategy. In a field experiment we investigated clover proportions and production of five different grass mixtures in combination with red and white clover (T. repens): (1) Lolium perenne; (2) L. boucheanum + L. perenne; (3) Festulolium + L. perenne + L. boucheanum + Phleum pratense subsp. pratense; (4) L. perenne + Festulolium; (5) Festuca arundinacea + P. pratense. The experiment was carried out for three years at two locations (sandy and clay soil) at high fertilization levels (254 and 306 kg N-total ha‑1 year‑1 from animal manure). Results indicate that red clover can be relatively persistent, with an average of 43% red clover in the DM-production in both the second and third year. Mixtures containing L. boucheanum showed significantly lower clover proportions. Protein production per hectare was strongly and positively related to the red clover proportion in the sward. These results show that grass species influence the productivity and clover proportions in grass-clover swards. The best performing mixtures under the given conditions include Festulolium or F. arundinacea.
Grass cover crops installed following the harvest of forage maize often develop poorly due to the late sowing date. Undersowing of grasses is an alternative, provided the undersown grass does not compete too much with the maize crop. This trial evaluated the competition of undersown tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.) in forage maize. Differences in competition were obtained by using 6 contrasting herbicide treatments that affected tall fescue differently. The yield of forage maize without undersown grass (control: 21,688 kg DM ha‑1) was significantly higher compared to maize with undersown grass that was not inhibited by herbicides (17,887 kg DM ha‑1). A significant negative relationship was found between the maize yield and the grass biomass after maize harvest. At the beginning of the winter, the biomass of Italian ryegrass sown immediately after the maize harvest was at the same level of the undersown tall fescue. Our results indicate the necessity using the right herbicide treatment to combine good maize yields with the benefits of the undersown grass.
The Lifecorder+® is a uniaxial neck-mounted activitymeter. It was tested to assess grazing time in two French experimental automatic milking system farms (20 cows equipped on the Derval farm, 14 cows equipped on the Trévarez farm). The Lifecorder+ raw signal (from 0 to 9) was converted into a grazing yes/no information over a certain threshold. The data from the sensors were compared with visual observations as reference: trained observers recorded activity with a scanning every 10 minutes in the pastures. The recorded activities were as follows: grazing/ruminating and standing/lying/walking. Observation sessions were performed on the Derval and Trévarez farms. Finally, 20 recordings were available for the Derval farm (121 h of cumulated observation time in pasture) and 91 for the Trévarez farm (336 h of cumulated observation time in pasture). The results show a high correlation of grazing time between the visual observations of activity and the information from the sensor (R2=0.93 on the Derval farm and 0.82 on the Trévarez farm) with a mean prediction error of 18 min (9%) for the Derval farm and 29 min (20%) for the Trévarez farm. Some slight biases related to the recording of walking in the pathways were noticed. Lifecorder+ appears to be a possible cheap, easy and precise tool to record grazing time at pasture.
Determining the impact of a change of management on differing farm characteristics is a significant challenge in the evolution of dairy systems, due to the interacting components of complex biological systems. In this study the impact of increased concentrate supplementation and/or an increase in grazing intensity is simulated to determine the effect on the farm system and its economic performance. Three different grazing systems (with three different stocking rates 1.9, 2.2 and 2.5 cows per hectare, three different post-grazing heights 5.2, 4.5 and 3.8 cm, three different nitrogen fertilisation rates 160, 200 and 250 kg per ha) and four different concentrate-supplementation strategies (0.0, 0.5, 1.0 and 1.5 Mg per lactation) resulting in 12 different scenarios were simulated. Three different models (Moorepark Grass Growth Model, Pasture Base Herd Dynamic Milk model and the Moorepark Dairy Systems Model) were integrated and simulated in order to simulate the different scenarios. Overall, this study has shown that increasing concentrate supplementation generally resulted in a reduction in farm profitability, while in general increasing grazing intensity resulted in an increase in farm profitability.
Maintaining white clover (Trifolium repens) content in grasslands is a challenge for high output ecoefficient dairy farms on mineral soils that use biological N-fixation as a relevant source of N-input. Lower cutting height and cutting at an early growth stage have positive effects on the white clover content in grass-clover mixtures in mowing systems. Our objective was to quantify the effect of three grazing systems (rotational, continuous and lenient strip stocking) on clover content and dry matter production. Grazing was simulated with a Haldrup grass harvester and dried cattle manure pellets were applied to resemble the organic matter input from grazing cattle (50 kg N ha‑1 yr‑1). The experiment was established on sandy soil in 2011 in four replicates in sown grass-clover. Average clover content measured in June and October 2014 was lowest for lenient strip stocking and highest for continuous stocking. This resulted in 2014 in the highest grassland dry matter production for continuous stocking (15.0 Mg DM ha‑1) and the lowest for lenient strip stocking (6.9 Mg dry matter (DM) ha‑1). Rotational stocking occupied an intermediate position (11.9 Mg DM ha‑1).
Working with key industry stakeholders and farmers, the PROSOIL project aims to achieve a better understanding of soil and nutrient management to optimise farm productivity. Linked to IBERS research that is scientifically determining the impact of improving soil health on forage and livestock productivity and quality, farmer participation is a key part of the dissemination. Eight commercial development farmers (CDF), who volunteered during a series of events, are working with IBERS Grassland Development Centre to explore the effects of their farming practices on soil health and productivity by making field-scale measurements. The farms represent different agriculture sectors including three dairy farmers who use a range of systems for recycling animal manures and other soil nutrients. Results from the CDF, including the implications of nutrient management methods, and a survey of Welsh dairy farmers’ soil nutrient management practices will be presented. Findings are disseminated through a range of knowledge exchange methods, from indirect factsheets to active learning through participation that encourages farmers to actively adopt and evaluate soil management approaches when they meet, discuss and share results.
Legume-grass mixtures generally provide more consistent forage yield than monocultures. We studied 18 binary mixtures of one legume and one grass species for dry matter (DM) yield, neutral detergent fibre (NDF) concentration and in vitro digestibility (NDFD), and estimated milk production per hectare. Cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata L.), Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis L.), meadow bromegrass (Bromus biebersteinii Roemer & J.A. Schultes), meadow fescue (Festuca elatior L.), tall fescue [Schedonorus phoenix (Scop.) Holub], and timothy (Phleum pratense L.) were seeded with birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus L.), lucerne (Medicago sativa L.) or white clover (Trifolium repens L.). Frequent clipping at two sites, simulating grazing, and cattle grazing at one site were imposed on the 18 binary mixtures in this 3-year study conducted in eastern Canada. Legume and grass species significantly affected seasonal herbage DM yield, NDF concentration, and NDFD of the mixtures averaged over three production years. Birdsfoot trefoil in mixtures with meadow bromegrass or timothy resulted in the largest estimated milk production per hectare under frequent clipping, whereas white clover with meadow bromegrass or tall fescue provided the best results under cattle grazing. Frequent clipping and cattle grazing affected differently the performance of the mixtures, primarily for the legume component. Meadow bromegrass performed very well with the three legume species and under both frequent clipping and cattle grazing.
Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum L.) and winter rye (Secale cereale L.) sown as cover crops after forage maize, may produce an early cut before a new (maize) crop is installed. We report on the performance of a diploid and a tetraploid variety of both crops sown in early, mid and late October 2012. Aboveground and belowground biomasses were determined at regular intervals from December till April 2013. Aboveground biomass (cut to ground level) was significantly affected by time of sowing: at any moment, the yield of the cover crops sown early October was at least four times higher than that of the cover crops at the end of October. Similar results were found for belowground biomass. Total biomass of rye was always significantly higher than that of ryegrass, regardless of the time of sowing. By the end of April 2013, the DM yields (above 5 cm) of early sown winter rye and Italian ryegrass were 2,504 and 1,393 kg DM ha‑1 respectively. The ploidy of the crops did not affect biomass. This study suggests that winter rye as a cover crop is clearly more productive than Italian ryegrass, sown in October after forage maize harvest.