Supplying sustainable protein in high yielding dairy diets: A demo farm event

Supplying sustainable protein in high yielding dairy diets: A demo farm event

Thursday, November 13, 2014

On Wednesday 5th November BGS, DairyCo and the Foote family welcomed interested farmers to an open day led by Prof. Liam Sinclair looking into utilising lucerne as an alternative protein source, held at the Foote’s farm near Truro, Cornwall.

Liam Sinclair, from Harper Adams University has been researching the influence of lucerne on dairy production in high output scenarios and the best forages and concentrates to use to complement it. He started the day by outlining the global challenge facing dairy production whilst demand for its goods continues to increase rapidly, pointing out that increased markets for high protein imported feed stuffs, such as soya, will increase in the developing areas of the world, hence reducing its availability for us and pushing up prices. With this in mind his research has both considered how we might reduce the need for protein in diets and replace it, for example with forage legumes.

Home grown protein is a topic is of clear interest to farmers with over 40 in attendance and lively questioning and debate throughout the day. Questions raised included the feasibility of growing lucerne and what to feed with it? On the former topic outcomes from research both at Harper Adams and on the demo farm show that establishment is the most vulnerable time for the crop and consequently the most important. Spring sowing has shown more positive results have autumn. Though annual weeds may be prevalent in the crop these are somewhat dampened down after the first cut when the lucerne regrow more vigorously. On the second point it was highlighted that Lucerne makes an ideal to forage maize in dairy diets as whilst maize is high in starch and low in protein Lucerne is low in starch and high in protein. Liam presented results from research comparing performance on various proportions of grass, maize and lucerne, pointing out that an inclusion rate of about 20% lucerne (with 20% grass and 60% maize) seems to be optimum in this type of diet.

On the matter of reducing protein in diets some research points to being able to lower crude protein in the diet from mid-lactation onwards with little impact on productivity. Liam explained that lucerne presents other benefits such as provision of dietary nutrients, in particular calcium and the type of fibre that it supplies, which aids the digestion of protein hence making it an efficient source.

The Foote’s have now been growing lucerne for two years, and there experience over all has been positive. This year’s silage results show that their lucerne has a DM of 44% and crude protein of 18.2%. They also benefitted this year from lucerne’s drought tolerant capabilities as they had plenty to cut whilst grass died back in the tail end of the dry summer. The have also noticed that their cows seems to favour lucerne, helping to maintain and increase voluntary intake.

 

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