Stephen and Hazel Wallace are aiming to strike a balance between driving milk output from silage and concentrates, while feeding cows as efficiently as possible.

The 210-cow Holstein herd has a mainly autumn calving profile. There are 150 cows calved down so far and calving is due to be finished by the end of February. Last year, average milk yield was 7,710l from 2.5t of concentrates.

Local animal nutritionist Lyle Hamilton has developed the winter feed plan for all livestock groups on the farm located near Seaforde, Co Down.

The milking herd is on a total mixed ration of 19kg first-cut silage, 19kg third-cut silage and 7kg of blend. This diet is formulated to support maintenance plus 23l, with cows then fed to yield through in-parlour feeders.

Two different silage crops are used, because if first cut was fed exclusively from the start of the winter, it would run out mid-way through the breeding season.

If we were able to feed all first cut silage, we would be able to get 23l from maybe 5kg of blend

This stems from last year’s first cut being lighter than planned due to the dry conditions experienced in April and May. Third cut was included in the ration from the outset, to keep the diet consistent and avoid any negative impacts on fertility or milk output.

“If we were able to feed all first cut silage, we would be able to get 23l from maybe 5kg of blend,” Lyle said during last week’s Dairylink Ireland webinar.

“Fresh cows in this herd are averaging just over 40l, so if we feed any less than 23l in the wagon, we are not going to feed them enough for the milk they are producing,” he added.

Another reason for the higher than usual levels of blend feeding is that third cut was analysed with a metabolisable energy (ME) of 9.8MJ/kg DM and a digestibility (D) value of 61.

Stephen’s 2020 silage is typical of most farms in Northern Ireland, where first cut was top-quality (ME of 12.1 MJ/kg DM and 76 D-value), but subsequent cuts were below par due to inclement weather.

Parlour nuts

With in-parlour feeders, milk yield is effectively ignored for the first 28 days and cows are gradually built up to 8kg/cow/day.

“We don’t want to give too much concentrate to the cows in the first few weeks. We want to encourage them to go forward to the feed barrier and maximise forage intake,” Lyle said.

“On the other hand, we don’t want to feed too little either. These cows will produce a lot of milk no matter how much meal we are feeding, so we have to make sure we are getting enough energy into them,” he added.

Up to 100 days in milk, cows are fed to support a minimum milk yield of 35l. This acts as a safety net, so if a cow has a health issue that causes milk yield to drop during early lactation, feed rates do not reduce as well.

These cows will produce a lot of milk no matter how much meal we are feeding, so we have to make sure we are getting enough energy into them

“The aim by day 100 is to have over 50% of the herd in-calf, so we don’t want to do anything with feed rates during that time that will impact fertility,” Lyle said.

From 28 to 100 days in milk, cows yielding above 35l are fed extra concentrates at 0.45kg/l. This means that cows yielding 50l will be on 10kg of parlour nuts each day.

When asked if this level of in-parlour feeding was too high, Lyle pointed out that to reduce the in-parlour feed rate would mean having to increase blend in the wagon, which could lead to stale cows being overfed.

“We formulated the parlour nut knowing that we are feeding up to 10kg, so we have plenty of soya hulls and sugar beet nuts from a fibre point of view. Acid Buf and yeast is in there to make sure we are buffering the rumen,” he explained.

After 100 days in milk, cows receive no minimum feed rate in the parlour and are fed to yield at 0.45kg/l for any milk beyond the 23l supported by the total mixed ration.

More to dry cows than body condition

After drying off on the Wallace farm, cows are offered baled silage that was made from ground that received no slurry or potassium fertiliser. This minimises the risk of metabolic disorders around calving time.

Speaking at the Dairylink webinar, Stephen Wallace said he has had very few problems with milk fever so far this winter.

“I have had to put calcium into two cows. They weren’t down completely, but they were staggery. Other than that, it has been going pretty well,” he said.

The aim with dry cows is for a six- to eight-week dry period, with cows calving down at a body condition score of 2.75 to 3.00.

“Cows are fed round baled silage ad-lib initially, and then for the final four weeks of the dry period they receive 2kg of a dry cow nut,” said local nutritionist Lyle Hamilton.

“The eggs that the AI technician is trying to fertilise now were produced during the last month of the dry period.

“It is not just condition score that we are interested in during the dry period. It is a critical time for egg quality too,” he added.

Winter feeding webinar

  • The free webinar about winter feeding on the Wallace farm is now available to watch online anytime at
  • Topics include feed plans for all livestock groups, monitoring herd performance, improving feed efficiency and plans for 2021 grazing.