RGT Pixxon helps drive efficient milk production in Gloucestershire

Publish on January 12, 2024
Reading time : < 1 min
A low-risk, high-yielding forage management strategy, backed by a pioneering breeding programme, is driving efficient milk production on one Gloucestershire dairy farm.

Taynton Court Farm was one of the first dairy producers in the country to introduce Norwegian Red bloodlines, with initial crosses onto the farm’s Holstein cattle made in 2006.

The aim was to produce more fertile, healthier, longer-lived cows capable of producing high yields of top-quality milk with the minimum of intervention, says director Jack Griffiths, who runs the farm with his father James.

Today all 950 cows in the year-round calving herd are Norwegian Red x Holstein, clearly illustrating the success of the programme and setting a trend that many other farmers have followed.

The decision to cross-breed the herd was taken with herd manager Alec Heron, who still manages the herd to this day. The dedication this took, along with numerous strategies employed to enhance the health and welfare of the herd, shows the team’s determination to drive the business forward with more than a nod to sustainability.

“We’ve had a closed herd for a long while now, and we have fertile cows that are much more capable of looking after themselves, producing more milk from forage with the minimum of fuss,” says Jack.

Top quality forage

Good nutrition is also vital in achieving this aim. Great effort is put into producing top-quality forage, which contributes to an impressive 50% of milk output.

“We’re looking to optimise milk quality, while reducing reliance on bought-in feed and expensive concentrates. And, not least, a high-forage diet is good for the cows,” says Jack.

“Of the 8,500 litres of milk sold per cow per year, 4,200 litres comes from forage. All our milk goes on an ingredients contract to Yew Tree Dairy, so we aim for and achieve 4.5% butterfat and 3.6% protein. Good quality forage is a must.”

High yielders are housed, while low yielders are paddock-grazed from March to November, weather permitting.

Cropping consists of a mix of silage leys, grazing leys and permanent pasture across 520ha of the farm’s heavy clay soils, plus 160ha of maize.

Grass production on the home farm is based on perennial ryegrass leys, all with clover. Elsewhere, Italian ryegrass plus clover is grown. The aim is to take five cuts per season to produce a high dry matter, high protein silage.

Maize is grown as a break crop every four to five years on the home farm grazing platform, and every three years on separate land. When maize follows a crop other than grass on this land, Italian ryegrass is used to protect soils over winter and provide an early cut before the maize is drilled.

Maize varieties are selected to give a good spread of sowing dates while providing a tight harvesting window, so the whole area can be cut in four to five days in early October.

“Early harvest is important, particularly on our heavy soils, to avoid wet weather and resulting soil damage and to get the following crop established at the right time into a good seedbed, whether this be a grass cover or an SFI option such as overwintered cover,” says Jack.

“This year we got all our maize off in good time. If we hadn’t we might not have managed – some of our land has been under standing water.”

RAGT varieties feature heavily, including Agiraxx, grown for many years, RGT Duxxbury, a very early variety and newcomer RGT Pixxon. Despite its earliness, this variety produces very high yields of highly digestible silage, with high dry matter content and good ME levels, providing an ideal balance for the grass silage.

Housed cattle are fed a flat rate total mixed ration, about 55kg/head, consisting of 60% grass silage and 40% maize, plus soya rape, wheat and hulls plus minerals blend.

Concentrate is added to the TMR at up to 9kg/head, depending on days in milk, with housed low yielders on 6kg/head or, when out at grazing, 2kg/head in the parlour.

High yields

Around 20ha of RGT Pixxon was grown this year. “We’ve got on well with RAGT varieties in the past,” says Jack. “We grew some Pixxon in 2022 on recommendation from Mark Davies of Green Farm Seeds, and it did as well as anything or better in what was tough season.

“It’s reliable, has great feed quality and is agronomically sound. But above all it is early but still produces very high yields – it looks to be one of the best on farm in this regard.”

Jack aims to drill all maize by mid-May, but seed-bed condition is paramount to ensure optimum emergence and early growth to set the crop up.

“We plough as little as possible. We desiccate the grass after an early cut in mid-April, apply slurry and then subsoil, disc and power harrow once we know we can achieve a satisfactory seedbed, before drilling and rolling.

“We apply seedbed fertiliser as necessary, and finish off nutrition with a foliar-applied slow-release nitrogen at the last possible stage the sprayer will pass through the crop.”

This year RGT Pixxon was one of the last varieties to be drilled and never looked back. It matured as expected in early October and matched the farm average yield of 50t/ha, with a dry matter of 34%, starch 33% and an ME of 11.6.

It looks to be a reliable choice, helped by its excellent standing power, says Jack. “We’ve had problems with certain varieties in the past – our land is fairly exposed to the wind, so resistance to lodging is a trait we really value. We’ll be ordering Pixxon again for this coming season.”

RGT Pixxon harvest

Mark Davies of Gloucestershire-based Green Farm Seeds says RGT Pixxon looks to be an exceptional variety on farm.

“RGT Pixxon is one of a new generation of early forage maize varieties bred by RAGT,” says Mark. “In three years of UK National Listing trials it has proved to be early and high yielding on all sites.”

This year, in five NIAB trials on favourable sites, it yielded 103% of controls with a dry matter score exceeding 36%.

Across three years of breeders’ screening trials at four sites in the west and south of England, the variety produced an average dry matter yield of 19.55t/ha, around 1t/ha better than controls.

 

Farmer friendly

“RGT Pixxon is a farmer-friendly variety and its earliness, high yields and quality are standout characteristics,” says Mark. “It has some of the best all-round agronomic features I’ve seen, including excellent standing power and very good disease resistance, including eyespot.

“It has very good cob presentation and retention and digestibility is one of the highest on the list, which will help dairy cows to maximise DM intake.”

While well suited to less favourable areas, RGT Pixxon is also a sound choice on better land, he adds.” It can help spread the harvest load and will pull its weight when it comes to filling the clamp.

“Jack is not alone in having had a very good year with the variety. It’s put in an above-average performance, building on what we saw in 2022, when it punched above its weight in what was a tough season for forage maize.

“This season RGT Pixxon has continued to exceed expectations based on official trials results, and has displayed excellent consistency on farm across different sites and soils. It’s a great choice wherever it’s grown.”

RGT Pixxon

  • Early maturing (FAO 180)
  • Very good cob presentation and retention
  • Exceptional all-round standing power
  • Exceptional disease resistance including eyespot, fusarium and smut
  • Early maturity with no yield or quality penalties
  • Good cell wall digestibility and ME
  • Suitable for marginal later sowing or earlier harvesting

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