13th May 2019

Grassland and Forage Management Focus for Nithsdale Monitor Farm

The next Nithsdale Monitor farm meeting will look at options for grassland and forage to help feed grazing livestock throughout the year.

At the meeting, which will be held at Clonhie farm, the Nithsdale Monitor Farm, near Penpont on Thursday 16 May, Michael Shannon, a livestock farmer from Lanarkshire, will share his knowledge and experience of all thing’s grassland and forage.

Michael Shannon farms 100 hectares at Thankerton Camp Farm near Biggar, where he runs a sheep and finishing cattle system with no housing, making use of high-quality grass and winter forage crops. He currently finishes approximately 150 Aberdeen cross cattle a year, two thirds of which he sells through “Damn Delicious”, his successful farm butchery and farm shop business.

Mr Shannon believes that ‘’Grass is King’’ and encourages other farmers not to over complicate their grazing systems, but to keep things simple and relevant to their own farms in order to increase production and save costs.

He said: “The key is to follow the grass growth curve: graze it hard in the spring, which will improve the quality in the autumn, but you have to be careful not to overgraze it late in the year as it will not recover.”

Over the winter the cattle at Thankerton Camp are strip grazed on a kale rape hybrid called Swift, with access to silage. He also uses fodder beet and is impressed with the positive results he has seen with it.

Andrew Marchant, who farms with his wife Aileen at Clonhie, Nithsdale’s Monitor farm, has already taken big strides in his grazing management in the first three years of the Monitor farm programme, but is keen to continue improving the utilisation of their grass.

The couple run 900 breeding ewes and a small herd of 20 Luing cattle all of which are outwintered, as well as 100 deer hinds on their 300-hectare upland farm.

He said: “We started to monitor and measure grass growth which has helped us really understand its value and we now use rotational and paddock grazing. Deferred grazing has also made a big difference; we shut off an area in early September which we can then graze in January and February, a time when we would previously have had little grass left.”

“We really need to make some decisions now to set us up for the next twelve months. At the meeting later this week, we will look at last year’s grass to grass reseed and discuss whether to spray the weeds, at the expense of the clover and then overseed, or to just spray the whole sward off and start again.”

The Marchants are also very keen to grow another forage crop at Clonhie this year. They grew kale and swedes in their first year as a monitor farm to feed their flock over the winter and to set up the field for a new reseed and are looking at doing this again this year.

The farm has decided to refine their grass and feed budgeting by using “FARMAX” – a farm planning software system - to manage the supply of grass and demand from the livestock based on their own grass curve data. At the meeting on 16 May, Emily Grant from Forrit consultancy will highlight the benefits of the programme and how it can be used to improve performance and profitability of grass-based systems. 

Mr Marchant said: “We have already started to input Clonhie data into FARMAX and plan to monitor grass growth and livestock performance through the season. I am really looking forward to seeing how the system can be used as a tool to investigate different scenarios and aid decision making in the future.”

The Nithsdale monitor farm is one of nine monitor farms that have been established around Scotland in a joint initiative by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds. The aim of the programme, which is funded by Scottish Government, is to help improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Scottish farm businesses.

The meeting on Thursday 16 May will begin at Clonhie farm at 11am, end at 3.30pm and will include lunch.

To book your place please contact facilitator Judith Hutchison on 07718 919055 or email judith.agridigm@icloud.com.

For more information about the monitor farm programme visit www.monitorfarms.co.uk.

Sign up for the latest news and views