19th February 2015

Improve Pasture Management to Become More Profitable

Scottish Livestock farmers who aspire to increase their profits can make this a reality by increasing utilisation of their grass. This was the key message from New Zealand’s foremost grazing specialist, Trevor Cook, to members of the Quality Meat Scotland (QMS)'s South West Grazing group who met at Ean Stewart’s Challochmun Farm near Glenluce recently.

Trevor Cook is a farmer, qualified vet and consultant in pasture management, he’s passionate about increasing returns from grassland and urged members to focus on the profit level in their business not individual enterprise performance. He commented: “The cattle and sheep at Challochmun are in the top third of productivity with the data produced by Ean showing the farm produces 788kg of liveweight per hectare. There is a massive opportunity to slash the costs of production here by adopting a rotational grazing system.”

Ean Stewart is in partnership with his mother, Sheila, farming 510 acres of which 310 are owned and 200 acres rented on a seasonal basis. Situated on the coast with some fields sloping down to the shore, the area has a reputation for exceptional grass growth benefiting from the mild temperatures brought through by the Gulf Stream.

Challochmun carries 90 Limousin cross British Blue Suckler cows that calve in the spring to the Limousin Bull. In addition, Mr Stewart purchases 200 suckled calves to finish, which means that Mr Stewart and his stockman look after 500 head through each winter. Mr Stewart aims to provide a regular supply of high quality butcher type cattle between 520kg-550kg liveweight and rarely misses a week selling through Ayr Auction Mart.

The flock of 500 Mule ewes scan at 190% and lamb in February with lambs ready for the early trade from May. The ewes are housed pre-lambing and the family make great efforts to adopt triplets onto singles and limit mortality so normally sell at 170%. The Suffolk and Texel crosses are sold live at Newton Stewart and over three quarters of these are away by the end of July.

Mr Cook explained to the group at the recent meeting on Mr Stewart’s farm, how they can take control of their own grass using a rotational system. He said: “Farmers first need to learn how to allocate pasture. This is a new skill for many and getting hold of a sward measuring kit is essential to calculate the Dry Mater available per hectare. 2500 to 2800 Kg/ha is ideal as an entry cover.

“It’s also crucial to plan for the season and work out the demands of the livestock. Ean will carry out a manual process of calculation for his stock based on their turnout weight and target daily liveweight gain to reveal their daily requirements of DM from the sward.

“Finally but most importantly, farmers must learn to manage what they leave behind. Taking stock out at 1500kg DM per hectare is key to the success of rotational grazing.” 

With such an intensive system in place, Mr Stewart is aware that the high level of production comes at a cost. He’s been relying on good quality inputs and including draff and vitagold in rations to boost liveweight gains. With the Basic Payment Scheme looking like it will be 65% less than his Single Farm Payment, he feels now is the time to turn his attention to getting more out of the grass.

Mr Stewart said: “This year I will be running a mob of 100 heifers on a paddock system. I’m committed to making it work and am fortunate to already have mains electric fencing on the farm. Temporary fences will be erected and whilst I am still scratching my head about how I provide water, I expect it will be done in a simple way to enable us to move the batch to fresh grass every day or two days as required.”

With the Challochmun flock on the eve of lambing, the group discussion turned to the management of the pregnant ewe. Retaining body condition during the final 35 days is vital to ensure vigorous lambs and plentiful milk supply advises Trevor.

At turnout it is harder to allocate feed from pasture than concentrates so Mr Stewart has built up a deferred area and will allocate to provide for the ewes as milk lactation peaks, usually about 7-10 days after turnout. But in order to get the most from the grass this year Mr Stewart will then build up bigger groups of 200 ewes with twins, to move rotationally round the farm. If the grass starts to get away, Mr Cook advocates shutting some off for silage production.

With such a big group together it will be necessary to be vigilant for health issues and regular faecal egg count tests will be carried out as well as testing for trace element status.

Emily Grant, QMS Grassland Co-ordinator concludes the figures from Challochmum demonstrate that the farm is exceptionally productive.  However initial calculations suggest that only half of the DM requirement of the stock is coming from pasture. Increasing the use of grass could double margins per hectare. 

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