11th July 2013

Livestock Farmers Urged to Act Now to Ensure Grass Potential is Achieved

The weather conditions over the past 12 months have brought sharply into focus the importance of well-managed grassland as well as the financial pain of having to buy-in alternative feed, according to a leading adviser on grass management.

Speaking at an event at Carbeth Home Farm, Stirlingshire organised by the Soil Association with support from SRDP’s Skills Development Scheme and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), grass expert Charlie Morgan, GrassMaster Ltd, urged farmers to act now to make the most of their grassland.

“Grass is the cheapest feed farmers have access to in terms of raising livestock. The greatest resource farmers have is their soil and livestock farmers need to get that soil working effectively.

Recent weather patterns, said Mr Morgan, have led to real compaction problems and producers have to address and correct them to grow a decent amount of crop.

“Last year resulted in some badly damaged soils and, having fed the vast amount of our feed stocks, we are going to struggle to produce enough feed this year. However, attention to detail to soils will play a crucial part in getting the job done.

“A basic soil analysis will give us a nutrient management plan and help us target N, P and K and, more importantly, lime to get the pH right.  Without those we can’t manage and grow grass.”

Farmers have got some decisions to make, he said.  “If they identified that areas of grassland were going to struggle they should have made a decision to re-seed early on. If not they have to think about other opportunities. Swedes should ideally be in the ground by the start of July but mid-July is ideal for getting other brassicas, such as stubble turnips or hybrid rape, into the ground to extend grazing and take them through the winter if they don’t have enough forage in silage.”

Mr Morgan urged farmers to act now to ensure they don’t miss opportunities to maximise the potential of their grass.

“Grass is currently growing very well and we are at risk of losing that quality if we are not on top of it,” he said.

“If we utilise this grass efficiently through rotational grazing and getting it into the belly of the animal when it is young and short enough, the protein and energy quality will be better than anything else we could consider.

“Farmers will then have an opportunity to finish animals ahead of schedule because the clover content is looking good this year. That will mean we can sell animals at target dates and the demand for winter feed will be less.”

He said farmers should be aiming for at least 50% ryegrass in the sward of permanent grassland along with other varieties such as Timothy which grows at lower soil temperatures than ryegrass.

“Timothy has a distinctive bulbous base like a little onion so is quite easy to spot in the sward. Its digestibility early in the season is far superior to ryegrass and animals will always select Timothy in spring so it is important to have a good proportion of Timothy in the sward,” he added.

Mr Morgan also urged farmers at the event to be aware of the value of the nitrogen fixing ability of clover.

“This spring, bought-in nitrogen was around £300/tonne. Clover, a really important nitrogen fixer, providing 100 - 150kgs of N/ha which will be worth £130 worth of nitrogen with far greater protein and digestibility than ryegrass.

“We probably haven’t realised the full potential of clover and farmers this year should really take advantage of it. Clover doesn’t grow until the soil at 10cm depth gets to 8 degrees centigrade and we have gone from 5 – 8 degrees centigrade very quickly this year so our swards are fairly abundant with clover which augers well for the quality of lambs finished this year.”

The next “Grow more grass with the GrassMaster” event will be held on Wednesday 31st July at Kilwinning, Ayrshire. The event, supported by QMS and SRDP’s Skills Development Scheme, will be a practical day looking at increasing grass productivity through hands-on field assessment. It will provide guidance on rejuvenating, reseeding, and over-seeding; what varieties to sow and why; and aftercare of a new ley.

The speakers will be Charlie Morgan, GrassMaster and Iain Eadie, British Seed Houses. The day will also include a visit to Knockrivoch Farm. The event is free of charge to primary producers and £60.00 plus VAT to others.

Places are limited and booking is essential so lunch and resource packs can be provided. For further information please call Lyn on 0131 666 0847 or email lmatheson@soilassociation.org

A video taken at the recent Carbeth Home Farm event featuring key advice on grass management for livestock farmers can be found here.

Caption: Grass expert Charlie Morgan, GrassMaster Ltd, speaking at the event at at Carbeth Home Farm, Stirlingshire.

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