30th October 2014

North East Grazing Group Focus on Managing and Effectively Utilising Grass

“Grass is full of energy and, if it’s managed correctly, it’s as good a feed as anything you will ever get out of a bag.” These were the words of Charlie Morgan, one of the UK’s top grass experts, speaking to farmers at a recent Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) Grazing for Growth meeting.

Mr Morgan from GrassMaster Ltd, was addressing the second in a series of meetings at Maryfield Farm, Aboyne. The Grazing Groups are aimed at improving livestock producers’ profitability by maximising the kilogrammes (kg) of meat produced per forage hectare (ha).

Maryfield Farm is home to Louise and Ahren Urquhart who took over the 100ha farm in February 2013 as new-start farmers. They have 580 Mule, Cheviot and Cheviot Mule ewes for tupping this year and will finish all the progeny.

With the majority of the farm in grass, it is crucial for the Urquharts’ costs of production that the grass is managed and utilised effectively.  Mr Urquhart said: “When we took over the farm most of the grass was already quite old so last year we reseeded some fields to improve the pasture. Going forward, we plan to reseed more.”

Mr Morgan told the group that there are four points which must be considered in order to get the most from grass now and in the future.

“Firstly, consider the environment,” said Mr Morgan. “It is important to assess the potential of the land and its role within the system. It is likely that only a few sections of the farm will get investment so it is essential to identify the areas which will give the best return for the money.

“Secondly, pay close attention to animal husbandry, genetics, health and welfare. Aim to produce animals that are suited to the market you have identified.

“Thirdly, manage the soil. In order to improve soils it is crucial to identify what the problems are, then work out how to fix them. A spade is the best tool for this, dig a hole and look at the soil profile,” added Mr Morgan.

Compaction is a serious problem in one of the Urquhart’s fields. “Previously, it had been silaged in wet years, and last year we only got a light crop of hay from it,” said Mr Urquhart. “This year it has hardly been grazed and there is still not much grass here. We are looking at reseeding it next year.”

Mr Morgan told the group: “Compaction needs to be fixed, however, you have to make sure you get below the deepest point of compaction.”

He added that roots are unable to penetrate down through the compacted layer leading to poor growth and poor response to fertiliser. It can lead to standing water which lowers the soil temperature and so less growth occurs. Stock will have to be kept indoors longer and as Mr Morgan pointed out, the cost of keeping a cow indoors is at least £2/day, so it is really worth investing in the soil to get it right.

The final point encompasses pasture management and grazing management both of which are intrinsic to the profitability of the business.

“Grass is the cheapest feed available if it is utilised properly,” said Mr Morgan.

“When establishing a sward, look at the recommended list carefully, varieties can be top quality in different ways. Persistency and ground cover must be at the top of the list, it’s imperative that the sward can hold feet. Seasonality of yield is another important factor to consider, some varieties produce more growth in spring than others.”

Mr Morgan added that better grazing systems will improve total yield and utilisation. Rotational grazing gives the best kg/ha output.

He also advised that grass in the paddock should be 10cm in height and grazed down to 4cm over a three to four day period. Stocking density in the paddock must be sufficient to allow this. The livestock are then moved to the next paddock to allow regrowth. Flexibility is essential as the grazing may need to be integrated with a catch crop if growth is too much for the stock.

He told the group a Welsh experiment comparing rotational and set stock grazing for sheep found that rotational grazing gave £1,295 per hectare more output of lamb over a season.

Mr Morgan urged the group to remember the key point: “Don’t waste cheap feed, manage and utilise grass properly and then you won’t have to replace it with more expensive feed.”

Michael Blanche, QMS Knowledge Transfer Specialist commented: “There is real potential to increase efficiencies in grazing management.

“Simply by using a swardstick to measure the grass we can get a handle on what you are producing per hectare.

“Knowing what our stock demand and need, in terms of grass dry matter, allows us to supply these requirements whilst grazing to ideal sward heights. Stocking rate is a huge driver of profitability and by looking closer at pasture supply and demand, we can improve the kilogrammes of meat produced per hectare.”

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