With increasing numbers of livestock farmers seeking to improve their profitability through better grazing management, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) has issued an updated version of its sward stick.
The aim of this free, pocket-sized tool is to help farmers monitor grass growth to allow them to manage grass carefully to reduce costs and increase output per hectare.
For cattle and sheep producers, grazed grass is the most cost-efficient feed source and the role of the sward stick is to help farmers to measure and monitor their grass growth, and inform grazing management decisions.
The original QMS sward stick, developed based on data from New Zealand, proved incredibly popular, with over 5,000 distributed to farmers around Scotland after it was launched in 2015.
It comes in two parts - the measuring stick along with a small plastic board which is used to slightly compress the grass to help provide a consistent, accurate measurement.
The base board remains the same in the new version but the data on the new sward stick has been revised to better reflect late spring/summer grass growth in Scotland. It is available in bright orange and green so it can be easily found if dropped!
Measuring grass is a technique increasingly being used by sheep and beef farmers looking to maximize their production from grass.
Emily Grant, QMS Knowledge Transfer Specialist explained: "At its most basic, the stick allows a sward height measurement to be taken. This enables farmers to ensure grass is at its optimum height for grazing. For sheep, this is between 4cm and 8cm and for cattle between 4cm and 10cm.”
The sward stick very much works on the philosophy of “if you measure it, you can manage it”. By grazing down to target heights, removing stock and then resting pasture, farmers can increase grass regrowth (yield), and improve utilization (the amount eaten).
Mrs Grant added: “The stick converts the centimeter height into the kilos of dry matter for each of the different seasons. We know how much dry matter different classes of stock eat, so the stick allows you to check how much grass you have available on your farm, and whether there is sufficient to meet your livestock’s feed needs.”
Measuring regularly will give an indication of how grass growth rates are changing through the season. This information can then be used to identify future surpluses or deficits, and plan to deal with these ahead of time.
For example, if late spring grass growth is forging ahead of stock needs, then a decision can be made to shut a field off for silage. If grass growth is falling behind livestock needs, a decision could be made to wean, or sell. The aim is to allow production of as much high quality grass as possible to maximize livestock production and reduce costs.
Farmers can order the new updated sward sticks direct from QMS by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 0131 472 4040.