7th January 2014

Rotational Grazing Is Key to Success on Dumfriesshire Farm

Liveweight gains of over 1kg per head per day for store cattle on a forage only ration are being achieved through a rotational grazing system on Doug Greenshields’ Dumfriesshire farm.

South Mains Farm at Sanquhar is one of the 21 case studies showcased in the Planning for Profit Reference Guide which will be available at roadshows taking place around the country in the coming weeks. Planning for Profit is an initiative aimed at assisting farmers to ensure their businesses are well-placed to operate profitably in the face of a possible reduction of support payments.

The initiative is supported by the Scottish Government’s Skills Development Scheme, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and NFU Scotland, the South west roadshow takes place on Tuesday 21st January at The Lochside Hotel, New Cumnock.

Mr Greenshields adopted the rotational grazing system in 2009 when South Mains became a QMS Grass Demonstration farm and as the system worked so well he has kept it going and believes it to be one of the cheapest and easiest ways to improve profits on a mixed farm like his.

South Mains runs to 1700 acres; 680 of hill but with about 300 acres of better quality grassland for silage and 450 of good grazing, the remaining 270 acres is used in-bye. Stocking consists of just over 200 Stabiliser cross suckler cows put to a Stabiliser bull, 700 Blackface ewes, half of which are kept pure and half crossed with the Bluefaced Leicester and 800 home-bred Scotch Mules crossed with the Texel.

Mr Greenshields has worked with the Stabiliser for over 10 years now and believes the breed has many advantages including ease of handling and fertility. He said: “This year we put 207 cows and heifers to the bull and when we scanned in December, 200 were in-calf. Last year we had the same number in-calf and reared 196 calves. Also 90% of them calved in a seven week period.”

He explained: “Although the calves are slightly smaller, they cost less to produce than heavier breeds and there are more to sell at the end of the day so the total kilos sold is the same.”

Up until 2009 store calves were sold in April at a year old but since introducing rotational grazing, Doug has kept them for a second summer, allowing them to grow a bigger frame. He reckons buyers can really see the potential in them as forward stores when they are sold at Dumfries mart in September. In 2013 87 bullocks averaged 450kg liveweight. The best of the heifers are retained for breeding and there are also a number sold for breeding every year with the 40 sold store averaging 410kg.

The yearling calves are separated into batches and three rotational grazing systems operated, while cows and calves are summer-grazed on the hill.

Paddocks are electric fenced from the end of May to an ideal size of three to 3.5 acres for 44 bullocks, which are moved to a fresh paddock every three days. Ideally the full rotation will take about 20 days which allows the optimum grass growth, although Mr Greenshields pointed out that each year it is slightly different.

He said: “It is important to keep the grass in a vegetative state. If you can keep it leafy it is not only more productive but the feed quality is retained right to the end of the season.”

The grassland gets P and K over the winter plus 46 units of nitrogen in March and 27 units in June regardless of whether it is to be cut for silage or grazed. Last year his silage had a dry matter of 30%, an ME of 10.5 and a D-value of 65.

In order to get the most out of the fresh spring grass, he weans the calves off hard feed during February and March. This not only saves money from buying expensive concentrate but fully acclimatises the cattle to a forage diet before turnout so they get a compensation boost from the grass. He said: “The big advantage of the system is that the bullocks gain more than a kilo per head per day from May to September purely from grass.”

With himself, wife, Lorna and two full-time employees on the farm, Mr Greenshields finds the system easy to manage. He said that he had to be strict and disciplined but the cattle get used to being moved regularly. He also pointed out that, although every year is different, the system is flexible and can be tweaked to suit changeable growth and weather conditions.”

For an initial investment of £3,000 on electric fencing and £3,000 on water troughs, Doug believes there can be no quicker return on capital in livestock farming.

Find out more about grassland management and rotational grazing, along with a host of other topics, at the Planning for Profit Roadshow at The Lochside Hotel, New Cumnock, on Tuesday 21st January.

Further roadshow events are also set to be held on Thursday 23rd January 2014 at Dewar’s Ice Rink, Perth and on Wednesday 12th February 2014 at the Thistle Hotel, Inverness

Booking is essential for these free roadshows and places (including lunch) will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. To book your place contact Kirsty at QMS on 0131 472 4040 or email info@qmscotland.co.uk with your name, address and telephone number.

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