Spring 2019 will find many with low forage stocks and there will be a higher than normal area of ‘bare’ soil following the upsurge in cover crops grown for autumn and winter feed.
Limagrain UK’s grass seed manager Ian Misselbrook sees this as an ideal opportunity for producers to consider reseeding or repairing their grassland and to increase not only its productivity, but also its feed value, by using new, advanced seed mixtures.
It is a well-known fact that a grass sward is at its most productive in year one and reseeding a typical five-year-old ley will increase its productivity by 35-50%.
AHDB Dairy data shows that a two-year-old ley yielding 13.5 tonnes/ hectare at 12ME will drop to 11.2t/ha and 11.5ME by year five. In year 11, yields will be almost half that of year two.
Mr Misselbrook says: “Supplementing the diet to replace the energy loss from these older grass leys has a price tag. If we estimate the cost of a reseed at about £620/ ha, taking account of cultivations, seed, fertiliser, labour and machinery, then this expense will be recouped within four years.”
He believes the yield and feed value achieved through improved seed mixtures that producers now have available to them will make these costs even easier to justify.
“We have seen this in practice. Limagrain’s plant breeding programme has identified and selected characteristics in grass varieties which offer a combination of agronomic and nutritional advantages.
In trial work, using specially designed mixtures of these varieties, we have seen significant improvements in yield and milk production.
“These advanced grass varieties and mixtures carry the LG Animal Nutrition [LGAN] accreditation. This is ‘proof’ they have met both agronomic and feed value benchmarks and that, through extensive trials, have been proven for their efficient production and contribution to animal performance.”
The ability to improve digestible fibre (dNDF) has been a key factor in selecting LGAN varieties and mixtures and more palatable tetraploid varieties, which cows will graze in preference to diploid grasses, have been selected.
Mr Misselbrook says: “Fibre is needed in the diet to maintain a healthy rumen, so increasing dNDF improves feed efficiency and this can promote yields. If varieties are digested more efficiently, intakes will improve with resulting nutritional benefits.”
While grass varieties can be great in their own right, putting together a mixture with feed quality in mind involves finding the right balance between fibre, protein and sugar content.
Mr Misselbrook says: “Some grass varieties will be high in sugar, but low in protein, while others will be high in protein and low in digestible fibre. You will never get one variety that offers the best of every world.
“That is why it is important for seed companies to select varieties to use in a mixture that complement each other, and make sure the mixture is nutritionally balanced, as well as having the necessary yield and agronomic attributes.
“There is no point sowing grass that is nutritionally perfect if it does not have good ground cover, persistence, yield and disease resistance.”
If varieties are digested more efficiently, intakes will improve with resulting nutritional benefits
Independent trials have produced encouraging results when the LGAN-accredited mixtures have been put to the test in dairy situations.
Trials conducted at NIAB/TAG, Dartington, Devon, compared popular grass mixtures containing Recommended List varieties with the LGAN intensive grazing mix.
Results revealed the intensive grazing mixture produced 10% more energy than the control. The yield was 0.9t/ha higher, at 11.3t/ha, and the nutritional quality was better across the board.
It produced 13,529MJ more energy/ ha, which is enough to produce 2,553 litres of milk. Using a milk price of 30ppl, this is worth £766/ha.
The Dartington trials measured forage quality in all cuts throughout the growing season which reflected the growth profile of the different varieties. The intensive grazing mix delivered up to 140MJ/ha more more energy a day; equivalent to 26 litres of milk.
Animal feeding trials at Schothorst, the Netherlands, have proven the link between improved grass nutrition and higher milk yields, comparing a conventional dual-purpose grass mixture with a LGAN grass seed mixture.
The LGAN mixture had a 3% higher ME and D Value, at 12.8MJ and 79.7%, respectively; dNDF was 8% higher, at 77.9, with feed efficiency up 5% to produce 1.3 litres of milk per kg of feed.
In this trial, milk yields were 5% higher in the group of cows fed on the LGAN mixture compared with the control.
Mr Misselbrook says: “Seed accounts for about one-third of the cost of the reseed, so the mixture should be selected with care. Be aware there may be a higher proportion of untested varieties used this year, due to 2018 harvest conditions affecting seed supply.
“Get a mixture that is designed for the purpose – silage, grazing or dual purpose – and with enhanced feed qualities. These factors will all add value to the grass ley and help put more in the tank cost-effectively.”
Winning 75kg of a top-quality grass seed mixture, designed for silage and grazing, from Limagrain at the Royal Cornwall Show in July 2016 came with mixed blessings for one Cornish couple.
Adam Roberts, who farms with his father and uncle and wife Georgina, says: “Milk price was 18ppl. Reseeding grassland was not really on our minds, and certainly was not budgeted for.”
Looking back and reflecting on the extra 200,000 litres of milk sold off the farm in nine months from September 2017 to July 2018 from the 180 cross-bred cows, Mr Roberts has no regrets he took advantage of his win and reseeded six hectares of his silage land with the Sinclair McGill LGAN-accredited Prosper mixture.
He says: “Even the wet spring and dry summer in 2018 did not deter growth compared to our other grassland. We took two silage cuts early in the season and the contractor thought they were the heaviest crops they had cut.”
After a sprinkling of fertiliser, the cows started grazing the aftermath and it kept growing even with little or no rain.
He says: “It yielded extremely well. Right through the hot summer in 2018, it was the greenest grass on-farm.”
Success with this higher specification grass seed mixture has changed Mr Robert’s mind on selecting grass seed mixtures: “We are thinking far more about what we grow now. Buying any old grass seed off the shelf is not value for money. It may be cheaper, but its productivity does not compare with that of a good seed mixture.”
The herd is autumn block calving and outdoors 10-11 months of the year.
He says: “We brought them in during December, as it turned very wet, but they were back out in January as it dried up.”
Mr Roberts feeds concentrates to yield in the parlour, but he aims for as much milk as possible from home-grown forage. Current yields are 7000kg of milk at 4.4% fat and 3.6% protein, with 50% of milk from forage.
Grass growth throughout the season is measured religiously by Mrs Roberts, who keeps accurate records. They also analyse samples regularly. The improved grass seed land made for interesting reading.
Mr Roberts says: “As a grazed crop, it yielded 11.5-12ME and 25% protein, which was better than most silages.
“The dry matter of the Prosper silage was 11.2ME, 70% digestibility and 16.1% protein. Reseeding with high quality mixtures and growing grass with this sort of feed value is cheaper than feeding more cake.”