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Planning winter feed and getting more from grass

Planning winter feed requirements and considering options to deal with deficits without affecting spring grass was up for discussion at a recent AHDB workshop. Hannah Park reports.


Hannah   Park

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Hannah   Park
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As winter approaches following a challenging few seasons, calculating winter feed requirements around grazing could help to deal with deficits without affecting spring grass.

 

Liz Genever, AHDB Beef and Lamb senior scientist, explained that with many farms likely to be approaching winter with limited fodder, implementing a grazing strategy could help to reduce input costs and manage feed budgets.

 

She said: “Preparing a feed budget is important to see if there is enough grass in an available area to meet stock requirements over a long period.

 

“It involves calculating how much grass the group of stock needs compared with pasture cover available on-farm, which is measured using a compressed sward stick or plate meter.”

 

Speaking at the beginning of October, Dr Genever said that from this point onwards, pasture cover will typically start to drop because demand outstrips what is growing and is the point at which additional feed like hay and cereal come in to balance the supply and demand.

 

“Grassland farmers all have a supply and demand curve, but using this to identify gaps means decisions can be made before shortages or surplus grazing occurs,” she added.

 

Also speaking at the meeting was Phil Creighton, of Teagasc, who highlighted the impact grazing management decisions in the autumn and into winter would have on grass availability in the spring.

 

He said: “We need to divide the grazing season into autumn, spring and mid-season.”

 

Mr Creighton said sheep producers should have started closing up their paddocks to allow for cover to be built while grass growth is still active. He said this would help ensure adequate grass availability for ewes at lambing in March.

“Reducing the area available for grazing at any one time will make ewes graze down to the desired post-grazing height and it is important to clean swards out as tight as possible when closing,” he added.

 

“This will avoid carrying higher residuals over winter, which will lead to a lot of dead material
accumulating at the base of the sward and will depress grass growth in the spring and reduce quality.”

 

“When grass growth starts to increase again in February and March, the earlier closed fields will respond quickest to the increasing temperatures and a potential early application of fertiliser.

 

“The temptation to re-graze closed fields in December and January will always be there, especially in years where autumn grass supply is good or where winter feed reserves are low or poor quality, but this grass is worth much more in the spring to the freshly lambed ewe than in mid-pregnancy.

 

“A ewe’s feed requirement in mid-pregnancy is approximately half that of a ewe in early lactation producing milk for two lambs.”

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