Opting to overseed some pastures, rather than carry out a full reseed could be the answer for livestock farmers wanting to minimise costs but not lose out on the production of the cheap energy source which is grass. Farmers Guardian reports.
The productivity of grassland has a direct correlation with the profitability of livestock farms and despite current financial pressures, farmers should not be letting their leys fall into disrepair, according to Nigel Barnes, of Powys Leys, who advises farmers on boosting sward production.
He says: “Carrying out a full reseed costs about £450-£550/ha [£180-£220/acre], but overseeding can be done for a third of this cost. Plus it does not require fields to be taken out of production, they can continue to be grazed or silaged while new young plants establish.”
However, to help ensure a successful overseed of worn pasture, certain tactics are required.
Mr Barnes recommends overseeding is carried out straight after a cut of silage has been taken, or when sheep have grazed the sward down tight.
Following a recommendation made on a visit to a grassland open day last year, Mr Holloway has adopted the practice of including a low dose of slug pellets into the seed hopper.
“I add just enough to protect the seed while it gets established,” he says: “Last autumn I overseeded some grassland on my own farm. A week later, there’d been no rain, but I could not find any pellets. So the slugs must have had them.”
Mr Barnes adds: “Overseeding can be done quite late in the year because the existing grass gives the seedlings some protection from frosts. It also aids moisture retention, which is especially valuable in the summer months.
“Overseeding is also a good way of getting clover back into leys. But with only ‘clover-kind’ herbicides available, it’s best get leys weed-free before seeding.”
In terms of how many tractor passes are needed for reseeding, there has been some progression. Montgomeryshire grassland contractor, Mike Holloway has been overseeding fields in just one pass with a new machine – a Sward Rejuvenator.
Previously, Mr Holloway used to use a direct drill for overseeding, making two passes at right angles and then rolling. But he has recently added a new piece of machinery to his grassland kit, an Opico-mounted Sward Rejuvenator, primarily designed for overseeding, but also capable of aeration and seeding into cultivated land.
Mr Holloway says: “There are slicing plates at the front of the machine, followed by spring tines which make the machine more aggressive than the direct drills I have used to overseed with in the past. Together they open the ground up, creating some tilth and giving the seed a better chance. The heavy roller at the back of the machine also saves the farmer from having to come in afterwards and roll the field. In one pass, the job is done.”
For the past four years, Mr Barnes has been working with dairy farmer Ben Beddoes on an overseeding strategy for his silage leys.
Mr Beddoes milks a 220-cow Meuse Rhine Issel herd, run on 40 hectares (100 acres) of grassland near Churchstoke, Powys.
Silage fields are topped up every year, straight after first cut silage, with a short-term ley mixture: 20 per cent Westerwold and 80 per cent Italian rye-grass blend.
This is sown at 25kg/ha, two-thirds the normal seed rate, with slug pellets included in the hopper at 2.5kg/ha.
Mr Beddoes says: “We expect to take four cuts of silage. But if we ploughed the fields – not only would that be more expensive – but we would be reduced to taking only two cuts. With the overseeding strategy, the field is continuously in full production.”
Mr Barnes adds: “Last winter the field flooded, and waters brought in a lot of dock seeds. This meant selected areas needed to be sprayed off before overseeding. But in general, by keeping the pasture topped up, there are no bare patches and so no weed ingress. So, Ben has actually been using less herbicide.”