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Maximising milk and meat: Know your grass

Foliar analysis of grazed grass can guide the formulation of concentrate rations to maximise milk and meat from forage. Chloe Palmer learns more.

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Analysis of silage is now common practice for both dairy and beef producers, but the use of foliar analysis for grazed grass is less widespread.

 

Producing more milk and meat from grass has been shown to increase margins, so knowing the nutritional value of grass should help farmers achieve this aim.

 

Organic dairy producers are the main users of fresh grass foliar analysis, but the information the analysis provides is of relevance to conventional and organic producers alike.

 

Rob Daykin, GB ruminant sales manager for Hi Peak Organic Feeds, says: “Foliar analysis is a valuable tool, allowing nutritionists and farmers to make important decisions about feed rations, but also the management of pasture.

 

“Every farm has a field which cows graze well and produce more milk from, and those fields which perform poorly.

 

“Foliar analysis can provide clues as to why the production of meat or milk from grass in one field is higher than another.”

 

Mr Daykin has led a study of the grazed grass quality on a number of clients’ farms across the UK, looking at key parameters including crude protein, dry matter, metabolisable energy and sugar, as well as various trace elements and minerals.

 

“We have employed a research student from Harper Adams University to collect fresh grass samples from different farms across the UK.

 

“This will allow us to establish a baseline for each area against which we can benchmark grass quality on different farms.

 

“The results have been interesting, with a large amount of variation between areas. For example, our spring analysis results showed grass in the East Midlands had a higher crude protein content than Scotland and the North East, but a lower energy content than grass from the North East.”

 

Useful

 

 

Mr Daykin believes these analyses on a number of different farms at regular intervals over the grazing season for a period of several years will provide useful data to build a picture of the nutritional quality of grass.

 

He says: “Once we have five years of data, it will provide a valuable predictive tool to allow us to identify when and where there might be deficiencies in nutritional value of grass.

“We can also start to measure what grass is worth in terms of milk produced and how changes in weather and time of year will affect this.

 

“Data can inform our nutritionists when they are formulating a suitable buffer feed to ensure it contains adequate crude protein and energy.”

 

As the pressure to improve margins grows, Mr Daykin believes meat and milk production from grass must increase, so he says obtaining an accurate picture of what grass can produce is vital.

 

“Our customers need to stay in business and, to do this, they need to make the most of assets they have. Grazed grass is the cheapest feed available, so it is vital producers understand its nutritional content if they are to minimise feed costs.”

How to take a grass sample for foliar analysis

  • At each sampling site, use scissors or shears to cut the herbage 25-50mm (1-2in) above ground
  • Sample grass of the same height and avoid contamination of the herbage with weeds, soil or animal droppings
  • Cut the equivalent amount of a large handful, or sufficient to fill a small plastic bag
  • Mix the herbage thoroughly
  • If the herbage is wet, blot it dry with clean absorbent material
  • Label the sample bag clearly with the date and field reference

Foliar analysis

The results of grass foliar analysis can be used to inform decisions on nutrient management of the crop as well as diet formulation.

Two main analyses are available:

  • Nutritional value of grazed grass: Showing levels of crude protein, D value, dry matter, neutral detergent fibre, ash, sugars, oil A, nitrate N and the buffering capacity of the grass shown as low, standard and high levels (£12-£15/sample analysed)
  • Mineral value of grazed grass: Measuring macro minerals including calcium, magnesium and chloride, micro minerals such as copper, selenium and cobalt and antagonistic minerals such as molybdenum, iron and lead (£40-£50/sample)
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