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Profit from Grass: Careful grass management to accommodate ewes and lambs

Insights

For the latest in the Profit from Grass series, we speak to sheep and beef farm Angus Nelless about managing grass for his ewes and lambs and Eblex’s Liz Genever discusses what grass needs to provide

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Having lambed a group of 350 Lleyns early this month Angus Nelless is busy moving ewes and lambs off Thistleyhaugh Farm, near Morpeth, to preserve grazing for the main breeding flock and spring calving sucklers having already shut up ground for first cut silage.

 

He says: “We’ve lambed our ‘B’ flock – ewes we feel are not good enough to breed replacements from – which were put to a Hampshire tup and scanned at 180 per cent. These are being moved to an organic farm 40 miles away run by Jane and Anna Smails to graze two-year red clover leys.

 

“The aim is start finishing lambs from 70 days targeting 36-38kg liveweight. The majority will be sold deadweight as organic lamb having been processed at Dawn Carnaby, near Bridlington, East Yorkshire. Most achieve a carcase yield of 50-52 per cent.”

 

This clears grazing land at Thistleyhaugh making way for the main flock of 1200 Lleyns. These scanned at 165 per cent and start lambing on April 20th. Currently, the ewes are set stocked at 12.5 ewes/ha (five ewes per acre). When lambs are four or five weeks old they will be ‘mobbed up’ into groups of 200-250 ewes and allocated grazing on a rotational basis.

 

Although first cut silage is someway off, 25ha (56ac) of red clover ley was shut off in mid-January having carried ewe-lambs through the winter.

Winter Feed

Mr Nelless says: “With mild conditions it’s growing at 15kg DM/ha/day and has a cover of 1950kg DM/ha. It will be cut in June and pitted to provide winter feed for the Angus suckler herd which started calving on April 1st; 70 per cent will calve within a three week window,” he explains.

 

“We prefer to use second cut silage made into bales rather than being pitted to carry the early lambing ewes through to lambing. Being that bit later in the grass season red clover has had chance to establish itself and the silage quality is more consistent. A typical analysis would be 30 per cent dry matter, 16 per cent protein and 11.1 ME.”

 

This is fed with 180g/ewe/day of organic soya in the last two weeks of pregnancy to compensate for any variation between individual bales ensuring the ewes have sufficient nutrition.

 

He says: “At £650/t organic soya’s not cheap but it works out at roughly £1.60/ewe so is affordable.”

 

The Nelless’ are keenly aware that opportunities must be created to help keep costs under control. With pressure on grazing at Thistleyhaugh Mr Nelless would like to see other agreements in place with local arable farms enabling more lambs to be grazed on temporary leys.

 

He says: “I think we’re missing a trick here. It can fit in with arable rotations, help keep weed burdens under control and add valuable soil organic matter which is falling across many farms.” 

What can grass provide?

A lowland ewe with twins will be producing around 3kg of milk per day in her first month of lactation. This is 1kg more per day than a hill ewe with twins. Lowland ewes will need 30 to 34MJ of metabolisable energy to support this production, while hill ewes will need 21 to 25MJ. If there isn’t enough energy available, the body condition of the ewe will fall and milk yield will drop.

 

A 650kg suckler cow that is producing 10 litres of milk per day needs around 120MJ of metabolisable energy every day. This will increase to around 140MJ if she is gaining 0.5kg per day. A 400kg growing beef animal gaining 1kg per day needs 92MJ, while a growth rate of 1.25kg per day requires 112MJ.

 

Liz Genever, Eblex livestock scientist says: “Grass can have more than 12MJ per kg dry matter (DM), therefore it can easily meet the animal’s requirements. But producers must remember that the energy within the grass can also be much less if it is not managed properly.

 

“The feed quality will reduce to 10.5MJ per kg DM when the stem grows and it will drop it to below 8MJ when there is dead material.”

 

The optimum time for grazing is when the plant has a third new leaf; once the fourth leaf starts to grow another leaf will start to die. As the feed quality decreases, the animal performance can reduce if adequate supplements are not provided.

 

“Poor lamb or cattle performance on grass during the summer is often the result of spring grassland management. If grass is not grazed and there is a build-up of stem and dead matter, the feed quality later in the season will be poor,” says Dr Genever.

 

Over-grazing or under-grazing in the spring will also impact on grass growth and clover levels later in the season.

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