As this year’s Profit from Grass series comes to an end we catch up with the four farmers involved to see how their grazing season has fared on the whole, and what their plans for autumn are.
With calving two-thirds completed and this year’s maize harvested, Freddie Lawder of Dynamic Dairying’s 320-cow herd based at Park Farm, Beaulieu, Hampshire, is hoping a recovery in grass growth rate to about 40kg dry matter/hectare (16kg DM/acre) will provide another month’s grazing after a belated lull.
He says: “This season has been odd. We expected a drought in July and it came mid-August. Rains in September reignited growth, which should carry the herd into autumn.”
Cows have been calving since August 25 in fields of standing hay. This rough forage has proved versatile with no displaced abomasums or milk fever, he reports.
“Early lactation cows are out at grass and being supplemented with two forage boxes of grass silage fed in the collecting yard for convenience before afternoon milking. Over most of autumn and winter, cows will self-feed off the silage clamp faces. We have also switched from a 12 per cent grazing nut to a 14 per cent high energy nut, with cows getting about 6kg/head/day. Currently, the 240 in-milk are producing about 4,000 litres/day.”
This season grazing management has been challenging.
“We decided not to reseed one area because of cashflow issues, but this has paid dividend. Having been grazed, the improvement in quality has been sufficient so it will now stay in production for another year.
“Our greatest challenge this year has been to balance covers while getting cows to eat grass cleanly. The average cover in mid-September was 1,800kg DM/ha but we need about 2,200kg DM/ha to discourage geese from grazing pasture meant for the dairy herd.”
With grass growth defying expectation in late September at about 80kg DM/hectare/day (32kg DM/acre), herd manager George Brown of Cairnead Farm, Ainstable, Cumbria, expects the 135ha (335 acre) grazing platform to have produced about 14.4 tonnes/ha (5.8t/acre) this season, despite a shaky start.
He says: “Our average cover is high at about 3,000kg DM/ha and the 425-cow herd is completing a rotation in 45 days at a stocking rate of 3.41 livestock units/ha. We have plenty of grass to be grazed, so long as ground conditions allow.”
The herd, property of the Craig family, is in the latter half of its lactation and will be dried off from December, with calving starting the following February.
“Analysis of fresh grass suggests current dry matter is in the low teens,” says Mr Brown.
“This is sufficient for our current average daily milk yield of 18 litres/cow/day at 1.6kg of milk solids, supported with a small amount of 14 per cent concentrate at milking.”
The aim is to take covers down to about 2,100kg DM/ha (850kg DM/acre) before housing stock for winter, ensuring a good bite is left to turn out stock on to next spring.
Overall grass usage this year is still being determined.
“It would be easy to say about 90 per cent. But the challenge has been to manage the extremes of growth which have come when we least expected it.”
The first weekly sales of 100 store Romneys and one group of fat lambs are helping Paul Boulden of Court Lodge Farm, Aldington, Kent, ease pressure on grassland which has been bereft of significant rainfall for six weeks.
He says: “Rape and turnip mix was sown in early August but has only just started to emerge in mid-September – a complete contrast to the damp May and June. This will be grazed by ewe-lambs this back end.”
Weaned ewes will be condition scored in the next week or so and grouped, allowing thinner types to have greater access to grazing in order to recover before going back to the tup in mid-October.
“Helping ease pressure on the grazing, I have sold one batch of Romney fat lambs a month ago through Ashford, averaging about £65, and weekly batches of 100 Romney stores which have been making £50-£55.”
The one and two-year Westerwold leys have been sprayed off and ripped up ahead of sowing wheat in the next few weeks.
The focus now is to use older ewes to eat older stalky material rather than go in with a topper on areas of permanent pasture to improve grazing quality in preparation for next year.
He says: “Our cattle have also run out of grazing and been supplemented with second quality hay. We will house them from the end of October off the heavier clay land with the main herd staying out until December on better areas, if conditions allow.”
It has been a challenging year for Tim Phipps of Bragborough Hall, Daventry, setting up a paddock grazing system for the 100-cow suckler herd whilse continuing to learn about the limitations of the grassland, which includes areas of ridge and furrow.
He says: “My biggest limitation this year has been the lack of fencing, water troughs and track ways, but progress has been made. For example, 140 acres has been fenced and can be subdivided into five acre paddocks with adequate water troughs, which will be used to greater effect next year.”
It has also been a learning curve on understanding which areas of grazing to prioritise to the herd of Stabiliser suckler cattle. The ‘freakish’ spike in grass growth experienced countrywide in May and June should have seen more cattle put onto the traditional ridge and furrow grassland, which cannot be mown for silage or baling, while leaving the more level fields in reserve for cutting.
“We have been able to get average farm covers up to more than 2,250kg DM/ha in mid-September by leaving some cattle on a satellite area where covers had fallen, and buffer feeding good quality hay made earlier this year.”
The impact of this learning curve is most readily seen in average daily growth rates of calves. Weights taken in mid-September at weaning suggest calves off older cows, which had access to better grassland, averaged 1.2kg daily liveweight gain versus 0.97kg for calves on younger heifers and off poorer ground.
The aim is to stretch grazing into autumn as far as the heavier clay soils will allow. Soil sampling will determine where FYM should be targeted in spring to bring land back into better heart.
“Paddock grazing has already begun to have a positive effect on the grassland. Now we have better infrastructure, so more progress will be possible next year,” he says.