30 November 2001

Extend grazing, reduce cost

Continuing our coverage of

the British Grassland

Society winter meeting,

Hannah Velten reports on

extended grazing and cow

comfort

GRAZING-based dairy systems will not suit every farm, but improving grazing management to fully use the cheapest feed, grass, can reduce production costs.

Last year, Les Scaifes neighbours were watching him move electric fences on New Years Day – in North Yorks, renowned for its heavy rainfall and difficult soils.

Unfortunately, on Jul 14, his 170-cow herd was culled because of foot-and-mouth. He is planning to restock next summer and will continue to use the extended grazing system he implemented three years ago.

Before that, Mr Scaife had been farming with 100 cows and followers, 200 breeding ewes and sold fat lambs. "But our business was like a car going up hill in the wrong gear and we were starting to stall," he told delegates.

Lack of profit and spare cash was his biggest problem and he was ready for a challenge.

He joined two grazing discussion groups and decided to change his dairying system.

"We tackled every cost, where practical, sold the sheep and increased cow numbers.

"Investment in soil, grass mixes, water supply, electric fences and tracks was necessary to build up an infrastructure for successful extended grazing."

Our new system runs on three basic points, he said. "Maximise grass growth, have enough cows so it is not wasted and calve them at the right time – in spring."

Total milk production was well on target to rise by 28% in 2001, while costs, excluding own labour, quota, finance and rent had fallen by more than 15%. Costs were expected to fall further due to the dilution effect of increased milk production, added Mr Scaife.

In 1998, Chris Mossman who runs 105 cows in west Wales, achieved an industry benchmark of 7000 litres/cow with 5000 litres from forage, but achieving this did not increase his bank balance enough or improve his lifestyle.

"Because of the winter calving regime, winters were long and hard work and summers were taken up making high quality grass and maize silage.

"I took a step back and thought hard about what my family and I wanted from the farm.

"Profitability was important to generate more spare cash and as a tenanted farm, we wanted to reduce investment demands." Experience with grazing groups suggests it is possible to reduce costs by 45%. He, therefore, chose the extended grazing route.

The grazing-based system uses less concentrate, silage, fertilisers, labour and power/machinery than Mr Mossmans previous system.

He also wanted the farming system to be simple to allow him more time with his family. "Spring calving over 10 weeks is the target. In reality 96% of cows calve in this period. Conception rate to first service is 68%."

The biggest challenge for Mr Mossman was reaching his target of less than 10% of the herd empty.

Condition scoring, adequate feeding and heat detection have been crucial, but also the original Holstein/Friesian cows are now being crossbred to a Jersey bull.

"This is not just for fertility reasons. Hybrid vigour can increase milk production by 5% and maintenance costs are less for smaller cows," he added.

An emphasis is placed on measurement and meeting targets. "Farm targets are vital to ensure success and peace of mind. Results may look grim at times, but at least you know what lies ahead and can take positive evasive action," he added.

Measuring grass growth is vital. "This year cows will give 6050 litres/cow from 453kg concentrate/head. This is only achievable by using as much high quality grass for as long as possible and supplementing concentrate when cow production exceeds the volume of grass she can eat."÷ &#42

Grass based dairying gives Les Scaife (top) and Chris Mossman (bottom) the opportunity to reduce production costs and simplify their farming system.

EXTENDED GRAZING

&#8226 Possible in difficult conditions.

&#8226 Reduces production costs.

&#8226 Cow type important.