By Jonathan Long
WARM WEATHER this weekend should provide a welcome boost to grass growth held back by recent cold weather. But it may still be some time before most stock have good swards in front of them.
Brabourne, Kent-based producer Peter Joules says his milking cows are likely to go out five weeks later than last year. “Last year we turned out one herd on Feb 22 and the year before they were out on Feb 14. This year it will probably be more like Apr 1.”
With lambing well under way at Chelsworth, Suffolk-based Buckle Farms, the delay in grass growth is causing concern for livestock manager Michael Mumford. “We have been turning ewes and lambs out on to fields with reasonable grass, but growth is slow and we”re having to feed ewes more than normal to ensure they milk well enough.
“On top of that, the shortage of grass is likely to mean lambs start to eat creep earlier and eat more of it, so this will push the bill up, too.
“But with a warm spell predicted for the weekend and with all fertiliser on, grass should pick up fairly quickly. The key will be warm nights. Unless temperatures stay up overnight grass growth will remain slow,” he says.
But there is no excuse for milking cows to be housed now, reckons grazing consultant Tom Phillips. “In most areas it has been particularly dry since January, so there shouldn”t be a wet farm in the UK.”
The key to making the most of available grass is having a clear grazing plan in mind, says Mr Phillips. “Having a long first rotation should allow grass growth to catch up, but ensure cows don”t waste grass.
“Good access tracks are essential to ensure grass isn”t trampled by cows, and back-fencing will also be worthwhile, as this will prevent cows poaching previously grazed areas. It is worth investing in sufficient fence reels to allow this.”
One producer with cows out full time now is Staffs-based Stephen Brandon, who says cows are giving about 27 litres a day off grazed grass, 3kg a day of concentrate and some silage at milking. “Luckily, at the end of January we had the highest grass covers we had ever had at that time of year, so despite the lack of growth in the last month cows have had enough to eat.”
Further north grass growth is also holding back grazing plans for Dumfries beef and sheep producer Marcus Maxwell. “There”s hardly a blade of grass to be seen on the farm, even on fields which were shut up over winter to provide spring grazing.
“We”re feeding in-lamb ewes rolls to keep them going and spring calved cows will be fed silage until mid-May to keep the milk on them.”