6 June 1997

Feed wedge requires stocking

flexibility

INTEREST in the concept of establishing wedge of feed to protect against fluctuations in daily growth rates is considerable; setting it up is a different matter.

The stop-start growth on northern farms since March has caught some farmers out. They have either too little, or too much grass.

The debate often centres on rot-ational or paddock grazing versus set stocking, or continuous grazing. But that is a red herring. The real issue is about having a flexible stocking rate to cater for the growth changes, and this can be achieved on either system of grazing.

Stocking rate, in simple terms, is the number of animals, multiplied by daily feed intake, divided by acres.

When grass growth is too slow, lower the stocking rate – either by:

lLess intake, and buffer. Most get this right, although the buffer is nearly always more expensive silage rather than deferred grazing.

lBringing in more acres is the option most taken, but have often found the grass is too long for adequate grazing.

With very long grass, one option is to mow and allow a few hours wilt before offering the cows the grass behind a temporary wire. This is quite labour intensive, but it is a way to use long grass with minimal waste, hopefully for a short period. It takes a few days to judge the amounts that can be eaten, but milk will not alter when correctly assessed.

When grass growth is too fast, more animals cannot be invented, so the only options to increase the stocking rate are:

lCut other feeds in the diet.

lReduce the area grazed. Always take away the longest grass.

Uncertainly of what lies ahead for the weather tends to delay such common sense decisions on most farms. But there are farmers who have achieved just these results from regular checking of the total grass situation on the farm, and quick reactions.

If early turnout, mid-March, was achieved, then the acreage grazed on each circuit of the farm should have varied. There will be pastures of different length, some very long, some ready for silage, some half way to it, and some at grazing length.

This is the perfect situation that can only be gained by regular walking and looking.

A potential problem for grazing efficiency has been the desire to keep fields in the same sequence for consecutive grazings. A farm with, say, eight fields, and independent access to each of them, need not graze them one to eight every time. Be flexible. If grass is at its optimum length graze it. Reasons why not all fields will be ready a the same interval include:

lDifferent leys will grow at different rates. Get into the fast growing ones earlier, particularly in the stem elongation phase of April/May.

lIn the wet more residual after grazing can lead to the field having a feed on it sooner next time. It has not necessarily grown faster.

lLarger fields may be easier to manage with quicker grazing intervals and vice versa for smaller areas, although this will depend on your system.

lIf more prone to wetness, graze those fields in dry conditions, regardless of their length.

Some farms would have more flexibility at turnout, by not grazing the field nearest to the buildings first, if soil conditions are favourable. Keep the handy fields for the difficult weather that will come at some stage.

Farm infrastructure is important, but not as critical as flexible thinking of the grazing manager. &#42