4 April 1997

Good trackways

pave the way to cheaper grass

Contiuning our Grazed Grass Grows Profit initiative, which reports on on-farm discussion meetings run by New Zealand consultants to encourage better use of grass, Sue Rider visits Sussex

GRAZED grass has been part of the daily ration for the milkers at Pallinghurst Farm, Rudgwick, West Sussex, six weeks earlier than usual.

The countys first grass discussion meeting with New Zealand consultant Paul Bird heard that atrazine resistant Italian ryegrass under-sown in the previous years maize crop had provided the Harrisons cows with early grazing since Feb 28. The IRG variety Bartissimo, chosen for its resistance to atrazine, was sown into 20ha (50 acres) of late April sown maize in late June.

Peter Harrison told the farmer group that the 240 cows had been grazing 0.5ha (1 acre) behind an electric fence for two hours a day. On that basis it had cost 15p/day/cow to establish the grass and Mr Bird estimated that the cows were eating 4-5kg dry matter grass during their two hours grazing. That represented a major saving on winter feed if costing the equivalent silage dry matter at 40p/cow/day.

Good track access to the field and a narrow lane up the side of the field had allowed early grazing without poaching, said Mr Bird.

"Since Ive been in the country Ive seen few farmers with adequate infrastructure – tracks and roadways – to allow early grazing. Trying to graze a 20-acre paddock with one gateway in a wet March is impossible."

He recommended good central access tracks plus side lanes when bigger fields were involved. Once the farm was set up to graze early, it should be possible to get the cows out from March or even earlier.

Mr Harrisons cows were not yet out full time because he was reluctant to boost milk so close to the end of the quota year (Mar 27).

But many in the group felt the cows should be out day and night now to graze the remainder of the IRG and start of the main grazing block before it got ahead of the cows. "Grass growth is exceptional and if cows are not turned out full time to graze you will lose quality," said Mr Bird, who recorded 3300kg DM/ha of grass cover using a rising plate meter on one 1.6ha (4-acre) paddock.

He estimated there would be 1700kg DM/ha of available grass – the amount of pasture the cows could actually eat. Over the 1.6ha that was about 2700kg DM or 11.25kg DM for each of the 240 cows.

Mr Harrison said that one reason for the abundance of grass cover was that the field had not been grazed since early November, but even so it had been an exceptional year for grass growth and he would look to turn out cows day and night from early April.

Allowing grass to build up over winter made sense, said Mr Bird. It would provide early grazing of good quality. But he emphasised the need for adequate soil phosphate for encouraging grass to grow at lower temperatures.

"The grass will grow better as it gets colder, and coming out of winter the growth will speed up quicker." He also encouraged farmers present to try and refocus their thinking on to grass and away from silage.

"Why feed 1kg silage DM when you can graze it?" Some of the best grass hed seen this spring had been on fields allocated for silage.n

New Zealand consultant Paul Bird demonstrates how a rising plate meter estimates how much grass dry matter is on the field – in this paddock about 3300kg DM/ha.


&#8226 Carry grass cover over winter.

&#8226 Graze as soon as possible.

&#8226 Tracks and roadways vital.

&#8226 Focus on grazing not silaging.

Win a plate meter

Unsure about how much grass to give the cows each day? Why not use a New Zealand rising plate meter to estimate grass dry matter on the field. By taking the required daily grass intake, and the number of cows, its then possible to work out how much grazing area to give the cows at each feed.

FW has teamed up with seed company Perryfields to offer 10 plate meters as prizes in a competition which will run next week. So why not test your grazing know-how? You could win a plate meter worth £300 and at the same time save on feed costs through better use of grazed grass.