8 November 1996

GRASS POLICY ADDS UP TO MONEY SAVED

Changing grassland mixtures and good management

mean input savings for one Somerset flockmaster. Rebecca Austin reports

INTRODUCING clover leys coupled with a policy of rotating grassland means one Somerset sheep producer saves on N inputs and wormer costs.

Alan Ker, who farms about 160ha (393 acres) at Kittisford Barton near Wellington in Somerset reckons that these two factors have allowed him to maintain profits even though input costs have generally risen more than lamb prices.

The five- to seven-year old clover leys at Kittisford Barton require just more than a tenth of the nitrogen applied to grass in the past; 25k/ha N (20 units/acre) each year, compared with 225kg/ha N (180 units/acre).

Sown at a rate of 30kg/ha (12kg/acre), the clover mix used by Mr Ker is chosen because the varieties offer a balance between grazing and conservation needs.

And although the leys have suffered due to the past two summer droughts, Mr Ker says research shows there is little difference in performance under those conditions when compared with established grass leys.

Thats crucial because all lambs, which are March-born out of Charollais x Hocken ewes and a Suffolk sire, are finished off grass, with only triplets being offered creep. The first of the lambs are sold deadweight in late June, with the rest being sold progressively up until Christmas, all averaging 18.9kg slaughter weight.

In some circumstances such dependence on grass could lead to worm problems, but the rotation of arable and grassland means clean grazing is plentiful at Kittisford Barton, leading to savings in the farms worming programme.

Grazed together

Sheep and cattle are grazed together around the conservation areas, allowing adequate rest periods for each field. Mr Kers policy is to take dung samples two or three times a year and only worm stock when the vet indicates there is a problem.

"I know which fields are likely to have a problem – the ones which have not received a complete break in their grazing pattern," says Mr Ker. "I cant see any justification for a regular worming programme if there are no worms. Otherwise it just costs time and money.

"This spring I discovered a group were suffering from nematodirus and they were, therefore, treated with a white drench; I have only used 10 litres of wormer this year. It is the same for cattle which have received no treatment in the past two years."

Rams are wormed when they are bought in and dung samples are taken from the cattle at housing. Ewes are wormed at housing, although Mr Ker concedes this is just an insurance policy.

But theres a drive to reduce wormer costs even further. Mr Ker intends to tighten his grazing management to the extent he has no need for wormers at all.n

Sheep and cattle are grazed together at Kittisford Barton, where clean grazing has reduced need for wormers.

Alan Ker says introducing clover leys and rotating grassland has allowed him to maintain profits.


Changes in flock gross margin at Kittisford Barton

85/695/6

Lamb sales63.5063.90

Wool4.943.82

Ewe Premium7.2919.55

Gross output75.7387.27

Less maintenance6.392.75

Total output69.3484.52

Ewe & lamb feed5.9310.69

Grass & forage13.396.35

Vet & medicine1.543.22

Others1.842.32

Variable costs22.7022.58

Gross margin/ewe46.6461.94

Gross margin/ha536775


The grass/clover mix sown at Kittisford Barton

2kg Lasso perennial ryegrass.

2kg Jumbo perennial ryegrass.

3kg Andes tetraploid perennial ryegrass.

3kg Tivoli tetraploid perennial ryegrass.

0.9kg Menna white clover.

0.9kg Grasslands demand white clover.

0.2kg Kent wild white clover.


GRASS MANAGEMENT


&#8226 More clover in leys.

&#8226 25kg/ha N applied.

&#8226 Tight, clean grazing.