29 March 1996


GRAZED grass is the cheapest feed available to ruminants. Despite this, it is often seen as a nuisance, especially by those striving for high outputs. There is a tendency to substitute silage and purchased feeds for the management effort needed to achieve efficient use of grass. But each unit of digestible energy from grazed grass costs half as much as from silage and only 25% of the cost of securing the same energy from concentrates.

There is no evidence that high concentrate regimes are more profitable than simpler, grass-based production systems. Indeed, as this supplement details, high genetic merit stock can perform well off grazed grass. That must be good news for producers keen to embrace efficient, low cost production systems.

That said production of high quality conserved forage, whether grass, maize or whole-crop is also worthwhile. For those prepared to combine the benefits of grazed grass and conserved forages, the production benefits are enormous.

When it comes to the actual harvesting operation, contractors continue to dominate the scene. Apart from the saving on machinery costs for the individual farmer, the speed at which most contracting operations can perform leads, in most cases, to better quality silage.

The knock-on effect is, of course, fields are cleared quicker, fertiliser can be applied earlier and re-growth for second or third cuts begins sooner.

Prices charged by contractors for a complete job – from field to clamp – range from £87-£100/ha (£35-£40/acre) for grass and about £112/ha (£45/acre) for maize silage.

There are those however, who feel that putting the task of silage making into somebody elses hands is too much to bear. Comments such as, "timeliness is critical for grass silage and weve been let down on more than one occasion by contractors," perhaps sum up the caution some farmers demonstrate.

Overall though, whether contractors are employed or home operated machinery used, modern grassland equipment allows conservation operations to be both slick and efficient.