22 November 1996

GRAZING HEIGHT IS KEY PRIORITY

By Allan Wright

CAREFUL management of everything from seed mixture to silage additive is the key to a successful grassland, and forage policy. Thats according to Hew Chalmers whose dairy herd of 100 pedigree Holsteins at Craigencrosh, Stranraer, produces 4000kg a cow from forage.

Mr Chalmers practises what he preaches and this summer added the Scottish grassland management title to the national silage competition victory he scored with last years crop. Both competitions are run by the British Grassland Society.

The management title rewarded grassland policy, grazing management, forage conservation, livestock output, and pollution and environmental awareness.

Mr Chalmers scored 87 out of a possible 100 points and did particularly well on grazing management and the condition of his grassland.

Those who attended two farm walks at Craigencrosh this year would understand that. The management of sward height by stocking density and, occasionally, the topper, is a priority with Mr Chalmers.

"Grazing height is critical and we aim for 6cm. Hitting that target means the cows are eating fresh, lush pasture. Close grazing encourages tillering and gives a dense sward that lasts the season and is better able to withstand drought.

"This year turnout was late because of the wet weather and the grass had reached 12cm. We had to stock very heavily, at over three cows a hectare, to get things under control," he says.

Feeding the fields is another hobbyhorse. "Applying straight nitrogen in the spring is quite wrong in my opinion. You need phosphate there as well to kick start the nitrogen. Straight N is fine for an autumn flush of grass once the P and K have been built up. But in spring the natural phosphate is locked up in the soil and it has to come from the bag to get things going," he says.

He has the facts to back his theory, thanks to being a trials farm for Kemira. A comparison this year between 27:10:0 and 25:5:5 compounds showed a clear advantage for the former and when the comparison was against a 20:5:5 blend, the advantage soared to over 2.7t of fresh grass a hectare (1t/ac) over the April/July grazing season.

Mr Chalmers also gets his slurry analysed each year, and feels that too many farmers still regard slurry as more of a nuisance than a valuable source of plant nutrients.

The attention to detail extends to things like having three gateways into each of the fields used by the cows.

"Buffer feeding in summer and slurry applications can cause far too much poaching of land if there is only one gateway. We made a conscious management decision to have three entry points for each of the grazing fields and it has worked," says Mr Chalmers.

Herd average is 6500kg at 3.42% protein and 4.2% fat. Margin over concentrates is £1410/cow or 22.4p/litre off 1.2t of concentrate a cow.

New this year is 4.5ha (11 acres) of fermented whole-crop barley which will be used as a silage buffer. "It will be more important than usual this year because wet weather at first cut knocked silage quality," he says.

A measure of this years season is seen in the Craigencrosh first cut compared with last years award winning crop: ME 11.5 (12.2); DM 22% (25.8%), crude protein 14% (15.8%); D value 70 (77); pH 4.2 (3.9) and ammonia 7% (4%). &#42

Scottish farmer Hew Chalmers views the management by stocking density and occasionally, the topper, as a number one priority.


MANAGEMENT TIPS


&#8226 Close attention to sward heights.

&#8226 Fresh grass offered daily.

&#8226 Nitrogen plus phosphate applications in spring.

&#8226 Annual slurry analysis.