27 March 1998

HAVE CONFIDENCE IN GRASS

LIVESTOCK producers facing falling prices for milk and meat must consider improved use of grazed grass and forages to cut production costs.

Most producers can make better use of grazed grass. They are running systems which are just too expensive – being geared towards making silage – and carry costly machinery such as forage boxes. Those producers who can increase reliance on grass – even if its just by extending the grazing season by two or three weeks at each end of the year and improving management techniques – will be able to reduce production costs and boost profit.

Its all about having the confidence in grass management and believing that cows can produce a high quality litre off grass at low cost.

SACs work at its Crichton Royal Farm, Dumfries is a case in point. Here it is running two 70-cow herds side by side; one is low input – 625kg/cow concentrate off grass/clover swards and no nitrogen – and the other high input – 2.2t/cow and 175kg/ha N. Production is 5752 litres for the low input and 8145 litres for the high input system – and profit/litre before tax 13p for the former, 8.5p/litre for the latter.

Despite its lower yield, the low cost unit makes more money and thats excluding additional costs such as quota associated with the higher input unit. So it can pay to consider a lower cost system which maximises use of grazing, as farmers featured in this Supplement have discovered.

As for silaging it should be viewed as a tool to manage surpluses of grass rather than a necessity. Use of contractors or investment in second hand equipment will help reduce costs and advice in these pages on purchasing a secondhand forager may help out in this respect.

There is still much potential to increase milk from forage, so take a fresh look this season at what can be achieved. Try your hand at increasing percentage of grazed grass in the diet and consider growing alternative forages, such as protein rich crops to increase use of home-grown forages at the expense of purchased feeds.