25 July 1997

Late calvers not best summer lawnmowers?

Methods to make the best use of grass were discussed in Pembrokeshire and Grampian last week. Robert Davies and Allan Wright report

Methods to make the best use of grass were discussed in Pembrokeshire and Grampian last week. Robert Davies and Allan Wright report

MANAGING grass without dry cows to tidy up after the milkers was a key topic when New Zealand adviser Paul Bird met farmers from the Narberth area of Pembrokeshire.

At Chapel Hill Farm, Templeton, they saw 30 non-lactating Holsteins being employed as what Mr Bird described as a handy management tool. But the visitors heard that similar animals would not be available next year, following a switch to February calving.

"The question is whether it is worth keeping a group of autumn calving cows to graze after the spring calvers," said Mr Bird. "If two herds are run on one farm, we have in effect two farms in grass management terms."

Most group members felt that a combination of efficient grass utilisation, encouraged by good access races and effective topping, would be preferable to dealing with the complications of keeping autumn calvers as summer lawnmowers.

There was also concern about the risk of dry cows getting too fat when they were allowed to use large areas of pasture. Instead, the general opinion was that they should be restricted so that grazings were short enough to allow a golf ball to be found.

The importance of maintaining adequate average grass cover over all of a farms pastures was another key topic. Mr Bird said this aim should drive the management system. Richard John, who farms the 91ha (225-acre) tenanted holding has recently changed grassland management to reduce costs.

A historical graph of grass cover at Chapel Hill showed big fluctuations caused by turning out too late, and making too much first-cut silage.

Mr John explained that current policy was to graze cows until December, and turn them out again as soon as possible after calving started on Feb 1. Average grass cover then fell, but recovered quickly from April.

The target was to use grass budgeting and measurement to get 60 to 70% of milk production from grazed grass. A smaller area had been cut for silage, and the aim was to reduce the amount of silage fed from 12.5t/cow to 7t, or less.

If the system worked, milkers should have a dry matter intake of 3.5 to 4t/head from grazed grass.

Dry cow grazing should be short enough so that a golf ball could be found with ease, says Paul Bird (right).

TIDYINGAFTERMILKING

&#8226 Efficient grazing.

&#8226 Effective topping.

&#8226 Keep dry cows tightly stocked.