19 June 1998

Management is outstripped by grass growth

By Simon Wragg

RAPID grass growth in many areas means producers risk lower sward quality and reduced productivity unless they take action now, warn consultants.

According to Tiverton-based Signet consultant John Bennett management is not keeping apace with grass growth. He believes that where grass has been saved for grazing in what is normally a time of drought, continued growth means stemmy swards are developing, reducing quality.

With intermittent rainfall across much of the UK spurring on growth, grazing or cutting should encourage tillering and regrowth of highly digestible material, he says.

BGS grazing consultant Carol Gibson says that although grazing is preferable, swards over 14cm (5.5in) carrying 3500kg DM/ha – allowing daily intakes of 18kg DM for 100 cows to be achieved off 0.9ha (2.2 acres) – could benefit from mowing enough grass for each days grazing and fencing off uncut areas, reducing wastage.

But Ms Gibson says that for northern producers, growth has slowed considerably in recent cool weather and they should consider opening up grass set aside for silage, using fencing to control access.

But where excess grass is a concern, Cotswolds-based sheep consultant Alistair Bird advocates making big bale silage for buffer feeding to ewes and lambs later this summer.

For the cost-conscious, making hay will be a cheaper option than silage, says Signet beef consultant Geoff Fish, especially where hay-making kit is standing idle.

"It is a good feed for dry suckler cows or, when supplemented with a little concentrate, in-milk suckler cows. Savings in feed of 25p a head a day should be achieved compared to feeding straw and concentrates."

The flip-side to excessive grass growth is too much quality grazing on some farms, he warns. "In-calf cows are in danger of putting on too much condition and as a result we are likely to see difficult calvings."

Where grass is going to seed, use a mower rather than a topper to trim pastures and encourage tillering, urges BGS consultant Paul Bird. "Mowers wont glide over the tufts around dung. Cutting height should be 5-6cm."

Fertiliser applications could be cut back to maintenance levels if silage stocks are sufficient,saving money adds Mr Bird.

Once regrowth and sward quality have improved, a two-tier grazing system could help to make better use of grass. Allow young stock being reared on grass alone to have first bite of the best quality grass.

say consultants.

Should grass growth still creep ahead, consider buying-in replacement sucklers early and rearing on farm, says Mr Fish. Alternatively there could be a limited demand for letting grazing out to those producers who have kept stock on this spring instead of selling stores when prices were low, says Mr Bennett.

GRASS STRIPS

&#8226 Cut as soon as possible.

&#8226 Top swards going to seed.

&#8226 Review fertiliser use.

&#8226 Give young stock priority.