5 April 1996

Maximise grass use, BSEscare victims advised

By Jonathan Riley

BEEF producers whose cash flows are being hit by the BSE scare are being advised to make full use of grass to keep costs to a minimum.

Beef consultant David Allen advocates stocking tightly even when stock numbers are reduced. "This is especially important at turn out so some grass is kept back to release mid-season grazing pressure and allow for sufficient silage.

"May growth can support 2-2.5t liveweight a hectare with a sward height of 4-6cm.

But stocking at this level means there must be strict adherence to worming policies," says Dr Allen.

"At turn-out some supplement should be fed, but reduced gradually as cattle adapt to the change in diet," he says.

Dr Allen also advocates supplementary feeding in August at about a kg a day to eke out grass supplies until the end of the season. He suggests paying special attention to the availability and prices of straights for the winter.

"Bear in mind that grain may be competitively priced against some alternative feeds if supplies are up given a lower set-aside area and fewer cattle about," he says.

ADAS beef consultant Dr Elwyn Rees also favours an early turn-out. But warns that when cattle are turned out in too good a condition, some of that will be lost and feed used wasted.

"Hold steers back to about 0.8kg daily liveweight gain and heifers to 0.7kg a day, by introducing straw to the diet before turn-out. Then when these animals go out compensatory growth can be exploited by making maximum use of grass," says Dr Rees.

He advises stocking tightly and making use of electric fences to partition fields so sufficient grass is available for late season grazing or for silage.

"Put on more nitrogen to make the most of grazing and to secure high quality silage for next winter.

He suggests straw could be important next winter as a cheap source of bulk. "It may be as well to secure a supply now and consider buying protein balancers such as maize gluten and rapeseed meal when they are cheapest.

"For autumn and spring calving suckler producers one option is to sell calves in October or November to reduce stock numbers to carry over the winter," he says.

These stock will grow faster over winter and finish earlier when silage quality is high, says Prof Mike Wilkinson of De Montfort University, Lincoln.

He advises aiming to cut two-thirds of the grass area for silage, and to take an early cut.

"Be ready to silage at the end of April but wait for good weather to secure a good wilted product," he says. "This will also release aftermath for grazing earlier – helping worm control." Cutting silage earlier will also leave a better re-growth or higher yields of second cut of silage.


&#8226 Tight stocking rates.

&#8226 Early turn-out.

&#8226 Good quality silage.

&#8226 Reduce concentrates next winter.