19 July 2002

Simple grazing cuts back on concentrates

Delegates on this years British Grassland Society

Summer Meeting visited farms in north Wales

focusing on integrated management of hard hill

grazing and lower elevation pastures. Robert Davies

reports on the tours first day

A GRASSLAND management policy of keeping it simple is allowing one north Wales milk producer to graze cows for 10 months a year and cut back on concentrates for youngstock.

At Croenllwm, Llannefydd, BGS members heard how Alun Owen ran 265 spring calving cows on the farm, while his brother, Arthur, managed 140 September to January calving cows on another unit. The herds are operated as a single business and this year they have taken on a farm business tenancy on land linking the two holdings.

Alun Owen said the different herd management systems reflected the brothers differing interests. While there was close co-operation, there was also rivalry.

Currently, autumn calvers were fed 1.9t of cake and averaged 7479 litres/cow, while the Croenllwm cows consumed 1.2t of concentrate/head and averaged 6594 litres. The difference in margin over concentrates was about £140/cow in favour of the autumn calvers.

Mr Owen said his aim was to produce 10,000 litres/ha (4000 litres/acre), but to work only about eight hours a day and have a good family life. Contractors were used for slurry spreading, silage making, fencing and ploughing.

While his brother used AI, he had bought three Holstein bulls. These were sired by good bulls out of VG and Excellent cows. They also went through the parlour, where they were fed about 8kg of concentrate a day. He reported not having a single barrener since January this year.

While money had been invested in good cow tracks, he had not created small paddocks. Fields were grazed for two or three days, sometimes using a temporary electric fence. Fertiliser went on in mid-February and cows, which grazed until December 18, went out again in the day from February this year.

Mr Owen said that reseeding was done only when absolutely necessary to keep good quality grass in front of cows. He also emphasised the importance attached to offering heifer calves quality grazing to allow them to grow and calve at two years old.

"I think calf and heifer rearing is a bit of a minefield and we have much to learn from the Irish. I will not let a heifer be served until she weighs 320kg and I expect her to reach 90% of her mature weight by calving."

When BGS members saw this years crop of heifer calves grazing a clover rich sward ahead of the milkers, there was general agreement that they did not need concentrate.

Clover rich grass is grazed by heifers, before cows are given access to it, explains Alun Owen.

&#8226 10 months a year.

&#8226 2-3 days/field.

Modern care methods in a traditional system

MODERN technology and care of the environment can be incorporated into a traditional beef and sheep system, Tecwyn Evans told 100 visitors to his unit at Plas Mattw, Llangernyw.

He explained that when he took over the 57ha (140 acre) holding in 1954 only 20ha (50 acres) was usable grazing, with much of the remainder covered in rushes and gorse. Extensive sward improvements were made and the unit is now an Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research grassland technology transfer focus farm.

"The emphasis now is on containing production costs extending the life of the leys. I try to maintain a good soil pH by using lime regularly, but not applying heavy dressings which can lock up other soil nutrients," he said.

"Clover is also important and I dont use much nitrogen. But I aim to have the right phosphate and potash indexes, and also use a scratch harrow, sometimes quite severely, to open up swards in spring. Grass is my biggest asset and it would be a false economy not to look after pastures well."

Returns from livestock farming are just too low to reseed land earlier than necessary. Some leys had been down for more than 20 years and were still very productive and capable of finishing lambs.

Quality of swards on land running up to 274m (900ft) at Plas Mattw was important. His 640 Welsh Mountain stock grazed 64ha (158 acres) of steep land three miles away on Hiraethog Mountain, but the growing season was short, so quality grass was needed on the home farm.

About 400 ewes were bred pure and the rest put to Border Leicester rams to produce Welsh Halfbreds which were sold at a breed society sale.

Ewes and lambs grazed the mountain from April to weaning, when lambs returned to the lower land. Those not required as replacements were finished on silage aftermaths.

Mr Evans also had a herd of 47 crossbred suckler cows. These were put to a Limousin bull and the calves sold as stores at 18 months old. Because it was difficult to avoid the Holstein influence when buying herd replacements, he had begun retaining some heifers for breeding.

Participation in a cattle health scheme run by a local vet had eradicated leptosirosis and BVD from the herd.

Visitors also heard that Mr Evanss environmental conservation efforts, including tree planting and hedgerow renovation, had been recognised by many organisations. &#42

Grass is my biggest asset, it would be a false economy not to look after it well, says Tecwyn Evans.

&#8226 Clover reduces bagged N.

&#8226 Aim to extend life.

&#8226 P and K monitored.

Further reports from the meeting next week.