15 September 1995

Now grass keep men warn of a fodder famine

By Robert Davies

HILL flockmasters who away-winter stock and face low winter feed stocks after the drought are further threatened by grass shortages on lowland farms.

The warning comes from ADAS senior Wales-based nutritionist, Philip Haigh, as many grass keep providers warn regular clients that they may have to reduce their sheep intake this year, or take them later than normal.

For those sheep producers facing a fodder shortage, he suggests other feeds like cereals can help, but that producers must ensure they have enough roughage for their sheep.

"With almost no spare hay or silage likely to be available on the market, some people could find themselves in difficulties," he says.

With exceptionally high soil temperatures he expects rapid post-drought grass growth, but he does not underestimate the difficulty of taking advantage of it.

"Of course the key factor will continue to be the weather. Given the usual mixture of sun and showers, there should be plenty of grass for flushing ewes, and they should go into the winter in good condition. But this could mean more twins, making it more important than ever to base rationing on scanning results."

Grazing should not be a problem, as long as the autumn is not too wet. Converting any autumn grass bounty into conserved winter feed is more of a headache. He advises trying to provide a combination of late silage and foggage, or autumn grass carried into winter as a standing crop, which can supply valuable pickings for sheep until hit by severe frost.

"It will also be possible to make big bale silage from any parcels of available grass right through to Christmas. The material made will be low in sugar, but have reasonable digestive fibre and high protein. It should be mixed with silage made earlier in the year, or straw.

Where home-made fodder supplies are short he advises shopping around to get the best value for money alternatives.

Cereals should be plentiful and reasonably priced, but are no substitute for roughages. Neither, he says, are blocks and liquid feeds.

"These are very convenient and have a role to play, but farmers must realise that they provide relatively small amounts of nutrients to supplement grass and fodder, and are not cheap."

ADAS nutritionist Philip Haigh:"Good autumn grass management will be essential."