4 September 1998

Protect grass if in short supply

By Jessica Buss

GRAZING should be restricted now where grass is in short supply to help build up swards.

That was the conclusion of a Somerset BGS grazing discussion group meeting at Nigel Venners Moxhill Farm, Combwich, Bridgewater, Somerset.

His 70 cows are set stocked by day and rotationally graze 16 paddocks at night. The farm has 28ha (70 acres) of grass for cows and 60 youngstock. Mr Venner also grows 26ha (65 acres) of forage crops, including maize, lucerne and stubble turnips. Lucerne is grown on thin soils which grow poor grass crops. Cows average 7300 litres off 1.25t of concentrate a year.

"Stubble turnips are grown on land that floods in winter killing any grass. One field has been strip grazed to supplement grass. But a second drilling is not ready for grazing, so a complete diet buffer has been offered since mid-August," Mr Venner told the discussion group.

He said little rain had fallen since late June on his drought-prone farm. Grass growth has slowed and cows are eating 14kg DM of a lucerne silage, sodawheat and soya buffer. He is, therefore, only expecting cows to eat 4-5kg DM of grazed grass, but there was little grass available for grazing.

BGS consultant Paul Bird said to provide more grass for grazing this autumn cows should be taken off the main set stocking area. That would allow grass to recover to a height where growth rate increase.

To avoid grazing this area now, the group suggested grazing stubble turnips earlier or grazing a red clover and Italian ryegrass sward which Mr Venner had only cut before.

Some group members had successfully grazed red clover and believed it was a possible solution. However, this is providing cows still receive buffer feed before going out and are fed a tightly restricted area each day to help avoid bloat. One case of bloat could outweigh any potential benefits, and cows would have to be watched closely.

Mr Venner asked the group how to improve production from grazing. Mr Bird suggested that a larger grass acreage was needed.

He questioned whether maize and lucerne yields and nutritional benefits were high enough to make them economic compared with grass when grazing was in short supply. Crops yields and costs should be assessed for comparison with grass.

Some group members had more grass than Moxhill Farm and were keen to provide grazing into October. Mr Bird explained that September is the most important month for extending grazing into October and November.

"When grass quality is poor in September it is difficult to improve quality in wetter months.

"Attempt to build grass cover, even when that means feeding more silage now. Grazing rotations should be extended to 40 days where there is an average grass cover of 2200-2300kg/ha, by offering cows a smaller area.

"Graze longer grass in October than at any other time of year. Cows may not eat long grass down as well, so clean paddocks well now, using a mower where needed." &#42

Grass needs time to recover for autumn grazing at Moxhill Farm, so cows will be buffer fed until grass growth increases, the group heard.

SEPTEMBER GRAZING

&#8226 Graze paddocks down well for quality regrowth.

&#8226 Avoid grazing farm bare.

&#8226 Build grass cover for October.