RE-SEEDING IS DE RIGUEUR…
CUMBRIA dairy farmer Ian Graham aims to produce as much home-grown feed for stock as efficiently as possible. That means following a strict re-seeding policy alongside an arable cropping programme of wheat and barley.
Experience has produced a successful system in which controlled use of slurry has enabled compound fertiliser inputs to be slashed. There is a possibility that only nitrogen will be used in the future.
Mr Graham re-seeds about 16.19ha (40 acres) of grassland each year at his 192ha (475-acre) Hallrigg Farm, Calthwaite, near Penrith. Land re-seeded last August and allocated for silage in May will receive a March dressing of 251kg/ha (201 units/acre) of a 20:15:0 compound while 251kg/ha of a 26:13:0 compound will be applied to grazing land.
Silage ground re-seeds will receive 251kg/ha of a 12:15:2 compound followed by a top dressing of Nitram. Grazing land is top dressed every six weeks with 125-188kg/ha (100-150 units/acre)of Nitram.
"But we are cutting back on fertiliser every year. We are put-ting plenty of slurry on, little and often, and I came close to not ordering any compound fertiliser for this spring and just relying on nitrogen.
"This year we are on 15:20 P and K compared with last year at 20:20. We usually go over the fields twice or three times with slurry and when we considered how much protein and energy was going into the cows we felt we should be making more use of what was coming out.
"We have a lot of concrete and collect a lot of water. It is only the wheel marks that show me where I have actually applied the slurry.
"I reckon I am using around 2000gal/acre, although we have used an umbilical system this winter which has been applying around 3000gal/acre," says Mr Graham.
A strict re-seeding policy is an integral part of grassland management at Hallrigg Farm, where the 190 dairy cows have access to silage all year round. Summer grazing sees 170 cows on 20ha (50 acres), increasing to 24ha (60 acres) later in the season.
About 48.5ha (120 acres) are taken for first-cut silage followed by 40.5ha (100 acres) for second and third cuts.
Although there is a limited amount of permanent pasture, the rest of the farm is in a four-six year re-seeding cycle plus an annual direct-drilled acreage of forage rye for zero-grazing in the spring. The 5ha (12 acres) of rye will provide four weeks of fresh material before turn-out.
"It is beneficial to the cows digestion and sets them up well as a transition between winter silage and grazed spring grass."
After cutting, the rye field will be used as a sacrifice area for muck and may receive a dressing of lime after a soil pH analysis. Cultivations will start in early May; the area will be sub-soiled, ploughed and worked twice before rolling. Seeds are broadcast 34kg/ha (31lb/acre) followed by chain harrowing and a final rolling.
No seed-bed fertiliser is used. Cows should be grazing this re-seed by mid-June.
Grass seeds adviser Roy Peter, Grass Roots Farm Seeds, says the cut-and-graze mixtures comprise medium and late perennial ryegrasses from the latest NIAB lists.
"We do this to achieve evenness of heading dates, a tighter sward and much more leaf in the grazing situation; if we included early varieties in the mix there would be too much variance in stem and leaf development," says Mr Peter.
Grazing mixtures are all late perennial pasture grasses. No clover is included to cut the cost of the mixture and because the leys are not down long enough to achieve the full benefit of a clover inclusion.
Re-seeding is split 50:50 spring and autumn. Spring sown leys are grazed in their first season; autumn re-seeds are initially ear-marked for silage – producing 8-9t/acre of freshweight grass – and then grazed to achieve a "cut and graze" policy around most of the farm.
No Timothy is included in the mixtures, the emphasis being on medium and late perennials. All autumn re-seeding has August bank holiday Monday as the target. The land is grazed by sheep over the winter.
Varieties included in this seasons mixtures are the tetraploid intermediate perennial ryegrasses Rosalin, Aberelan and the late perennial ryegrasses Foxtrot, Montando and Lasso. Seed costs are about £71/ha (£29/acre).
"We are moving more towards a TMR system for both cows and youngstock and aim to make enough first-cut silage to feed the cows all winter, right up until late March. We switch to the rye in mid-March before turnout and have third cut as a buffer feed throughout the summer. Grass is the mainstay of the farm," says Mr Graham. *
Ian Graham: "We are cutting back on fertiliser every year."