26 March 1999

ROTATIONAL SWITCH PUTS BITE ON FEED BILL

By Sue Rider

SWITCHING from set-stocking to rotational grazing, and extending the grazing season, has reduced a Shropshire producers feed bill and improved grass management.

Phil James, who farms in partnership with his father and mother, grazed his 220-cow herd rotationally for the first time last year when he joined the farm full-time.

"We took on 30 extra cows and it was just a case of having to try and feed them," he explains.

"Set-stocking is fine when grass is growing well – but when it stops its like having no money in the bank to tide you over until it grows again."

With higher stocking, Mr James felt rotational grazing would help control grass growth. This is important because only 40ha (100 acres) of 121ha (300-acre) Church Farm, St Martins, Oswestry, is near the buildings.

The off-lying land is used for silage, some zero-grazing and grows 18ha (45 acres) of maize. Its also why cows calve in autumn.

"As grass growth slows in summer we can dry off some cows and move them down the road out of the way," says Mr James.

The switch to rotational grazing was gradual – 40 spring calvers were still set-stocked on 8ha (20 acres) last year while the rest of the herd was rotated around another 32ha (80 acres).

When Mr James started measuring grass on July 1 – using a plate meter and walking the farm every week – the difference in available grass cover between the two areas was marked.

"On the 20-acre set-stocked area there was 3t of grass available, and on the other 80 acres, 21t. If the grass had stopped growing at that point, and the whole 100 acres had been set-stocked, we would have only had five days grazing left; if it had all been rotationally grazed we would have a total of 15 days of cow grazing.

"We werent feeding silage or concentrates throughout the summer and the cows had a good crop of grass in front of them. It was like having a bigger stock of feed in the shed."

Savings from improved grassland management didnt stop there, he adds.

Parlour feeders were removed, and from turn-out last spring on Mar 20 no concentrates were fed. By keeping cows out until Nov 15, they also saved 460t of silage. "We used to start feeding silage as cows started calving at the end of August, but last year only fed it from October."

Convinced of benefits

Mr James says he is convinced of the benefits of rotational grazing and extended grazing, and plans to continue this year.

He had planned for a March 1 turn-out, aiming to graze the whole 40ha (100 acre) block once before mid-April or magic day – when grass grows faster than it is being eaten.

"That would have given us two acres to graze each day – taking 50 days to graze once over the 100 acres before grass starts to take off in April."

But even though grass cover in early March was 1800kg DM/ha, it was too wet to turn-out. When the cows do go out, theyll probably be given more than the two acres, and less silage.

Despite a rainfall of 750 mm (30in) the medium to heavy loam drains fairly well, and any poaching damage last year soon recovered. "Some areas looked quite badly poached but it was only cosmetic," says Mr James. &#42

ROTATIONAL GRAZING

&#8226 Saves silage and concentrate.

&#8226 Allows a higher stocking rate.

&#8226 More grass in front of cows.