1 August 1997

Short winter graze can save on feeds

By Jonathan Riley

TURNING beef cattle out to graze for three hours a day during winter can cut feed bills by 25%.

Thats the finding after the first year of studies into winter grazing conducted at Grange Research Centre, Dublin, Eire.

Head of the centre, Eddie ORiordan explains that it is not exceptional grass growing conditions that allow winter grazing; conditions in the east of Ireland are similar to those in the west of England and lead to similar grass growth patterns.

It is the management of grass as a feed stock, and preplanning grass requirements and controlling its growth throughout the year.

"There is no reason why carefully managed grassland farms could not shut up sufficient grass at the end of the grazing season for winter use," says Dr ORiordan.

In the study Continental steers and heifers were fed a silage and concentrate diet or grazed and fed concentrate.

"Concentrate was withheld from grazed animals until after they had been allowed out to grass to ensure they were hungry and made the most of grass."

Temporary fences were used to restrict cattle to a limited area of grass, with a back fence drawn up tightly to ensure cattle did not walk across previously grazed grass.

As soon as cattle stopped grazing – usually after about three hours – they were taken off grass and returned to the building. In this way trampling of the pasture was minimised.

Grass costs were estimated to be 3p/kg DM and on average animals consumed 3kg DM/day, giving costs of about 9p/day. Silage fed animals consumed about 4kg DM with silage costs at 7p/kg, producing a total cost of 30p/day.

Both groups consumed about 36p worth of concentrates, grazed animals were, therefore, fed for 45p/day, 21p/day less than the silage fed animals at 66p/day.

"In the spring grazed cattle were turned out 30kg lighter than the silage fed animals, but this was mainly due to undigested silage which passes though the rumen more slowly than fresh grass adding to the liveweight," explains Dr ORiordan.

"Within a month the winter grazers had caught up because their systems were conditioned to dealing with grazed grass and so digested it more efficiently.

"The grazed animals then went on to finish ahead of their silage fed counterparts, at weights of 540kg for heifers and 630kg for steers," he adds.

Temporary electric fencing and back-fencing reduces poaching when beef cattle are grazed during winter, says Grange Researchs Eddie ORiordan.

WINTER GRAZING

&#8226 Reduces winter feed bills by 25%.

&#8226 Manage grass to conserve sufficient stocks for winter.

&#8226 Restrict feed pre grazing.

&#8226 Use back fences to prevent trampling on larger area.

&#8226 Remove cattle as soon as

they stop eating.