21 November 1997

Silage out – cost cuts in

Careful planning of winter

grazing for suckler cows is

allowing one Wilts beef,

dairy and arable producer to

minimise winter feed costs.

Jonathan Riley reports

SILAGE making for suckler cows has been wiped from the agenda at Robert Lawtons 400ha (1000-acre) North Farm, Aldbourne.

Mr Lawton reckons making 4t of silage a head for the Simmental cows and heifers is not cost-effective.

"With beef prices under pressure the suckler cow enterprise cannot support the labour, handling and plastic costs needed to make and feed silage," he explains

Fields normally cut for silage were grazed this summer, allowing cows to gain a good level of condition.

"If spring calvers are at about condition score three in November, only a basic ration for maintenance is needed for winter." Stubble turnips and the roughest grazing can, therefore, be used to take cows through to housing in February. Cows begin the winter on a 20ha (50 acre) block of turnips. These are grazed first before any severe frosts can destroy the tops.

From the turnips cows are turned on to a grass/red clover ley, shut up after a fourth cut of silage for the dairy herd in July. "This block has been allowed to grow on for the remainder of the summer and is drawn into the suckler cows winter grazing regime as soon as the turnips are grazed down." The red clover content has died back by the time cows are allowed to graze it so bloat risks are eliminated.

Because the stubble turnip field and red clover aftermath are close, cows can be moved with a minimum of labour use. "We allow cows to lie back in the stubble turnips to polish off any that are remaining," says Mr Lawton.

This also allows him to change the diet gradually from turnips to grass, cutting the risk of digestive disorders which may occur if the switch was made abruptly.

After 60 days cows are moved again to steeply sloped grass banks.

To exploit this grazing to the full the area is divided using temporary electric fencing. Only a single strand is needed, but Mr Lawton suggests a good current is needed from the outset of winter to deter stock from pushing at the wire.

The fence is then moved every three days according to cow condition and grass heights until cows are housed four weeks before calving.

Electric fencing helps Robert Lawtons cattle make best use of grazing and minimise feed costs.

CUTTING BEEF COSTS

&#8226 Eliminate silage.

&#8226 Block grazing.

&#8226 Stubble turnips.