22 March 1996

Slow grass growth means plan ahead to avoid shortages

By Jessica Buss

PRODUCERS are being urged to check forage stocks and assess grass cover.

Although growth has started due to milder weather and warmer temperatures, it is up to two weeks behind in some areas. Any shortfall in silage can be made up by buying in extra concentrates or silage, advises Wilts-based ADAS dairy consultant Douglas Green.

He suggests feeding at least 2kg of straw a cow a day with maize gluten or molasses, or buying in succulent feeds. Where possible he recommends reducing the number of stock to be fed. June calvers could be dried off now and fed straw, saving silage for milkers.

Another approach is to get more from grass. Mr Green suggests turning out cows for a few hours a day when conditions allow. Grazing for two to three hours can provide 4-6kg dry matter. "Silage ground could be grazed for spring-calving herds," he says. "But for summer- or autumn-calving herds reduced first-cut silage yields will have a greater impact next winter."

In the Midlands, Genus regional consultant Peter Jarvis anticipates a late April turnout. "Most producers have planned well and should have sufficient silage and straw until then. The few that have not should offer straw and a concentrate-type feed, a wet bulk feed or buy in silage," he says. On light land he says it could be well worthwhile turning out early.

He anticipates that producers could edge more towards paddock grazing this season. "It should be possible to get greater productivity that way than via set stocking. Each day the cow should have something fresh to eat in a relatively concentrated area. Some producers may even consider strip grazing to ration the grass. Use a backfence to protect regrowth."

Even in Cornwall spring growth is two weeks behind normal, claims ADAS consultant Stephen Brooks.

"Some producers may have to sacrifice a small proportion of silage area," says Mr Brooks. But he would rather producers buy in feeds unless stocking rates are low.

Midlands ADAS dairy consultant Mark Roach adds that turnout may be forced upon those with forage shortages. "When this is the case let cows out for part of the day to eke out silage."

He advises producers in areas that normally have low summer rainfall against grazing fields destined for first-cut silage. Soil moisture reserves are very low, so second and third cuts could be poor. Where first-cut is to be relied on graze these fields as a last resort. &#42