12 March 1999

Stock turnout concerns, but grass keeps growing

By FW livestock reporters

POOR ground conditions are delaying turnout, causing concern where forage stocks are low.

But consultants warn that to avoid having to cut extra silage because there is too much grass, cattle must go out as soon as ground conditions allow. Ewes and lambs should be turned out to cut disease risks, say advisors.

Ground may dry quickly with days lengthening, but be prepared to bring stock in again to limit pasture damage.

For dairy cows consider grazing for a few hours a day, and with beef cattle turn out animals which will do least damage.

Midlands-based dairy consultant Ian Browne advises doing any fence repairs now to avoid delaying turnout. "Ground conditions can change rapidly – once it warms up grass will grow with a vengeance."

Four hours grazing a day will save 4-5kg DM of silage a cow. Provide cows with an area they can eat down well in that time. This will also build a grass wedge for rotational grazing. He believes opting for a rotational management system produces more grass.

Keeping on top of grass in early season is important or by mid- April there will be too much grass, quality will decline and any excess must be cut, he adds.

Turnout further north is usually later. But forage stocks on some farms are tight, making earlier turnout attractive despite wet weather, says SACs Jimmie Goldie.

However, he warns against turning out before there is enough grass. Plan ahead now and use alternative feeds, such as brewers grains, before silage runs out.

"Buying silage is an option but quality can be variable. Maize gluten or distillery by-products may be better, but ensure the ration is re-balanced accordingly." Then get cows out for a few hours a day when possible.

Welsh producers are also short of forage and keen to get stock out, says ADAS nutritionist David Peers. But ensure cattle go out hungry and dont let them wander around. Once they have finished grazing bring them in.

Beef units are unlikely to have a paddock set-up allowing short grazing periods, says SAC specialist Basil Lowman.

But dont assume all stock must be turned out. Choose lighter animals such as yearling stores which have grazed before for early turnout. This may improve animal performance compared with poor quality silage rations and will save on bedding and concentrates.

Once out, stop supplementary feeding. This will encourage animals to graze high-quality spring grass well then lie down – reducing poaching. When weather worsens bring them in again, he advises.

But keep spring calvers in, otherwise they will wander back to calves, causing excess tracking.

Wet weather is also forcing sheep producers to consider whether to turn out lambs or hold them inside for longer. But Staffs-based Signet consultant Maurice Jones advises turning out where buildings are unsuitable for ewes and lambs.

"Housing will only lead to disease problems, so turn out, but at lower stocking rates until weather improves, and consider using silage ground too. Tight stocking rates will only lead to disease."

When turning out, SAC sheep specialist John Vipond advises making pen areas in two corners near the field gateway. Ewes and lambs can be penned for 24 hours to harden off before moving into the field. "This saves driving round fields each day checking on ewes and lambs."

He says that grass damaged now will recover surprisingly quickly, but admits that feeding may be difficult. Where possible, use a snacker feeder to minimise poaching, he says.

Mr Jones says ewes may require feeding for an extra week to 10 days to give grass a chance to grow away and ensure ewes milk well. &#42

WETWEATHER

&#8226 Forage shortage a concern.

&#8226 Graze for short periods?

&#8226 Turn-out lighter stock.

&#8226 Ewes and lambs out.