2 March 2001

TIME TO ASSESS GRASS ROLE

As turnout approaches, perhaps it is a good time to question what role grass can play in cow diets this year.

According to one Northern Ireland grassland specialist, grass should have an important role in keeping production costs down, even with higher yielding cows.

But what constitutes a high-yielding cow these days? If a herd of cows at the Hillsborough research institute can produce 7700 litres on 900kg of concentrate a year to supplement grass and grass silage, then it must be one giving over 8000 litres.

For herds with cost structures where they must produce more than 9000 litres/cow, grazing is still seen as challenging. These cows cannot cope with a low intake because grass is wet or the sward is past its best for grazing. Often the solution has been to take grass out of the ration to keep it consistent.

More research on using grass in typical UK systems with their respective costs would be useful. But even this year it may help to consider how to manage spring grass rather than focusing on cow yields alone – the average UK costed herd is still producing in the region of 7000 litres. One farm manager in this Update explains how walking grass fields and some simple planning helps graze cows efficiently.

Costs of silage and bought-in feeds are higher than grazed grass but with winter to plan for, these are essential in UK systems. However, when growing maize and other crops, making sure that this is done in the most efficient way is important. That is why one producer is keen to find the best varieties for his own farm.