5 May 1995

UK catches tide of Irish enthusiasm for longer grazing

Irish enthusiasm for extending the grazing season reached the mainland last week. Michael Gaisford reports

BOTH at the very beginning and end of the grazing season the most economic way of getting grass down the throat of a dairy cow is to let her naturally graze leys that have been carefully planned and prepared for her.

That was the main message to come from last weeks Gaelic-influenced meeting of the British Grassland Society at Reaseheath College, Cheshire, held to discuss extending the grazing season.

Well worn and half forgotten cliches, the "early bite" and the "late bite", hardly featured in the days discussions, where the Irish phrase "extended grazing" (EG), based on New Zealand experience, was used by most speakers to describe how early and late season grass can be grazed more economically than converting it to silage.

Ulster researchers Dr Sinclair Mayne and Dr Scott Laidlaw from the Hillsborough Institute of Agricultural Research, presented scientific data to back the case for keeping cows in the field for nine months rather than seven.

They felt that in many areas of the UK, so long as several basic guidelines were followed, it was feasible to boost dairying profits by grazing the herd until the first week in December and turning it out again for a few hours a day from mid-March.

All speakers stressed that success with EG depended more on the enthusiasm to succeed than on climatic and weather conditions. Other essentials include total abandonment of set stocking in favour of rotational grazing in small paddocks, a good infrastructure of cow tracks and roads for the herd to be moved around without poaching ground in the wetter months, modification to the timings of nitrogen fertiliser applications, and possibly a change in the herd calving pattern.

"The main limitations are not soil and climate, it is the enthusiasm of the farmer that counts most," said Dr Sinclair Mayne. "There are constraints on how far one can go with EG, but farmer attitude is most important."