Want to cut feed costs? – Graze cattle for longer
By Jessica Buss
CATTLE producers keen to cut winter feed costs are being urged to forget third-cut silage and graze stock for longer this autumn.
Leonie Foster, adviser for Irish farmer co-op Golden Vale, says it makes more sense to feed grass straight to cattle by grazing. "If you cut grass now, how long will it be before you are feeding it out again? Instead, try to get as many days grazing out of the grass as possible," says Ms Foster.
Scope for winter grazing would depend on farm stocking rate and calving dates. But provided there was sufficient grass, planning for winter grazing should start now.
By not taking a third cut, you can take the extra area into the grazing rotation to extend it, she says. A longer rotation now would make it easier to achieve an 80-day round on the last grazing rotation, which should start in October.
After October, fields should only be grazed once this season. So to keep cows out until Christmas, this last rotation must be over 80 days long.
Ms Foster also advises grazing the driest fields first in the final autumn rotation to give them time to grow back for early spring grazing. Strip grazing with a back fence will allow grass to build up again before winter.
Autumn nitrogen fertiliser applications help build a reserve of grass, so are worthwhile if the grass can be used.
Preparation for the Scottish Agricultural Colleges extended grazing trial within their set stocking system has already begun. Project supervisor John Bax says stock were removed from a 5ha (12-acre) field at the SACs Crichton Royal Farm late August.
"The stocking rate for autumn calving dry cows has been increased – to keep them in the right condition," he says.
The grass/clover pasture will be rested for September. "We expect dense, lush pasture in a months time," says Mr Bax. It is hoped this will provide grazing for 70 cows for three weeks.
He intends to close off another field in a week for November grazing. But cows will not graze into December this year because last years December grass failed to give the required feeding value.
October grass will be strip-grazed using a back fence. To minimise the risk of poaching, cows will be walking over the long, ungrazed grass to get to the grazing area. Spring and autumn calving cows will go out for four hours after morning milking. After this they will be offered a normal winter diet.
"Autumn calvers seem to thrive on this high quality grass and clover." The high protein herbage complements low protein alternative forages such as fodder beet and whole-crop in the winter diet.
Mike Wilkinson of De Montfort University, Lincoln warns that extended grazing may not suit late summer or autumn-calved cows. "Fresh calvers kept out on insufficient pasture or poor quality grass dont peak," he warns. But he says beef stock – other than those for winter finishing – should be kept out for as long as possible to cut feed costs. *
• Reduces cost of winter concentrates.
• Saves harvesting cost of extra silage.
• High protein grass complements alternative forages.
SACs John Bax will rest this grass sward for grazing in a months time.