Beef farmers should be maximising grass use, as more guidance on measuring and monitoring intakes becomes available.
According to Grassland & Muck technical forum speaker Liz Genever, growing cattle need to consume 3.5% of their bodyweight in grass each day. For a 400kg beast, that’s about 12kg DM/day. A 600kg suckler cow requires 2.5% of her bodyweight, or about 18kg DM/day.
“Farmers can be put off feeding grass as there has been no ‘recommended amount to feed’ – like there is on the side of a bag.”
The Eblex beef and sheep scientist went on to say that sward height targets based on what’s good for the plant and the animal are now out there, but many farmers aren’t using sward sticks and plate meters to measure and monitor their grass.
“Farmers are not investing [time and money] in grassland, but are more than happy to ring someone up, order feed and line their pockets – what’s more important?
“Once grass is clamped or baled, the cost doubles, and as soon as you pick up the phone to order it, the price quadruples,” she added.
Ideally, 14 measurements should be taken in a W-shape across the field and 60% of the farm should be measured. A visual appraisal should be carried out as a minimum, said Dr Genever.Improving grassland management can result in 20% higher yields. Dr Genever believes this additional grass fed would otherwise cost the farmer £170 if feeding silage or £544 if feeding concentrates, so has significant benefits.
Rental land is also worth investing in as more grass a hectare will lower feed costs and improve performance, she added.
Other benefits include improving the carrying capacity of land, or a reduction in the area needed for grazing. This can shorten travelling time to check stock and time and money needed for grassland management.
“Weed control is easier, as well as boosting yields. Grazing hard allows the grass to be competitive and reduces weed burden,” said Dr Genever.
“It’s time to change the way beef farmers think, many see grass as somewhere cattle go before they come back into the shed. But if there’s no grass out there, how are cows going to gain 1kg a day?
“Eighty-five percent of energy in beef production comes from grass – that doesn’t mean we can’t improve further.”
Key to success with grass
Somerset beef farmer Ed Green said the key to his successful grazing is to grow good quality grass for as long as possible, and to always have a fresh field to move on to.
Mr Green has almost doubled cattle numbers while reducing the area of land grazed.
“The cattle graze it hard, we let the grass grow back and get them back in as soon as possible. The cattle are moved every three to four days,” said Mr Green.
His rotational grazing set up relies on putting in the right size mob of cattle to match the field size – there are no electric fences.
“If I see grass getting away, I tend to put more cattle in and they sort it out. My back-up plan is the mower and topper but I try not to use machinery.”