Make most of early season grass or risk losing it

Dairy farmers are being urged to make the most of early season grass or risk losing it.

Due to the unseasonably warm weather for much of the year so far, grass growth has been steady meaning that many fields that were grazed in October are now carrying decent grass covers of about 2,400kgDM/ha, reports DairyCo extension officer, Chris Duller.

“The simple message is use it or lose it”, he says. “If it’s not grazed off over the next few weeks the result will be increasing amount of dead material in the base of the sward and poorer grazing quality when cows do finally get out to graze,” he warns.

Research has shown that cows can eat between 2 and 3kg DM of grass an hour – as long as they haven’t got a belly full of silage. “So turning out for three or four hours a day will get you intakes of about 6kg of DM – all high quality, low cost forage,” says Mr Duller.

He adds: “Early season ryegrass is frequently better quality than many silages being fed, with an ME over 12 and proteins of 20% plus. Grazed grass will cost about one-third that of silage and about one-sixth that of concentrate – so make the most of it.”

However, ground conditions for some will be unsuitable for early turnout, and heavier farms may have little choice other than to watch covers build and quality drop. Nevertheless, for those on lighter soils and with decent tracks and gateways, the next few weeks should be a good opportunity to get cows out and reduce your feed, bedding and slurry handling costs. Currently the savings to be made are about £1.30 a cow a day.

“High stocking rates and long grazing times will increase soil damage and grass wastage,” says Mr Duller. “It may be worth thinking about splitting the herd so that 50 or 60 cows are going out for a few hours a day.”

“For fields that are carrying good grass I would be tempted to hold back on the fertiliser for now – for those of 2,200kg DM or less target 30kg/ha of N (24 units/acre), ideally as urea and apply about two weeks ahead of when you expect to graze.”

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