Reseeding, more efficient
grazing management, and
better farm infra-structure
are cutting costs at two
college dairy farms.
Sue Rider reports
BETTER grass production and use is boosting profits at two college farms following the introduction of new grass varieties, and grassland management techniques which allow extended grazing.
Newton Rigg, Cumbria, and Gelli Aur, Carmarthen, are two of eight colleges taking part in the Grassland Management – Practice into Profit programme set up three years ago to demonstrate how new technology can be used to improve grass use, and profit for all livestock producers.
Funding for the project comes from MAFF, the Milk Development Council, British Seed Houses, Barclays Bank, and the MLC, with support from farmers weekly, and the British Grassland Society.
As part of the project, 15.4ha (38 acres) at each college was reseeded using a conservation mix (see table one) based on IGER bred hybrid ryegrass varieties and the white clovers, Aran and AberDairyblend. Other changes include a switch to rotational grazing, and improved farm infra-structure and grass management techniques to allow extended grazing.
First-cut silage yields from reseeded leys were 30-40% higher last year compared with the average at Newton Rigg, explains senior dairy lecturer Harry Martin. First-cut taken on May 23 averaged 38t/ha (15t/acre) fresh grass (about 19% dry matter), compared with a 27t/ha (11t/acre) farm average.
"Thats about a 37% increase in silage yield at first cut." This was achieved without a change in cutting date or loss in quality – the 21% DM silage analysed at 11.6 ME, 17% protein, 4.2 pH and 72 D-value.
Higher silage yields will reduce silage requirements and associated costs.
Although Mr Martin would expect any reseed to produce more than an older sward, he believes the leys sown in autumn 1997 are out-performing previous reseeds by 20-25%.
"Growth on one field in particular was phenomenal – and its not just the yield thats better. Its also the way the new leys recover after grazing."
Regrowth is quicker, which means cows are back into these fields sooner, and better grass production allows at least one or two extra grazings compared with older swards.
The cows like the new varieties too, says Mr Martin. Those grazing the new leys produce an extra 1.5-2 litres/cow/day. "The hybrid ryegrass swards are more erect and palatable than older ones, encouraging higher intakes and less rejection."
Reseeding has not been the only contribution to improved grassland efficiency at Newton Rigg. Rotational grazing of the 200-cow herd, and better access tracks and gateways makes extending the grazing season far easier.
Last year cows first went out on April 8 when normally turnout is late April. They stayed out until late October, a month later than usual.
Feed costs have fallen as a result. "When we turned out early last spring we saved 10kg silage/day on our 90 high yielders – thats £20/day.
"Better grass use and silage yields should enable us to hit our target of 4000 litres from forage," says Mr Martin. Currently the herd is averaging 7630 litres, with 3890 litres off forage, and 2550 of that from grazing.
Table 1: Grass conservation mixture
• Extended grazing.
• New grass varieties.
• Better infra-structure.