Producers told to keep nerve during dry period
GRASS may be starting to look a bit dry and dead following the recent spell of dry weather but most cattle and sheep producers neednt panic just yet, say grazing experts.
Rainfall in the last few days in some areas, although welcome, may not be enough to make a difference to grass growth, according to BGS grazing consultant Carol Gibson. "An inch or two of rain over a week is needed to really kick it into action.
"When you have made an adequate amount of silage but are short of grass, consider grazing a small area of closed-up grass instead of cutting. Strip graze if possible, preferably with back-fencing."
Producers practising rotational grazing should not be tempted to speed up the rotation, she warns. "Speeding up grazing rounds means grass has less time to recover. With less cover it becomes more susceptible to drought."
Where buffer feeding is necessary, silage may not be the cheapest option and producers should shop around for economic alternatives such as potatoes, brewers grains or carrots, she advises.
But buffer feeding shouldnt start too early, she warns. "Let cows work a little bit, as long as body condition is not hit too hard."
However, grass growth may not be as poor as it looks, according to ADAS beef and sheep consultant Elwyn Rees in the south. "It is easy to underestimate the amount of grass in a pasture. Grass might look short, but it is often still growing and will satisfy stock."
Cotswold based sheep consultant Alistair Bird agrees, but advises concerned producers to put a bale of straw or silage in the field, especially for early lambing ewes in the flushing period.
"When they eat forage they need it; if not, they dont. But dont offer ewes concentrates. Feeding concentrates is like taking children into a sweet shop. Test the situation with forage first."
Grass shortages are not acute yet, but will worsen where there is no rain, according to Dr Rees. He recommends categorising stock according to their requirements.
"Consider weaning calves from autumn calving cows and feeding finishing cattle small quantities of cereal or silage. However, spring calvers may need supplementing with forage. Low production stock such as dry suckler cows should be fed straw," he advises.
Dry grass efficient
Beef cattle may actually do better on short, dry grass as long as it doesnt stay dry for too long, says Signet beef consultant, Geoff Fish. "Cattle digest short, dry grass more efficiently, whereas lush grass tends to go straight through them."
Although he visits units in eastern England – one of the driest areas – making less silage has enabled beef producers to minimise the effects of grass shortages by freeing up more grass for grazing.
"Over the last five or six years the number of producers making silage in the area has declined. Recent figures from 50 producers show that 60% fed silage last year, with 40% feeding alternatives such as straw based rations with a protein concentrate.
"Some producers stopped making silage in dry summers a few years ago, when there wasnt enough grass. Many then decided they could cut costs by not making it, even when summers became wetter." *
Common sense advice on disease
COMMON sense advice on how to prevent disease spreading to your cattle herd is on offer in two new leaflets published by MAFF.
The new titles, Farm Biosecurity: Protecting Herd Health and TB in Cattle: Reducing the Risk, offer good advice which producers should follow, according to MAFF.
Both leaflets aim to raise producers awareness of disease issues, such as where disease is likely to come from and what precautions can be taken to prevent its spread.
Among advice offered, producers are advised to keep their cattle separate from other groups and prevent badgers gaining access to farm animals and feedstores.
The booklets also look at running closed herds and breeding replacements, isolating bought-in cattle and discuss the merits of private TB testing.
Farm Biosecurity (PB4517) and TB in Cattle: Reducing the Risk (PB4516) are both available from MAFF publications (0645 556000). *
Wet weather husk warning
UNSEASONAL husk outbreaks affecting whole herds have occurred during the last month, and risks are likely to increase with the onset of wet weather.
So warns independent vet consultant Tony Andrews. The most likely explanation is that warm, wet weather has increased the speed at which lungworm larvae develop compared with last years cold, wet conditions. The rapid turnover of lungworm appears to have increased infection risks.
"Recent dry weather should stop lungworm development, but it could race away once it gets wet again."
Farms suffering husk outbreaks in the last few years and not taking preventative action are at highest risk, he warns. Concerned producers should check prevention programmes and consult their vet. Samples can be taken to see whether lungworms are present. *
• A RUSH by compounders to source GM-free ingredients may be causing GM-free protein prices to edge up, according to Signet consultant, Geoff Fish. Compounders are seeking alternatives to soya and maize gluten which may be genetically modified. Producers wishing to source feeds such as malt nuts and rapemeal should consider forward buying now to avoid paying higher prices later, he advises.
• RECENT high temperatures could render a boar infertile for up to eight weeks, warns Cotswold Pig Development Company.
Even when fertile, boars may be unwilling to work and sows with sunburn may be unwilling to be mounted too, adds the company.
This can increase return rates and reduce the number of pigs born a litter. Cotswold recommends using AI with semen that is checked for abnormalities at one service, to minimise return rates and poor litters.
• THE first Milk Development Council Focus Centre meeting in Scotland next week will include sessions on profiting from grass, fixed cost control and going organic.
Visiting Producers can also see practical demonstrations on buffer feeding, dry cow management and alternative forages. It will be held at SACs Crichton Royal Farm, Dumfries, on Wednesday August 11, starting at 10am. *
Back to British for organic beef production…. These South Devon sucklers and their Aberdeen Angus cross calves at the organic Elm Farm research centre are certainly in clover. When it comes to beef from grazing and avoiding expensive organic concentrates, the Continentals cant touch them, visitors to a recent open day were told. Full report p47.