Rotational switch means less silage, more confidence
By James Garner
A SWITCH rotational grazing would mean reduced reliance on silage, planning for early turnout now and increasing confidence in grass on one Wilts unit.
Those were the conclusions of a grazing discussion group held at Colin and Mervyn Daviess Stanton Dairy Farm, Pewsey. Their 120 cows, which are block grazed over 46ha (114 acres) yield an average of 5500 litres. Paddocks are split into 2ha (5-6 acre) blocks, providing one days grazing.
"We are keen to learn how to improve our grass management and get better leys, without being short of grass in the summer and when its wet," said Colin.
"This summer we bought brewers grains in July when we were short of grass and milk production fell. We have been feeding 5-6 kg a head a day as a buffer feed along with concentrates and silage."
Despite this, BGS consultant Paul Bird noticed that some paddocks were short of grass.
Colin explained that 55 acres was cut for silage. "We have taken two cuts, but the clamp does not seem that big, and so we are planning a third cut."
The group thought that large areas cut for silage caused grass shortage this summer and suggested that by cutting less silage there would be more grass now. This would allow grazing for longer in the autumn, reducing silage requirements for winter feed.
Colin was concerned that reducing silage area would affect yield of freshly calved cows, as they are usually offered silage to boost dry matter intakes.
But Mr Bird said that where rotational periods were extended, more grass would be available for grazing and silage would not be needed for these cows.
"To move to a rotational system, focus on the whole farm being a grazing area and take out conservation. Where grass growth is ahead of cows close areas for silage and then bring them back into the rotation once cut.
"Steer away from a set figure of how many days rotation there should be between paddocks, allowing grass growth to determine this. Block calving would help management in terms of matching grass supply with peak lactation, but getting rotational grazing organised is first priority," he said.
The group argued that making third cut silage at the farm would be expensive and poor quality. They suggested that cows could graze the area set aside for silage despite long grass and quality.
Cows could strip graze this, but they would not clear it up, said Mr Bird. "To graze the sward down hard would mean following with dry cows and any stale cows. Act now and it might recover in time to be used in mid-November.
"This would leave more for silage winter feeding, while also saving money by not making this into big bale silage."
Mr Bird said poaching is not a concern because there are good tracks, so cows could have access to grazing in wet conditions.
"It is important to gain confidence in the system. Therefore, try planning an area of grazing for next spring to discover whether it is possible to get cows out earlier.
"Pick out your best grass fields and graze them this autumn. Then follow with dry cows and graze tight. Apply some autumn urea and after grazing see whether you can get out in February. Do not carry poor quality grass over winter, as it could be a disaster next spring," he advised.
Colin recognised the importance of change. "We need to gain confidence to try extended grazing." *
Mr Bird adds this "It is important for producers looking to change their system to keep in contact with other producers who have to help develop confidence in grazed grass." *
• Start planning now.
• Will reduce silage needs.
• Need to develop confidence.