Scots OK to extended grazing
By Allan Wright
WET weather delayed turn-out on one Scottish farm this spring, but cows were still out on rye by February, Cumbrian dairy farmers were told when they crossed the border to see extended grazing in practice at Mark Forsters Challoch Farm in Stranraer.
They found a contented herd of 168 cows that was housed on Christmas Eve and turned out again on Feb 23. "That was a fortnight later than planned due to exceptional rainfall which delayed grass growth," said Mr Forster.
September-sown rye, 6ha (15 acres) undersown with Italian ryegrass, had proved a boon and carried cows for the first four weeks.
"We started the rye because last spring we were short of grass after paddocks were grazed for the first time," said Mr Forster, who is extending the rye area this year. "Cows milked very well on it. They were still being housed at night and were desperate to get out to the rye each morning."
One change which will not be repeated is a switch from conventional granular nitrogen fertiliser to urea on the advice that there would be less leaching. "It did not give the same response as Nitram and I will not use it again," said Mr Forster.
Calving started in mid-January and would run through until late April. But he told visitors that the spread was to be tightened for the next season. "I have added a fourth bull and will have three running with the cows all the time. We are also going to dry everything off on Dec 20 so that I and my small staff can enjoy Christmas and the millennium celebrations," he said.
There was no reason why such a holiday could not be arranged on a dairy farm and it would also give time for maintenance and other tasks.
The 27-year-old first generation farmer admitted that he was learning all the time and one important lesson in the past year had been that, even with extended grazing, quality silage was still highly important.
"I made bad silage because I did not pay attention to the weather forecast. We cut the crop and it rained for seven days. The price was a drop in production and a rise in concentrate costs. The thing is that it is no more difficult to make good silage and I will not make the same mistake again. February-calving cows must have good silage," he said.
Yields dropped to 21 litres a day but have now recovered to 27 litres, with cows enjoying fresh grass on paddocks which they move into each day and will soon be moving after each milking as paddocks are split. "A fresh bite night and morning pays milk dividends," he said.
Grass growth is encouraged by attention to need, dictated by soil analysis. "The first step is making sure the pH is right. Unless lime status is correct, it is a waste of money to apply fertiliser, it doesnt work," said Mr Forster, who has soil analysis done on each paddock. "Its my grassland answer to precision farming being adopted on the best arable units."
Avoid early varieties
Another grassland tip was to avoid early ryegrass varieties in seeds mixtures. "The early ones just want to head. Medium and late varieties do far better and usually only need topping once in the season. They are no later in the spring and do a far better job," he said.
Mr Forster said that with proper management there was no need for routine reseeding. When it had to be done, he favoured stitching in new seed in early spring rather than ploughing.
He does not milk record because he is on a low input/low output system with yields averaging about 5500 litres. But he is about to start quarterly somatic cell counts for each cow to pinpoint repeat offenders.
"The aim is to save money. If I can identify cows that have not had mastitis and a regular, low cell count, then I can dry them off without using routine antibiotics. If half the cows in a 100-cow herd qualify it is a saving of £300," he said.
Mr Forster called on milk producers to think more about their final customer. "We are surrounded by roads here and I consider every car to be full of my customers.
"They will continue to buy milk only if they are happy with what they see in the countryside. That means clean, tidy steadings and clean, healthy cows.
"I think CAP reform could have done a lot more to help farmers match the expectations of the general public. Grants for renewing buildings and installing effective slurry and waste water systems would be a better use of public money than some of the current subsidies," he said.
• Grazed grass vital.
• Aim for better silage.
• Dry cow therapy saving?