Two-month winter reins in feed costs
Grass management this
summer has helped ensure
that winter rations will only
be fed for two months on one
Devon farm. Jessica Buss
reports from a grassland
HARD grazing this summer has provided high quality grass for cows to graze in October on one Devon farm where winter rations will only be fed for two months.
FW Farmer Focus contributor Peter Wastenage, Tidwell Barton, East Budleigh, rotationally grazes cows and achieved an average of 15 litres from grazed grass in September, halving last Septembers concentrate use.
Mr Wastenages grass could support 15-20 litres yields from stale cows in October, according to New Zealand grazing consultant Paul Bird, working in the UK for the British Grassland Society. The 180-cow herd calves mainly from December to February, but there are still some all-year-round calvers. These fresher calvers are offered 5-6kg of concentrates a day.
Mr Wastenage told grazing discussion group members how he planned to use rotational grazing, Italian ryegrass and kale to ensure a two-month winter. Even during that period the free draining soils meant cows would stay outside, which saved him investing in housing as herd size increased.
The herd averages 6000 litres from 800kg of concentrates. Stocking is 2.3 cows a hectare (0.9/acre) on the 120ha (300-acre) farm, which grows 32ha (80 acres) of maize, half on away land, and 16ha (40 acres) of kale for grazing.
After maize harvest, 16ha (40 acres) of Italian ryegrass is sown for February grazing. Italian ryegrasses grow in colder weather, and poaching on land that will be ploughed again is not a concern, explained Mr Wastenage. He expected two more rotations from grazing paddocks, taking him up to Christmas. By strip feeding kale, he had halved the day grazing area and lengthened the rotation from 21 to 28 days. Cows are expected to give 18-litres from grazing and kale.
The kale was drilled in April, as an insurance crop for a dry summer, and to allow strip grazing into Mid-December. June is too late to drill kale on these drought prone soils, said Mr Wastenage.
For this reason, the dry farm usually grows little grass in summer and kale, stubble turnips – grown on a small acreage – and maize silage are fed. "We cannot usually grow enough grass for July and August, however long the rotation. This summer we had lots of grass, so the kale was saved for November onwards." Stubble turnips had to be grazed in summer before going to seed.
Because Mr Wastenage has Italian ryegrass for about a months early grazing, when silage will also be fed, he planned to graze swards down well this autumn. Rotational grazing means there will still be a feed wedge in spring, he said. His aim was to start grazing perennial swards in mid-March.
But Mr Bird advised planning to graze the perennial swards earlier. "Plan to use more grazing area in February and cut out silage. A good start to spring grazing is crucial, so do not graze the farm bare now," says Mr Bird. That meant stopping grazing a week earlier and feeding more silage or kale in early winter.
Mr Bird questioned growing maize on land that could be grazed, because of the shortage of summer grazing.
But the farm grew maize well and it provided a summer buffer and complementary feed for grass, and Mr Wastenage felt it helped him use grass fully. Cows eating 2kg dry matter of maize did not eat less grass, and the maize is almost a concentrate feed, he said.
He also admitted that he needed to gain confidence in grazed grass before making less silage. But the farm already had a policy of grazing all grass in spring and only shut land for big-bale silage when it was surplus to grazing needs. *
By rotational grazing, Peter Wastenage (right) hopes there will be a feed wedge in spring to allow grazing by mid-March. BGS grazing consultant Paul Bird suggests he could plan to graze perennial swards earlier still.
• Kale extends grazing rotation.
• Avoid keeping cows out too long to maximise grazing in spring.
• Ensure a feed wedge for spring.
• Italian ryegrass allows early turnout.
Not enough incentive for winter milk
Milk buyers in the UK do not offer enough incentive to produce expensive milk in winter, according to New Zealand consultant Paul Bird. He estimates that there is less than £100 difference in milk income on Milk Marques pricing system between any month of calving for a 6000-litre cow. It makes sense, therefore, to calve cows in cheapest production months, says Mr Bird.