8 May 1998


Livestock producers can be forgiven for feeling frustrated – and not just about current market prices for milk and meat.

In a year when margins are under considerable pressure in all sectors, it has also been too wet in many areas to make best use of grass – a crop that can cut costs considerably and boost profits.

For a season which promised so much, with plenty of early grass growth and stock out as early as February, the last month has, on many farms, shattered any hopes of using early season grass to the full. Stock have been in and out in response to rain, floods and even snow.

But although utilisation has been tricky, farmers who have invested in improved farm infrastructure, by putting in new tracks to improve access to pasture, have been able to turn out cows to grass for at least part of the day, so reducing purchased feed costs.

The challenge once the weather improves will be managing what, on some farms, will be a huge crop of grass.

Best use will be achieved by harvesting grass surplus to grazing requirements as soon as ground conditions allow to safeguard silage quality, and the quality of swards for grazing.

Despite current emphasis on the need to maximise use of grazed grass, silage quality will always be important.

And well fermented grass silage fed alongside lucerne or whole-crop wheat, for example, can boost dry matter intakes and stock performance, as this supplement explains.

For those producers looking to increase reliance on forage, clover is also well worth considering; as we explain on pS12, the legume is saving one sheep unit in Ireland £33/ha (£13/acre) in fertiliser inputs, equivalent to a cut of 8p in the cost in producing 1kg of lamb carcass weight at 1997 prices.

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