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by Rhidian Jones, SAC
Of the farmers present two were aiming to turn cattle out by mid March, three others before the end of March, another four before mid April with the remaining ten later than mid April. Turnout was defined as turning out young cattle with no concentrate feeding and not bringing them in again. There was general agreement that earlier turnout should be aimed for as long as conditions were favourable. Benefits include excellent liveweight gains, cost savings over keeping them housed, reduced silage requirements and the opportunity to keep on top of grass in spring resulting in better grass quality and production for the rest of the season.
One area of discussion centred on the provision of a wedge of grass (i.e. fields at different stage of growth) so that turnout can be staged. The other option is to ensure that there is plenty of grass to turn all cattle out and leave them out. In a rotational grazing system a wedge is created and Doug reported that last year he had no difficulty in creating this wedge by turning out groups at different times, using a silage field as a buffer and due to different grass growth rates in various fields. Grazing silage fields first is an option to ensure plentiful grass. Any reduction in silage yield is compensated by reduced silage requirements (due to shorter winter) and better quality silage after early grazing.
Some discussion was held on current grass cover. Whilst there was insufficient grass available to turn cattle out some fields were greening up and were estimated at around 800-900 kg DM/ha. Based on last year's records we can expect 10kgDM/ha/day in March and 20kgDM/ha/day in April on average. Thus by the end of March we hope to see covers of around 1200 - 1300 kg DM/ha and 1500 + by turnout in mid April.
Some fields would benefit from harrowing to remove dead grass and allow more light to penetrate the base of the sward. This would represent a cost though which we are trying to minimise. However we may harrow half of one field this spring to determine any benefits. Another approach (to prevent dead grass being present in the first place) would be to condition swards by grazing hard with dry ewes post weaning in late summer. Following a tight grazing to around 600kgDM/ha in August the fields are then rested for around 50 days to build up grass cover to extend the grazing season. The store cattle can be rotated around silage aftermath fields from late July to sale.
A (small!) hole had been dug in a field that is due to be reseeded this year. This is a useful and simple thing to do to determine any compaction issues before re-seeding. If ploughing then any compaction should be rectified but if only carrying out surface cultivations then other methods such as sub-soiling or aeration may be required. The 4 issues to consider when re-seeding are compaction, soil analysis, weed levels and level of sown species. The handout gave a flow chart of how the decision process should work.
Doug has not had much success with White Clover over the years. He puts this down to the aspect and altitude and complicated management required. However the group thought that it was worth persevering especially with newer varieties that were not as sensitive to temperature as older varieties. The reduced stocking rate and fertiliser regime on the farm means that theoretically most of the grazing ground could get by with the N provided by White Clover with perhaps a small application of N in spring to get some early grass. However the importance of pH, P & K status for White Clover was emphasised.
Cows & heifers
At housing cows had been grouped according to condition (by eye) and some minor modifications were also made following condition scoring in December. Lorna and Doug thought this had been a very worthwhile exercise. Basil Lowman suggested that whilst most cows were OK the two groups that he would not like to see lose much more condition before calving (fine for easy calving but may be problems getting back in calf) were the second calvers and the homebred bulling heifers.
The store cattle will now be on a declining concentrate ration to encourage compensatory growth at grass. It was generally agreed by the group that turning out the smaller cattle earlier should help them to catch up with the bigger cattle. As the bigger cattle are possibly better genetically they should do well whenever they are turned out. In particular the smaller heifers should be considered for early turnout to allow them to reach 370 kg by July so they can be put to the bull and sold for breeding.
The main discussion on the sheep centred around ensuring that they are put on a higher (18%) concentrate some 2-3 weeks pre lambing. It is also important that the protein source is high in UDP so ingredients such as soya should be looked for in a compound feed. Another option would be to replace some of the compound with 100g/day of Hi Pro Soya per lamb carried.
Grazing management post turnout was discussed. Whilst most people will turn ewes and lambs out in relatively small groups to avoid mis-mothering it is beneficial for grassland management to join groups together and start rotationally grazing over 3-4 fields. As long as this is not done with very young lambs (wait until they are charging around in large groups) then larger mobs can be accommodated.
A simple feed budget was carried out based on South Mains silage stocks and likely requirements for the rest of the winter.
Comments from attendees- what they will implement at home
o Assess body condition of cows (especially at housing)
o Assess feed stocks for the rest of the winter- take appropriate action which could include adjusting rations or selling stock
o Consider a paddock grazing system
o Soil analysis
o Apply Phosphate to encourage White Clover
o Make the animal work harder – i.e. graze tighter which will be beneficial to the grass whilst not detrimental to the animals
o Analyse silage
o Take sheep off fields now to ensure grass in spring
o Try and encourage more Clover
o Earlier fertiliser application.
o Look at calving date – match with grass growth