In late August last year, we sowed out around 20 acres of winter barley stubble – half with Italian ryegrass and half with forage rye and vetch.
The idea behind this was to produce more feed on the farm later into the back end, while also providing an early bite in spring.
Typically, the crop rotation here sees winter barley ground sown out to turnips the following spring. This means the ground is in stubble for around eight months.
In recent years, we have used these stubbles to hold up the fittest autumn-calving cows, to try and manage body condition in the run up to calving.
However, given the drought last summer and the reduced first-cut silage crops, we felt sowing it out offered better value for money, as we attempted to fill the fodder gap.
We decided to split the field half and half, to see which option proved to be more successful.
Both the Italian ryegrass and forage rye plus vetch were sown into the stubble ground in the last days of August.
Through the back end it provided us with two decent grazings for the sheep.
Most of the grazing ground received its first application of nitrogen in the middle of March, once soil temperatures were sitting above 5°C at a depth of 10cm.
Current sward height is showing good spring growth.
Grass is slowly starting to grow, so hopefully after the cold spell this week conditions will settle down and growth will take off properly.
The Italian and rye received no fertiliser this spring, yet in the last fortnight growth has really kicked off compared with the rest of the grass parks.
Looking at the two crops, it is easy to see at the moment which is performing better. The Italian ryegrass is a much thicker, denser sward, while the rye is somewhat patchy.
Unfortunately, the majority of the vetch seems to have failed for some reason. What is there is very small and weak.
We decided to turn out 22 in-calf autumn heifers onto this ground last week. It is the earliest we can remember having beasts out at grass here at Cranna.
Our typical turnout date for the majority of stock would be early May – perhaps late April in a good year.
They have the Italian grazed tight, while they are slow to make much of an impression on the rye
We split the field into three sections to get the best utilisation of the available grass. This is being done like the spokes of a wheel, as the drinking trough is faced towards the top corner of the park.
Ground conditions are decent, and we are not overly worried about a bit of damage as those fields will be ploughed in a months’ time.
This has given the stock a cross section of both the Italian and forage rye. It is interesting to study their grazing behaviour, as they seem to prefer the Italian ryegrass compared with the forage rye.
They have the Italian grazed tight, while they are slow to make much of an impression on the rye.
Perhaps if they didn’t have the choice they would make better use of the rye, but all this leads us to think that if we are to do this again we would go for all Italian ryegrass.
Will we do it again?
If we do it again or not will depend on the next few weeks of grazing. The field is to be ploughed for turnips in the first week of May.
If we can get another couple of grazings from it I think it will have been a worthwhile exercise, especially given the reduced silage yields last year.
We must also remember that it has been a kind winter for us in Scotland, which will have aided production this spring.
Had it been a harder winter, then perhaps the results may be different – perhaps the rye would have outperformed the Italian in colder conditions? It’s hard to say this early on.