There is no doubt that 2019 has been a remarkable year for grass growth. The main query for the Farm Profit Programme team over the last couple of weeks has been what to do with all this grass. So this week we’ll look at some of the options available to farmers.
While silage crops are vastly superior to last year and a shortfall seems unlikely, until you sit down and calculate your feed requirements for the coming winter you cannot accurately measure the degree of feed surplus/deficit.
What’s in reserve? For pits, multiply the length x width x average height in feet. Divide the final figure by 45 to give you an estimate of total tonnes of silage.
Those making bales can use Table 1 to calculate each bale’s equivalent weight as 25% dry matter pit silage.
This will depend on the length of the wilting period and the weather at harvest. Bales mowed and cut on the same day in relatively dry conditions will have a dry matter of 25%. A 24-hour wilt will lift this figure to 30%, while a 48-hour wilt in hot, sunny weather will produce 40% dry matter bales.
What is required? Once silage stocks are known, calculate exactly what is needed on a per-head basis each month. Table 2 outlines the amount of silage required for each individual livestock class, monthly. Use this table to calculate your demand for fodder this winter.
Once the demand for your typical winter feeding period is met, take the opportunity to secure at least a 20% buffer reserve of silage in the yard. If your typical winter period is 200 days, adding a 20% buffer allows for an extra six weeks of feeding. While this might sound excessive, this buffer could soon be eroded should you have to start feeding a fortnight earlier in the back end and have a catchy spring next year.
Where silage on-farm is a mixture of both bales and pit, aim to use up as much baled silage as possible throughout the winter and retain any surplus for the following year as pit silage. On farms that only have baled silage, consider an extra layer of wrap on any bales that are yet to be made and stack in a separate pile so that they can be held over for another year if required.
3. Make top-quality silage
While there may be plenty of silage made this year, is it the best quality that you could possibly make? If the answer is ‘no’ and grass growth is still out of hand, there is an opportunity to make some top-quality bales of silage for priority stock. Autumn-calving cows, growing stock and ewes in the last two months of pregnancy all need more than average-quality silage. These stock classes should have access to silage with a D-value of greater than 70.
Taking out surplus grass in the coming weeks that has just gone too strong for grazing will produce excellent-quality silage. This will reduce the amount of concentrate you need to feed these animals throughout winter, cutting wintering costs and also acting as a control for keeping grazing quality high for stock in the coming weeks.
Typically on livestock farms the demand for grass in spring makes it difficult to take ground out for reseeding. With the current high levels of grass growth on farms, as well as a lot of silage aftermaths starting to become available for grazing, this provides the perfect opportunity for reseeding.
If you are measuring grass growth then you will be able to identify the paddocks that are under-performing and take them out for reseeding. This year, even if you are not measuring grass, it should be quite easy to identify fields that are not keeping pace with the rest.
Remember to soil-sample fields prior to reseeding and address any soil nutrient deficiencies, such as pH, phosphorus and potassium. Reseeding in the next fortnight still allows for a post-emergence spray to be applied to control weeds and also makes time for a couple of light grazings throughout the back end of the year to encourage tillering to thicken out the sward. These fields will then be primed and ready to go next spring when you need them most.
5. Build a grass wedge for autumn
On Scottish farms the amount of grass on farms should peak in mid- to late-August. This will allow grazing to continue for six to eight weeks after growth has dipped below demand. Building grass reserves over the coming weeks should be easier to achieve than in previous years. However, it still needs to be managed.
One of the main benefits of having high grass growth rates at this time of year is that there is little chance of regrowths going to seed from now onwards. The period of the year in which the grass plant attempts to reproduce has passed, meaning grass will remain in a vegetative state for the rest of the year. Although stock may be entering pre-grazing grass covers higher than you would like, the quality of the sward will still be quite good. Utilisation, however, may be compromised.
Having stock on a grazing rotation will vastly improve utilisation. Even on twice-weekly shifts utilisation will be much greater than in a set stocked system. Where pre-grazing covers are exceptionally high, consider strip grazing with 24-hour breaks to maximise utilisation.
6. Increase the grazing pressure
This may be difficult to achieve on some farms as it may mean purchasing stock that was not budgeted for. Store lamb sales are kicking off around the country and reports suggest that demand will be quite high given the amount of grass on farms at present. Any investment should be budgeted for and fully thought out.
Remember to add in all costs that will be incurred and not simply a purchase and potential sale price. Haulage, selling charges, vet and medicine costs and a mortality cost should all be factored in. Looking at the typical lamb price trends over the past five years may give you an idea of potential sale prices throughout the rest of the year. Where longer keep lambs are being purchased be aware of the impacts of Brexit at the end of October – be they positive or negative.