FPP part two: the big grazing management question
In part two of our grazing management guide, Declan Marren looks at how the focus farms have adopted grazing systems that best suit their individual farms.

Last week we took a closer look at just how much is to be gained by managing grazing throughout the season. By moving from a set stocked system to paddock grazing there is the potential to grow and utilise over 90% more grass, with an energy supply increase to animals of up to 110% (Table 1). This not only leads to an increased stock carrying capacity of every acre of ground, but also significantly boost daily liveweight gains of grazing animals.

The benefits, therefore, are quite clear and while the above figures are achievable through extensive use of paddocks, the fact is that moving from set stocking to any form of rotational grazing is going to improve grass growth and utilisation, and in turn stocking capacity and daily liveweight gains – driving output per hectare on your farm.

Grazed grass is the cheapest feed we can produce and while we may not be able to enjoy the 280+ day-grazing seasons achievable in other parts of the world, to me this means we need to make all the more use of grass during the shorter grazing period that we have.

It’s never too late to set up a rotation for animals. Grass growth across the country has been phenomenal over the last fortnight, with growth rates sitting comfortably in the mid 80s kgDM/ha/day. This is nearly double the typical daily demand on most livestock farms.

Boost silage reserves

Having endured a poor second half of last year and a difficult spring this year, everyone is feeling the pinch of the prolonged winter routine. Fodder stocks are at an all-time low and work needs to be done to replenish them for the coming winter.

Every blade of grass grown on-farm needs to be utilised this year, as we try not only to conserve enough fodder for a normal winter but also replenish our buffer stock in the yard. Already this year the use of rotational grazing has allowed two of the six focus farms to conserve excess grazing as baled silage. In a set stocked situation this grass would have been trampled back into the ground by grazing stock, while reducing performance of those animals that grazed it.

Focus farms

Each of the focus farms have adopted some form of rotational grazing that best suit their farms. Here is what they are doing.

Sub-dividing fields for cattle

Last year the Mackays at Greenvale, Thurso, simply split one 16-acre field in two with a single strand of mains electric fence. This field was adjacent to another nine-acre field. Across the 29 acres they ran a bulling group of 35 cows for the full summer. As well as this they managed to take out eight acres as surplus grass. Calves averaged 1.3kg/day from birth to weaning. With three paddocks they were moving every five to seven days.

This year the three paddocks will be sub-divided again to create six paddocks for the grazing group. This is to give Mark and Shona greater flexibility over grazing decisions. If a paddock becomes too strong it is much easier to manage without one sixth of the grazing rotation, compared with taking out one third of the rotation when it was only three divisions.

The Gammies at Drumforber, Laurencekirk, divided one 15-acre field into three and an adjoining 12-acre field into two. This was done with temporary posts and two strands of rope wire. Rope wire was used to be easier for animals to see and get used to.

Again, one bulling group rotated around these paddocks for the most of the grazing season, barring one week towards the end of June when grass growth was poor.

Matching stock to field sizes

The Duffuses at Mains of Auchriachan, Tomintoul, had three similar-sized fields beside each other that they rotated autumn calvers around all summer. The cows were removed at weaning time and the calves remained on the rotation. This is a simple system yet still achieves the ultimate goal of rotational grazing – increased grazing pressure followed by a period of rest and recovery.

Sheep grazing

Last year the Duguids, Mains of Cranna, Aberchirder, grazed 150 ewes with predominantly double lambs at foot on a 17-acre field divided into four. This was achieved with temporary posts and four strands of temporary electric wire on a battery fence.

They also managed to take out nearly 30 bales of silage as surplus grass during a period of high growth. This year they have decided to increase the number of paddocks per grazing group to six as well to give them more options.

This year the Biffens at Mains of Arnage, Ellon, are grazing all their ewes and lambs across seven paddocks using a combination of a permanent spine fence and Gallagher Smartfence off of these to create more paddocks. The Websters at Ardhuncart farm, Kildrummy, have gone with a more permanent option with Octoposts every 15m and four strands of electric wire. This has been done to split a 22-acre field into four paddocks.

Shoulders of the year

One other area where we have seen progress made on the focus farms is getting stock out to grass earlier in spring time. While last spring we managed to get stock out up to six weeks earlier than in previous years. This spring was a lot more challenging, yet we still managed to get stock out two to four weeks earlier than prior to the start of the project.

This was achieved by doing two things:

  • Not grazing all swards completely out in the back end of the year. Retaining even a small cover of grass over winter allows the grass to start growing that bit earlier come spring, as it has leaves to capture sunlight and photosynthesise. If a grass plant has been completely grazed out over winter, when it starts to grow in spring all of the energy to do so must come from the roots of the plant. This can take longer to achieve due to lower soil temperatures.
  • Getting fertiliser out at the first available opportunity in spring. Each of the six focus farm were monitoring soil temperatures in spring and once soil conditions allowed and soil temperatures were consistently above 5°C, fertiliser was applied at a low rate (30 -40 kgN/ha) to kickstart growth.
  • Benefits of rotational grazing

  • Increased stock carrying capacity/ha.
  • Increased daily liveweight gains.
  • Potential to boost silage reserves in times of high growth.
  • Animals are easier to herd as they are used to being moved regularly.
  • Any sickness can be detected earlier through increased herding.
    Barley price surge
    Farmers Journal Scotland editor John Sleigh takes a look at the big issues in farming this week.

    Barley prices appear to be rising fast with some farmers quoting a feed barley price over £190/t, but merchants are reluctant to quote anything above £170/t to £180/t. It seems farmers are taking a gamble and holding off selling in hope of a continued price rise. There are good reasons for and against a continual climb.

    While some farmers have been pleasantly surprised about the early cut spring barley, the bulk of the crop has yet to really get going. Earlier-planted crops were established before the weather broke in April which could make a big difference to yield. Merchants report that so far spring barley bushel weights are good, showing that the sunshine did help yield, but yields are back around half a tonne an acre compared with last year, which was higher than usual.

    We have to remember that growing conditions for later-sown spring barley were very different from plants which germinated before the weather broke in April. Agronomists point out that later-sown barley had a very short growing season of three and a half to four months. Thirty days’ less growing time is bound to have an impact.

    On the other hand, some later-sown crops could be on fitter soil or mixed farms which suffered less in the dry due to higher soil moisture retention.

    Another positive will be falling yields offset by increased prices, which look to average £40/t to £50/t more on the year. This would equate to an extra three-quarters of a tonne of barley per acre, which will go some way to mitigate the impact of a dry summer.

    Specification for malting barley has opened up significantly as crops have high levels of nitrogen. Farmers in Morayshire this week have told me that barley at 1.85% nitrogen has been accepted for distilling, considerably higher than the usual 1.65% limit.

    Contract prices

    Contract prices for malting barley are sitting around £203/t and Diageo set the price that pay farmers at £205/t this week.

    The price could climb even higher for the spot market. But smaller yields and wider spec will see few loads of barley able to take advantage of any spectacular trade. If only this was possible in other years.

    This won’t help farmers who contracted too much grain and don’t have the volume to fulfil. Anecdotally, not many folk are foolhardy enough to sell all the tonnes they usually yield per acre and wider specs should help farmers to avoid rejections. Nevertheless, for those who fall short, merchants may force farmers to buy extra grain to fulfil contracts or buy on the market and charge back the difference.

    Those further up the hill may read this with in trepidation fearing winter feed costs, however, prices won’t necessarily continue growing; as maize and wheat prices appear to be levelling, this could cap feed prices this winter as feed merchants switch to other grains.

    All will become clear as French and American maize harvests start imminently. France’s soft wheat harvest looks better than usual so we could even see some of their grain heading across the channel to dampen feed prices. All the talk of high straw prices might have turned off a few straw choppers helping to increase supply this winter.

    The next four weeks will be critical to Scottish farming’s health this winter.

    Government tackles sheep worrying
    The Scottish Government has announced a contract for research organisations to carry out a project on sheep worrying.

    The Scottish Government has announced a contract for research organisations to carry out a project on sheep worrying.

    The project will consider the impact of dog attacks and predation by wildlife on farmed sheep, along with potential strategies for mitigation. The objective for the successful applicants will be to obtain data on the scale of these issues in Scotland, and attempt to identify patterns in the attacks.

    They will also be required to draw comparisons on the impact of worrying by dogs and wildlife predation to farmers based on time/effort as well as financial and other costs. The research will aim to identify recommendations on how to achieve greater prevention of worrying and wildlife attacks through effective potential mitigation measures and strategies at farm, community (including dog owners) and Government levels. The final date to submit a tender is 6 September 2018.

    Scottish TB cases triple
    Larger herds are being hit harder with TB, causing the number of cattle being slaughtered to surge.

    In the 12 months up to the end of May 2018, the total number of animals slaughtered due to Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) has increased by 196% when compared with the previous 12 months. This has seen the total number of cattle slaughtered due to TB rise from 181 to 536.

    These outbreaks of TB are concentrated in certain areas, with 86% of all slaughterings due to TB occurring to cattle in the Ayrshire, Wigtownshire and Argyll area. The Ayrshire region was particularly badly hit, with no TB incidents reported in the 12 months up to the end of May 2017 and 191 cases in the following 12 months.

    Also, while the total number of cattle has spiked, the number of restricted herds has remained stationary at 137 for the past two years. This would indicate that the number of incidences are not actually increasing, but rather that larger herds are being harder hit with the disease. The number of tests carried out has actually dropped slightly to 2,062 tests in the 12 months ending May 2018, with 2,097 tests in the 12 months previous to this.

    Worryingly, cases have hit their highest point since 2003, when 544 cattle were slaughtered due to the disease.

    The amount of compensation paid for animals slaughtered to prevent the spread of TB has consequently increased from £331,498 in 2016 to £415,050 in 2017.

    Precautionary approach

    “It’s one of those diseases which you can’t predict. It would be great if people were more cautious with where they bought cattle from as buying less cattle from risky areas greatly reduces the chance of bringing TB into Scotland,” according to Penny Middleton, health and welfare policy manager with the NFUS.

    “It’s vital to remember that Scottish government are looking at these things and take a precautionary approach. They are looking at the type of TB and most importantly whether farms are getting re-infected or if it is being spread between neighbours,” Middleton explained.

    Of the 536 cattle slaughtered due to the disease, 471 were reactors. The sensitive gamma interferon blood test is used to pick up animals exposed to TB. However, they may not go on to get the disease. The Government implements a precautionary approach, with more marginal cases slaughtered to reduce the spread of the disease.

    With TB status critical for exports and written into trade agreements, there is little wiggle room on the testing regime in Scotland. Rule changes have seen cattle given TB status after two inconclusive tests as opposed to the three previously required. The new testing regime takes a more invasive approach to herds which have suspected TB with increased testing.

    In comparison, last year there were 33,687 cattle compulsorily slaughtered through the TB scheme in England.