While the rain has arrived and was much needed and appreciated, it does not make up for the fact that first-cut silage yields were poor, second cut is near non-existent in some areas and we are faced with an increased cost for bedding.
What the rain has done is give us the opportunity to claw back some of the growth we have lost up to this point and minimise the associated costs that could be incurred this winter.
Many of the Farm Profit Programme focus farms have plans in place to reduce the deficit by growing some form of winter forage. Putting a plan in place early is important. Each of the farms have completed a fodder budget to calculate how much silage is required for the winter and how much of a shortfall they are currently looking at. While a further cut of silage is still a possibility on many of the farms with ground fertilised this week potentially being ready to cut by mid-September, however, in this article we look at options for growing additional winter forage.
Grassland to forage brassica
Every farmer will be able to identify a field that is in line for reseeding. These are the fields that are under-productive, give you a smaller number of grazings compared to other fields on the farm and more than likely have older poorer performing swards of grass.
While many will prefer to reseed grass in springtime, there is an opportunity this year to sow a forage crop to boost winter reserves.
The Duguid’s at Mains of Cranna Aberchirder have one such field. Last week 18ac was sown with a hybrid forage brassica crop at the rate of 6kg/ha direct into the sward. There is no need to plough this ground prior to sowing. Once it is well grazed off prior to sowing and either sprayed off prior to the final grazing or in the Duguid’s case, they sprayed it off with glyphosate the day after the hybrid was sown. At this stage the new seed has not germinated and so will be unaffected by the spray.
There are two main benefits to not ploughing; firstly, it saves both time and money and secondly it provides firmer underfoot conditions when grazing the crop later in the year when ground conditions will be more difficult.
Stubble to stubble turnips
The Websters at Ardhuncart are looking to reduce the fodder deficit by sowing stubble turnips once spring barley comes off. This will be done on one of the driest fields on the farm that is intended to go back to spring barley again next year. This will be grazed by either cows or sheep. There is already 3ac of kale planted for the cows to graze this back end but this should help keep them outdoors for a few weeks longer.
Every day we can keep them outside will save money this year. Going on this year’s straw and silage prices there could be a saving of £1/cow/day over feed and bedding alone for each day they remain outdoors. This doesn’t mean we leave cows out poaching grassland throughout winter as this only delays grass growth come springtime. Maintaining cows outdoors takes careful planning.
The Biffens at ArnageFarms are planning something similar on 40ac of winter barley that is due to be combined in the coming days. A hybrid brassica is to be sown into the stubble as soon as possible after harvest.
This will be strip grazed by ewes throughout the winter months. The plan for this is to keep the sheep off the grassland for as long over winter as possible to maximise the amount of grass on farm in spring.
Attempting to get cows and calves turned out in spring is always a difficulty as the sheep have bared all the grassland over the winter. This leads to longer housing periods for the cattle which adds to the winter feed bill.
Stubble to Italian ryegrass
The Biffens are also going to try sowing some Italian ryegrass into stubble ground which should provide them with a grazing in late autumn and an early bite of grass in springtime. The plan is to try and get a cut of silage off this ground in mid to late May next year before sowing kale for the following winter feed.
On grassland each of the focus farmers are going out with 30-40kgN over the coming week or so to kickstart grass growth on as much as possible over the coming weeks. Most of the farms have had a decent amount of moisture in the past week or so and growth has picked up since.
Some options still available for winter forage
1. Forage rye: Forage rye, is an excellent crop to give an early spring grazing. It can be drilled up until mid to late September.
Earlier sowings will give the opportunity to get a light grazing with sheep in the back end of the year. Rye will start growing earlier in the new year than grass and will give somewhere in the region of 4.5-6tDM/ha.
Seed rates are from 150-185kg/ha. It does need some fertiliser to get it started and something like 125kg/ha (1cwt/ac) of 8:24:24 would suit this, followed by 80kgN early in the spring.
Costs are around £260/ha (£105/ac) for seed and fertiliser, giving a total cost of £52/tDM from a 5t/haDM crop. Grazing can start from mid-March, meaning the field can be grazed, ploughed and back in to spring cereal by mid-April.
The crop should be strip grazed to maximise utilisation.
2. Farm-saved seed and vetch: Sowing some farm-saved spring oats immediately after harvest this year coupled with vetch is a quick and very cost-effective option to both stretch feed reserves and to qualify for greening as an EFA green crop.
It can be grazed once after sufficient growth in the early winter and is utilisable up until the end of February, at which point it can be ploughed down for a cereal crop. Oats are a great crop to do this with as they do not suffer with take all and will tiller fast to give a decent ground cover.
100kg/ha of oats, mixed with 15kg/ha of winter vetch would give around 2tDM production between sowing and the end of February, with the costs being around £50-£60/ha for the seed and paying the BSPB royalty on the farm saved seed.
3. Italian ryegrass: Italian ryegrass is a fast-growing, high-yielding species of ryegrass that is popular in silage mixtures. It can either be established as a short-term grazing measure or be left in for longer to go on for the following season for silage or grazing.
Ideally, it would be established by the end of August and seed rates should be 20-25kg/ha for an overwinter mix and 35kg/ha for a longer term sow out. At sowing, applying 150-200kg/ha of a compound such as 25:5:5 will encourage strong growth. Grazing should start by the end of September, with a heavy stocking of ewes or lambs.
At this early stage, the roots will not have enough of a hold to allow cattle to graze it (to check if it has, grasp the shoots between thumb and forefinger and pull, if the plant comes out of the ground, it is not yet ready for cattle) so very heavy stocking rates of 35 ewes per hectare for four to five days will encourage the grass to tiller.
All being well, a further grazing should be available come the end of October. If temperatures are favourable Italian should start growing again in late February.
Seed and fertiliser costs will be around £110-£120/ha for an overwinter crop and nearer £140/ha for a longer-term crop. With 2t/haDM from the over winter crop, this gives a cost of £55/tDM.
4. Stubble turnips: Stubble turnips are a fast growing forage crop that can be ready to feed around 12 weeks after sowing, with an expected dry matter yield of 3.5-5tDM/ha.
Crops can be drilled, direct drilled or broadcast, with the seed rate being increased for direct drilling and again for broadcast crops. 190kg/ha of 25:5:5 will feed the crop, giving growing costs somewhere around £170/ha, meaning a DM cost of around £35-£50/t depending on yield.
Livestock should be introduced gradually to the crop and ideally, it should make up no more than 70% of the diet. Animals should also have access to a runback of some form. Trace element supplementation requires to be correct to ensure no nutritional issues for animals.
For best utilisation, animals should be strip grazed behind an electric fence. Strips should be long and narrow to allow as many animals as possible to eat at the same time and prevent trampling of forage.
5. Hybrid brassica/forage rape: Forage rape and its associated hybrids are also fast growing forage crops. Like stubble turnips, they can be ready to feed around 12 weeks after sowing, with an expected DM yield of around 4.5tDM/ha.
Hybrid forage brassica being sown at Mains of Cranna Aberchirder last week.
Crops can be drilled, direct drilled or broadcast, with the seed rate being increased for direct drilling and again for broadcast crops. 100-140kgN/ha will feed the crop, along with 25kgP and 35kgK. This gives growing costs somewhere around £140/ha, meaning a DM cost of around £30-£40/t depending on yield.
Like the stubble turnips, livestock should be introduced gradually to the crop and it should make up no more than 70% of the diet. Again, for best utilisation, animals should be strip grazed behind an electric fence. Strips should be long and narrow to allow as many animals as possible to eat at the same time and prevent trampling of forage.