Grazing and Forage Lessons from 2018

At the time of writing, we were in the midst of an extended spell of dry weather, so looking back to the lessons learned from the 2018 drought is a timely and worthwhile exercise. Tom Malleson from the Sherborne office of the Farm Consultancy Group discusses options to help you manage your forage through this period.

Measuring and monitoring grass growth and covers has never been more important. By measuring, you will know if your current grazing area is growing sufficient grass to meet demand. You will also be able to plan grazing and cutting better once rain arrives.

  • Retain paddocks previously earmarked for cutting, and strip graze.
  • Consider pre-mowing high covers that have been shut up for silage ONLY if increased water demand can be met. Pre-mown grass is drier and will increase the volume of water cows drink.
  • Increase supplementation early to ensure grass covers are not driven down too far, i.e. 1650 to 1700 kgDM/ha.Average Farm Cover should not drop below 2000 kgDM/ha.
  • Increase the length of the grazing rotation. Grazing on a short round (or worse, set stocking) will result in the plant being grazed before it has time to replenish its energy reserves. Beware of increasing beyond a 30-day round as grass quality will deteriorate.

Following the above points will prepare the farm to “bounce back” once rain arrives. There were huge differences in recovery rates between farms after the 2018 drought broke, with those who managed grass well seeing a much quicker recovery.

If grazing does become short, then consideration should also be given to the following points:

  • Assess supplement purchases on quality first, then price comparing feeds on a tonne of dry matter basis, not actual price. Maintaining body condition and fertility is more important than maintaining output, so that when the drought ends cows are in a strong position to make up for some of the extra costs of feeding.
  • Take advice on the formulation of rations.Cake formulations may need to change, depending on the analysis of other supplements.Consider feeding forage in the paddock, to avoid the costs of slurry handling, and the risk of injury on dry, slippery yards. Pick a field that you plan to reseed and use it as a sacrifice paddock to feed in if necessary.
  • Do not neglect your replacement heifers, these are the future of the herd.Continue to ensure they receive high quality nutrition.If necessary, use leader/follower grazing system so that younger livestock have the best quality grass.
  • Cull unproductive cows.Most herds can remove the bottom 10% of their cows and not notice a huge difference in business profitability as the remaining 90% performance increases, with the extra space created.
  • If it suits your system dry cows off early, e.g. all year round or autumn calving herds. Be careful with extended dry cow periods that cows do not get over fat, which will cause calving difficulties and impact on the following lactation.
  • Ensure your water supply is sufficient to meet the increased demand of hot weather.Cows require at least 60 litres of water per day plus 0.9 litres per litre of milk produced, so for a 30 litre cow she can drink 87 litres of water per day in normal weather conditions.It is essential to ensure sufficient trough space and water pressure to keep up with this demand, 10 cows drinking together can consume 140 litres per minute.
  • Calculate and update silage stocks and requirements regularly to ensure you have sufficient for both buffer feeding and the winter period.Responding early to shortfalls can save money if prices rise during a drought season.As a guide the fresh weight density of a 30%DM silage is 615 kg/m3.If you know the size of your clamps you can calculate their capacity.Do not forget to make an allowance for wastage at 5-10%

Don’t act on gut feel and rely on hope to solve a deficit. Measure forage stocks and make decisions based on rational assumptions. Contact Tom at Tel: 07496 760242 or tommalleson@fcgagric.com for an independent view on your options.

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