THE potential to improve the utilisation of grazed grass within most milk production systems is immense. This was one of the key take-home messages that emanated from a recent ‘grazing advisory workshop’ hosted by United Feeds’ for its team of advisors.
The other overarching theme coming out of the event was the need for dairy farmers to be as accurate and focussed on the way they manage grazed grass as is already the case with making grass silages.
Antrim-based Alan Boyd takes up the story: “Farmers know that they can achieve 12kg plus of silage dry matter intake within their cow’s winter rations.
“The reality is that it is possible to get up to 16kg of dry matter intakes from grazed grass, for example, at the beginning of May, when grass is at its optimal cover and quality.
“Under such circumstances this should supply a cow with energy to support maintenance plus 22 litres of milk production.
“This is the theory. But to achieve this level of output requires so many other factors to be aligned. Chief among these is cow stocking rate and the actual amount of grass that is available per cow.”
Making all this happen requires the farmers to know how much grass is available across the entire grazing area.
“There are several ways to measure grass availability. One is to walk the grazing area on a regular basis and visually assess covers, another is to use a quadrant and to physically cut, weigh and calculate grass cover in a set square in each paddock.
“The most accurate way of determining grass availability is to use a plate meter.”
But, according to Alan, the one way not to attempt measuring grass availability is from the car seat while driving past the grazing area or by looking over the gate.
“Physically walking the grazing area is the entry level commitment when it comes to assessing grass availability,” he stressed.
In the early spring months this should be carried out once a week. But as the period of peak growth approaches, this period should be reduced to every five days.
The United Feeds team discussed at length the benefits of using a plate metre and also an accompanying software package.
The benefit of this approach in predicting grass availability across a farm, in tandem with the predictions published weekly courtesy of GrassCheck, was highlighted.
Armed with this information, the farmer can more accurately predict which paddocks are surplus to herd grass demand and can be taken out for silage.
Another benefit identified for the plate meter and accompanying computer analysis packages was the fact that the farmer will amass a complete production profile of specific fields and paddocks over a complete grazing season.
There was also recognition within the United Feeds’ team that an improvement in the grazing infrastructure across a farm will significantly boost grass utilisation levels.
While not every farm has the advantage of having the yard and milking parlour in the exact centre of the grazing area, investing in better road networks and improved drinking water availability will improve grass utilisation levels within every business.
Alan continued: “The three fund-amental principles associated with best grazing practice are: building the required wedge across a grazing platform; knowing how much grass is available in each paddock or field as the season progresses and grazing grass when it will deliver the optimal level of performance.
“For dairy farmers, committing to get cows out as early in the season as possible is important to form a grass wedge.”
So, it’s a case of identifying the driest paddocks and getting these utilised at the outset.
“Letting grazed grass get ahead of stock, particularly early in the season, will lead to significant fall-offs in grass quality and forage utilisation.
“Even with increased fertiliser costs grass remains the cheapest source of feed available to every livestock farmer,” he further explained.
“Now is the time to get grazing and to make best use of the high-quality grass growing on all our farms, but this can only be done through careful management of grass swards and grazing covers.
“However, you can’t manage what you don’t measure, therefore it is vital that every farmer takes the time regularly to walk and measure their grazing platform, to allow them to maximise their production from grazed grass.”
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.