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Maximise Outputs Through Mid Season Grazing Maintenance

25 September 2010

Grazed grass is the cheapest feed available to the livestock farmer if managed well, providing good quality grazing, writes Graham Ragg, Arable and Fertiliser Sales Manager, Mole Valley Farmers for the Silage Advisory Centre.

The grass quality in fields/paddocks that have been grazed several times is difficult to manage due to a build up of stale soiled grass which the stock has rejected. This unproductive grass will continue to increase during the season unless action is taken to remove it.

“Traditionally this has been ‘achieved’ by using a topper, but in practical terms this only tidies the field and fails to clear all the stale inedible grass,” says Graham Ragg, Arable and Fertilizer Sales Manager for Mole Valley Farmers, and member of the Silage Advisory Centre.

“This unproductive grass requires cutting using a mower down to 4-5 cm, making sure the blades are sharp because tearing and damaging the grass excessively will slow up the grass re-growth.

“This removes the dead grass which has a D value of 35-40 per cent (8ME) and the mature stem with a D value of 40-50 per cent, allowing fresh grass re-growth from the base of the stem (4-5cms high) producing fresh green leaf with a D value of 70-75 per cent (12+ME)” he explains.

The high D value rejuvenated grazing produced by topping using a mower will increase livestock output and also increase field grass output.

“If the value of 0.5ME/dry matter of grass equates to 1 Litre of milk, then the improvement of the grazing from topping can be as much as 1.5+ ME (assuming over grown stale grazing 10.5 ME and fresh re growth 12 ME) which would be worth 3 more litres/cow/day. The dry matter intake of the cow is also improved giving 2+ litres /cow/day for every extra 1kg of extra dry matter intake of grass, (potential 2+ kg/cow/day increase in DM intake)," continues Mr Ragg.

New Zealand trials involving dairy cows showed that topping post grazing gave an increase of 65kg/ha of milk solids/ha or 541 litres of milk/ha compared to fields not topped.

“If the grass growth has got in front of the stock then it may be necessary to take a paddock/field out of the grazing rotation to cut it for silage (bale or clamp) to keep good grazing quality in the remaining area. Big bales can offer a flexible method that fits very well with maintaining grazed grass quality and making high quality silage from smaller land acreages.

“This practise may have to start earlier in the season particularly for the extended grazers where the only silage produced is from excess grass in the grazing rotation to help balance the ‘grazing platform’, (area grazed x kg/ha grass cover).

“The need to remove the extra grass quickly means it will rarely fit in with making clamp silage so the option of big baling is preferred because it is quick and provides extra feed options for the winter or buffering for late season grazing.

“The control of your grazing area is import to maximise livestock and field output which will help reduce production costs by producing more cheap ‘home grown energy’.”

The 10 top tips for maximizing grazing quality:

  1. Soil test your grassland to establish the correct liming and nutrient policy.

  2. Assess your sward each Spring for weed grass and broad leaved weed ingress (consider reseeding when the Perennial Rye grass composition falls below 50 per cent).

  3. Consider the best grazing technique for your farm e.g. set stocking, paddock or strip grazing.

  4. Provision of cow tracks will extend the grazing season in the Spring and the Autumn.

  5. Consider the provision of water at grazing.

  6. Keep stock tight on grazing ground to maximize silage cut acreage and prevent grass getting ahead of the stock at grazing.

  7. Should grazing get ahead of the stock, consider use of big bales to harvest surplus grass.

  8. The strategic use of nitrogen for grazing needs to be related to stocking rate to ensure ample grazing for the whole grazing season.

  9. Monitor grass growth through the grazing season with measuring sticks, marks on the side of wellies or plate meters.

  10. Topping or full mowing of the grazing as per the article will help to keep grazing fresh and reduce rejection.
September 2010

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