Thursday, August 22, 2019

Manage autumn grass carefully to boost winter feed stocks

October 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Livestock

Livestock producers are being encouraged to use the next few weeks wisely to make up for lost ground with silage clamps short of forage across the country.

Although reseeding, moving to multicut systems and investing in soil fertility are good ways to boost grassland performance long-term, producers are advised to plan short-term measures to boost forage reserves as much as possible.

“First off do a feed budget between now and next spring,” says independent grassland consultant George Fisher. “What forage stocks do you have and what do you need? Plan to use cutting and grazing to get what you can from home-grown forage and use your contacts to buy-in the rest.

Maximising yields

“Coming out of the drought it’s a good plan to cut what you have as soon you can and bale it as this will remove the seed heads that have been produced in abundance due to drought stress.

“Keep your nerve after this recovery cut and then go for a proper silage cut in 4-5 weeks and then another one after the same period if you can, even if this is late October or early November.”

Getting the most out of grazing over the next few weeks will involve producers remaining as flexible as possible, he says.

“If you can graze for three or four hours in the day before conditions stop play, then do it. The 2 -4kg grass DM that each cow will eat in that time will help preserve forage stocks and reduce reliance on more expensive brought-in feeds.”

Longer term, grassland producers need to address the problems of missing the yield and quality targets they need to put a profitable grass base into their systems, believes Dr Fisher.

“We need to look at ways of mitigating against the worst effects of variable conditions and produce more consistent forage using grass as a strong base to build resilience into our production systems  – regardless of what events throw at us.”


It’s not just about yield, he points out, crude proteins in particular have been falling away from the optimum 16-18% with many producers having to buy in more protein-based feeds to make up the shortfall.

“This can be remedied to a large degree by producers using sulphur-based fertilisers to help with protein synthesis.”

Taking more, smaller cuts of silage, reseeding more often and being prepared to invest in the correct nutrition, could also have significant advantages, Dr Fisher says.

“Many grassland farmers have made the switch to multi-cut systems and that mindset really came into its own in 2018 with many able to keep cutting little and often as the conditions allowed, rather than relying on two big cuts.

“Moving from a 2-3 to a 4-5 cut system will give lower yields per cut, but overall it can increase yields per hectare whilst silage quality, especially ME and protein, is much better in a multi-cut system and milk production benefits as a result.”

Getting the most out of silage in a multi-cut system involves reviewing the nutrition plan to ensure the grass has sufficient nitrogen, phosphate, potash and sulphur, says James Holloway of CF Fertilisers.

“The usual grass bitrogen uptake rate of 2.5kg N/ha per day – 2 units N/acre per day – still applies and this includes available nitrogen from slurry as well as bagged fertiliser.

Time management

“With less time between cuts for slurry to be incorporated into the soil, multi-cut systems are best served by a reduced slurry application rate which is applied by injection or band spreading, rather than splash plating.”

It is important to make sure there is up-to-date soil analysis for the multi-cut fields so that sufficient phosphate (P) and potassium (K) can be supplied, he advises.

“Don’t forget to lime to correct soil pH, as low soil pH will severely restrict nutrient availability and grass yield.

“Sulphur is also critical as all light and medium grassland soils, and some heavier soils, respond to sulphur applications with increased yields and grass quality. Leaving sulphur out of the nutrient plan is counterproductive to any multi-cut system.”