Season round up

Published 15 November 13

Very late spring growth, a summer dry spell and autumn growth, how has the 2013 grazing season turned out for our Forage for Knowledge farmer contributors?

Cheshire

“It’s been a case of boom and bust when it comes to grass for us here in Cheshire,” says Alistair Cliff, who farms near Chester.

“We had a very late start to the season, and in fact had to buy in silage to feed the cows. This was followed by a period of high growth in May and early June, and then the hot dry weather hit and the grass really burned up in July.

“We did get a bit of rain but by August grass growth was struggling again as a result of the dry weather. We fed quite a bit of silage at the end of the month as I could see we were dropping behind our autumn wedge.

“But it’s not all bust, we have some good grass growth at the moment. In fact both the autumn and spring calving herds are still outside as building work has delayed housing. We’re on our last few paddocks before shutting up but the grass has been good.

“We aim to close up at just over 2,000kg DM/ha, allowing for some winter growth we’ll go back out at 2,100kg DM/ha,” Alistair explains.

“While silage quality has been good this season we are a bit short of quantity. Let’s just hope we don’t have another spring like last year!”

 

Suffolk

“The cold east wind we had this spring really effected grass growth at the beginning of the season,” says David Utting, who farms in Suffolk. “I reckon grass growth was about a month behind a usual season.

“But since then we’ve had plenty of grass across the whole season. Because we graze down on marshland we didn’t even suffer in that dry spell, like some of our neighbours did. We have had excellent quality feed across the whole season.    

“We still have plenty of grass even now.” he continues. “And it’s good quality too, this week’s analysis came back with ME of 12.6 MJ/kg. We are still grazing, although having had quite a lot of rain in the last two weeks we’ve had to take the cows off recently because I’m worried about the damage they could do to the paddocks. Instead we’re grazing our youngstock to make the best of this grass.

“I know we’re living on borrowed time here at the moment and I can see a time coming soon when all livestock will be inside. But every day the cows are not inside is a bonus for us. We’re saving on feed, straw and labour costs.

“Our financial year finishes at the end of October and so far it looks like we’ll have shaved £30 -£40k off the feed bill this year. I’m putting that down primarily to our better utilisation of grass.

“2013 is really only our second year of trying to utilise grass as much as possible. Certainly we’ve got a lot to learn yet, but the plan is to continue with developing this system and put infrastructure in place to enable us to get onto the land earlier in the year. With this in mind we’re planning to put in some more paddocks and tracks, and we’re looking at building a bridge across the river which will allow us access to some harder ground.”

Carmarthen

“Sometimes we have short memories when it comes to grass growth,” says John Owen, who farms in Carmarthen. “There is no denying it was a great grass growing season but it certainly took a long time to get going!

“I reckon we lost about two tonnes of grass growth early in the season, which was nearly two months late I think, and you’re never going to make that kind of shortfall up. We had to buy in hay and concentrate in the spring to manage the feed shortfall.

“When the weather improved, grass growth really did take off. At the very beginning of May grass growth hit 91kg of DM/ha and it’s been good ever since. Because we had to graze so tightly at the beginning of the season, quality has also been excellent.

“We stopped applying fertiliser at the beginning of September because covers were high and I could see demand dropping as we began to take cows in at night. It means although grass growth has been good, we have been able to manage covers well this autumn and are shutting up at about 2,200kg DM/ha. We are closing up a bit earlier than usual simply because conditions have been rather wet recently.

“First cut silage was down on quantity this year because we had grazed the silage ground, but it did mean quality was excellent this was the same for second and third cuts.”