Event Report – Grassland events and spring walks

Published 18 May 18

StandGetting more meat and milk from grass and forage was the theme for AHDB at the recent Grassland events. AHDB exhibited at both Grassland UK on 10 May at the Bath and West Showground and Royal Welsh Grassland on 16 May in Powys. Six key questions encouraged visitors to the stand to think about how they might be able to improve their grass and forage, with resources available to take away to help them make the improvements on their own farm.

The Grassland UK stand included case studies from Beef & Lamb and Dairy Strategic Farmers on how they plan to improve grassland management, a practical soil assessment area and an area with muck samples and advice on nutrient application.

The 2018/19 Recommended Grass and Clover Lists (RGCL) were made available for the first time at Grassland UK, which include 12 new varieties – 11 ryegrasses and one white clover. The lists give details on the performance and characteristics of each variety. When thinking about reseeding they are an invaluable tool, helping farmers make informed decisions with their seed merchants about the varieties that will perform best on their farm and help them get the most out of their grassland.

Only grasses and clovers that have undergone at least four years of independent testing are included in the lists. Varieties are rigorously tested for factors such as total and seasonal yield, feed quality, disease and persistence before making the Recommended Grass and Clover Lists.

For more information, see the Recommended Grass and Clover Lists, available at britishgrassland.com/rgcl

You will also find an online tool to compare the performance of perennial ryegrasses.

Spring Farm Walk _1 Low ResAHDB Dairy farm walks

Managing volatility through managing and utilising grass and forage was the key focus of the spring farm walks organised by AHDB Dairy, British Grassland Society (BGS) and Livestock Improvement UK (LIC UK). Bill, Jan and Chris Blake, of Blake Dairy Farms Ltd, hosted one of them and discussed the practical aspects of achieving business resilience in a grazing system.

Blake Dairy Farms Ltd is based at Appledore Farm in Crediton and has a 380-cow herd that producers more than 9,000 litres per cow per year using a rotational grazing system. Since Chris returned from college they have moved the herd to an autumn calving block. Around 100 people attended the event and heard how changing to an autumn calving block allowed them to increase to a 600-cow herd producing 7700 litre, at a lower cost of production.

Chris explained: “The bottom line was the main driver for us to convert to a 12-week autumn block. Focusing on one aspect at a time ensures every job is done better, resulting in improved utilisation of labour.

“The land here is prone to drying up during the summer and an autumn block allows us to utilise grass growth better by providing us with the opportunity to dry cows off if we become tight on grass.”

The Blakes grew 16 tonnes (t) dry matter per hectare (DM/ha) on the grazing platform last year. This is partly down to an investment in infrastructure which included introducing concrete tracks for areas with heavy traffic, brayford scalpings with sandstone topping tracks to the entire grazing platform, an underpass to an additional 100ha and 600 meters of water infrastructure. Chris say: “We are currently at 3.5 cows/ha, but can peak to 4 cows/ha.”

Appledore Farm, like many, experienced a challenging spring with 24-hour turnout delayed from mid-March to 10 April and a two-week delay in finishing the first rotation. Chris explained: “We were 90 per cent through the first round by 1 April.”

Flexibility was key at Appledore Farm this spring, with on/off grazing and adjusting the rate of parlour concentrate when needed. Chris said: “This has been the worst season for achieving target residuals as even the light land was too wet to graze.”

Spring Farm Walk _2 Low ResAs grass growth took off, 110kg DM/ha was recorded at the end of April, Chris and the team are now focusing on hitting target residuals (1500kg DM/ha) across the 158ha (390acre) grazing platform with a 21-day round.

Chris explained: “Closing 45ha for silage has helped to keep on top of high covers and hit residuals to ensure the quality is kept for the subsequent rotations.”