Grassland Challenge Conference 2005
There was lively discussion at the recent Grassland Challenge
Annual Conferences in Cornwall and Devon, where the speakers,
both farmers and consultants, described options for maintaining
Tom Morris, British Grassland Society national grassland
management champion for 2004, shared his enthusiasm for organic
dairy farming, cricket and the simple system that he runs
on his farm. Sheep producers were encouraged to look at whether
they were substituting more expensive feeds for pasture by
Leslie Stubbings, sheep consultant, whilst Richard Tudor,
a beef producer from Wales, explained the efficiencies that
he was concentrating on with his beef suckler herd. Dr Raymond
Jones, IGER, Aberystwyth, described how silage inoculants
could improve production and Gethin Davies, RSPB and Richard
Smith, Environment Agency, covered farmland birds and soil
compaction, respectively. Paul Ward, project manager for the
Grassland Challenge stated that he hoped that the additional
conference held in Zeal Monochorum this year would act as
a starting point for extending the project to Devon in the
"At a milk price of 17 pence/litre you need utter
focus on what you are doing - diversification just diverts
your attention to something else," was Tom Morris's
opening remark to the conference. Tom is well qualified to
make these comments having held 90 games of cricket, two licensed
bars and 'pick your own' fruit amongst other activities
on his farm.
He now focuses on running 180 cows and followers on 123
grazing hectares on his organic, grass/white clover-based
farm. The system maybe low input but he said: "Tracks,
water troughs and electric fences are essential to have the
confidence to graze the cows outdoors for 11 and a half months
of the year." Tom also advocated the use of a back
fence to protect pasture re-growth. In response to questions
about grazing in wet conditions, Tom commented that he is
happy to bring the cows off the pasture after 3-4 hours'
grazing and stand them in a yard, but prefers not to give
them any supplements, as this reduces their grazing efficiency.
In winter, however, the spring calving cows are kept on the
hill with silage fed in bales where they fall out of the silage
wrapper. Tom believes this gets the cows fit for calving.
He is also passionate about giving calves a good start in
life, with calves fed yoghurt for their first 12 weeks.
"Schemes out of Europe have driven sheep production
for as long as I can remember, now it is up to us to drive
costs down," stated Leslie Stubbings. Leslie believes
the place to start is to look at the cost of production. With
fixed costs this can be particularly difficult. Leslie suggests
considering fixed costs along the lines: "If I had to
get rid of the sheep, what fixed costs would have to go as
well?" As farmers are no longer chasing headage payments,
Leslie believes there is an opportunity to re-look at utilising
forages and cut costs by cutting supplement use. There are
three main areas in utilising more forage, pasture quality,
especially the inclusion of clover, animal health eg. internal
parasites and the grazing season with extended grazing being
an advantage in the South West. Pasture height is the key
to utilising pasture. For example, lactating ewes on a pasture
of good quality and height of 4cm or above do not need to
be supplemented: "Yet if you feed a ewe several
kilos of nuts she will eat it. There is plenty of scientific
evidence to say how much you need to supplement sheep at different
stages in their life," Leslie told conference delegates.
Despite returns from beef in upland farms comparing unfavourably
with sheep, Richard Tudor is keeping the family's suckler
herd. Richard farms 120 suckler cows and 1,400 ewes in a family
partnership in Llyssun, Mid Wales. The suckler numbers are
being reduced to 100 to ease pressure on cow housing. With
no suckler herd, Richard would only be able to increase sheep
numbers slightly. The farm is also suited to sucklers with
a free draining hill used to out-winter the cows as long as
possible with hay. The aim is to turn around the stores in
12 months using high pasture utilisation, quality silage and
good value balanced concentrates. Richard gave conference
participants a tour of South America, based on his Nuffield
Scholarship. He also conducted an analysis of the strengths
and weaknesses of the UK industry.
"Grass silage can be reasonably well preserved
without inoculants, yet they protect the protein from breaking
down in silage, which leads to improved animal production,"
Dr Jones told farmers at the conferences. Feed and forage
analysis measures crude protein, which is a mix of ammonia,
free amino acids, true protein and other nitrogen products.
Stock use mainly true protein for milk and meat production.
Dr Jones said that measuring crude protein was fine for pasture
analysis where 80% of the crude protein measured is true protein.
However in grass silage, the true protein can vary from 50%
in silage made without inoculants to 67% in silage made with
inoculants. This led to improvement in live weight gain of
0.22 kilograms per day in the research quoted by Dr Jones.
With legume silages such as red clover, inoculation is essential,
as legumes do not naturally have the bacteria required for
Cross breeding offers both production and health and fertility
benefits to both low and high input dairy systems according
to John Owen of Gelli Aur College, Wales. The high margin
per litre herd at the college in 2003 had an empty rate of
30%, with 15% of Jersey cross Friesians in the mainly Holstein
herd. The empty rate reduced to 12% with 55% of the herd cross
bred in 2005. John admitted 30% empties was high but challenged
conference attendees on their own herds' empty rate
after 12 weeks of mating. A Scandavian Red cross is currently
being considered for the high margin per cow herd as it is
becoming harder to make a profit with this herd.
Dr Richard Smith from the Environment Agency outlined steps
that farmers can take to reduce soil compaction and run-off
from farm land. Aiming to harvest maize in late September
when soils are drier and using sub-soiling to break up any
soil pans, were Richard's two main suggestions. One
conference delegate questioned Richard on the effect of pasture
slitting. The reply was that it does not heave the soil to
get air into and finding the time to slit soil when it is
neither too wet nor too dry is difficult; however it is beneficial
in a permanent pasture situation.
There was heated debate with Gethin Davies of the RSPB on
the role of predators, especially badgers, on farmland birds.
Mr Davis said that the most important issues were the supply
of food and nesting sites. These had a greater impact than
predators and once in place, the RSPB could then consider
the predator problem.
For further information please contact Paul Ward, project
officer for Grassland Challenge on 01579 372315.
The Objective One Programme for Cornwall the Isles
of Scilly has invested in the Grassland Challenge Project
through the European Agriculture Guidance and Guarantee Fund
Media Relations Manager
Objective One Partnership Office
Truro TR1 2UD
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