|Dairy cows strip-grazing
The options for outwintering cattle on brassicas
such as kale came into focus at a high profile forage conference
in the north west this month.
British Seed Houses’ inaugural event Forage 365 in
Crewe on Thursday (December 1) addressed specific aspects
of grazed grass, clover, forage maize and brassicas, covering
topics that are relevant to both dairy and beef producers.
Cutting fixed costs should be a key focus for beef producers
now farming without subsidies, according to Basil Lowman,
Mr Lowman, one of eight speakers at the conference, examined
cost cutting through year-round forage systems. He maintains
that the biggest cost of UK beef production is money tied
up in machinery and buildings.
Post de-coupling he believes that beef producers now have
a blank sheet of paper on which to write a new business plan – and
a move to year-round outdoor rearing systems where animals
can self-feed on grass and fodder crops is one of the ways
As well as major cost savings of around 50 per cent, outwintering
cattle improved animal welfare and health – pneumonia,
the biggest killer was mainly caused by housing - and trials
showed that it did not compromise daily liveweight gain.
“All the language of agricultural economists has been
on gross margins and fixed costs have been swept under the
carpet,” Mr Lowman told the conference attended by 100
“We have spent our lives reducing variable costs however
by increasing our stocking rates to get more subsidies we
have also increased our fixed costs.”
Mr Lowman described options for outwintering cattle on forage
crops such as kale and swedes.
Kale, sown in May-June and swedes, sown April-June, both
into sprayed off grass swards, could be strip grazed from
November to March with a straw run back.
Stubble turnips could be sown into winter cereals, such as
those grown for crimping or cracked wholecrop, three weeks
pre-harvest. The straw could be baled and left in the field
and the stubble turnips strip grazed from November to January.
New outwintered self feed systems could be used for store
and finishing cattle. For grass finishing of spring born suckled
calves it would cut out labour-intensive creep feeding with
weaning in late January.
Cows and calves would be strip grazed on a leader-follower
system. The system would minimise housing and turn-out checks
and finished cattle could be sold from June onwards.
In a global market place, UK milk producers will have to
compete with dairy farmers who are able to produce milk for
the equivalent of 5p per litre.
This was the message to farmers attending the conference
from Dr Padraig French, head of dairy research at the Moorepark
Livestock Research Centre in Ireland.
Dr French gave the case of a New Zealand dairy farmer who
was able to out winter 60 per cent of his cows on brassicas,
leaving silage bales in the field in situ in the summer after
baling for winter rations and keeping his costs down to the
equivalent of 5p per litre.
“If we move towards globalisation you are going to
have to compete with that producer,” he said.
Dr French said that while grass was the cheapest feed available
in the UK and the saviour of the livestock industry going
forward, variations in its supply and demand through the seasons
led to increased costs in labour, oil and machinery to harvest
The costs of a three-month period of winter housing amounted
to £199 a cow, broken down into silage at £67
a head, building depreciation at £86,slurry spreading £15
and feeding out and bedding at £31.
Outside winter feeding – on forage brassicas such as
kale, swedes, turnips, or forage rape - amounted to only a
third to half the cost of feeding cattle inside on grass silage/wholecrop
Brassicas had the potential for providing cheap, high quality
feed while making a big reduction in fixed costs.
Grazing Swedes gave the option of high yield potential of
10-15,000kg of DM/ha with a high feed value from a full-year
crop, sown from May to mid July.
Forage kale also had a high yield potential when grazed as
well as a high feed value. Forage rape, sown from mid July
to mid September as a catch crop, had moderate yield potential
but with a high feed value, but, importantly, had the ability
to reduce nitrate loss.
* High profile speakers included Professor Mike Theodorou
from IGER who explained the animal production benefits derived
from increased nitrogen use efficiency in new generation ryegrass
varieties; the Milk Development Council’s Hugh Black,
provided a practical insight into extended grazing, with a
focus on the latest research into cow track design; Dr Ernst
Loop of Saaten Union, used his first-hand knowledge of northern
European maize growing to examine the advantages of the very
latest ultra early maturing varieties; Promar’s David
Burns looked at the rationing implications of maize maturity;
both white and red clover was addressed by IGER’s Dr
Michael Abberton, with a focus on breeding developments and
the potential to reduce nitrogen inputs through more effective
use of modern varieties; Promar’s Derek Gardner looked
at the economic advantages of clover, set in the context of
a post CAP Reform agriculture.
© Copyright 2005 Jennifer
MacKenzie All Rights