There was a strong turnout for the third meeting of the Grassland Development Farm project, held at Hilltarvit Mains, Cupar. The project, funded by QMS, is designed to improve grassland management on beef and sheep farms.
Good grazing management is vital
The theme chosen, “Adapting to a Real Winter and Planning a Reseed”, could not have been more topical, given the concerns hill farmers, for one, have been raising with ministers and MSPs.
A number of SAC specialists were on hand with advice and guidance. Local consultant George King produced map-based results from soil sampling showing distribution of pH, phosphate and potash levels by field and stressed the need to act on the information it provided. With re-seed planning in mind, an exercise was begun by digging a hole to look at the profile and check for compaction.
On examination it was found the soil depth was better than expected and discussion focused on whether fertilising the existing sward would be more beneficial than a reseed. However, a reseed offered the benefit of new varieties with improved genetics. On such a steep field ploughing risked soil erosion so the group decided direct drilling after burn off was best, following an immediate application of lime. Work will start in July sowing a hybrid brassica to be grazed from November to February (with a runback field), then reseeded after a light discing and grazed with sheep to establish a dense sward.
Good cattle grazing management will be vital this year. With feed stocks running low, cattle may be turned out onto shorter than usual grass covers. This should be treated as an opportunity to keep on top of grass this spring and avoid heading by mid-summer. Meanwhile, to ensure plentiful feed stocks next winter, it was suggested farmers could whole crop some fields or parts of fields (headlands and awkward corners). They might also grow a forage crop (e.g. stubble turnips) between a winter cereal and a spring crop.
When considering cattle management in a late spring farmers had several options. They could wean autumn-born calves at a larger weight larger (over 250kg) by giving them good grass while their mothers were dried off on poorer grazing. Turnout date could be delayed by eking out silage with straw or other feeds. Some stores could be sold this spring or, alternatively, finishing of cattle could be indoors under an intensive system. It was important to condition score spring-calving cows giving lean cows, in-calf heifers and first-calvers preferential grazing - even if this means grazing silage fields first.
The sheep flock at Hilltarvit Mains had been housed one month early and corrective feeding used to bring thin ones back into condition. The lameness caused by Contagious Ovine Dermatitis (CODD) was under control but not eliminated and was a concern for replacements and this year’s lamb crop which will not have immunity. Regular inspection and removal of infected ewes for treatment with Tylan R is essential.
Around 340 lambs had been finished off kale during Jan/Feb and the kale had proved a good insurance crop during the period of heavy snowfall. Sheep also had a role to play in controlling weeds on the arable rotation block, reseeded in 2009. In the discussion it was highlighted that farmers will have fewer herbicide options in 2011 so it is getting difficult to establish clover in the autumn. Some techniques pioneered by organic farmers were identified.
The next meeting will be held in May but any enquiries should be sent to Rhidian Jones.
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