How encouraging to see grassland farming feature so prominently in three articles in a recent issue of Farmers Weekly (20 December). They were in a section dedicated to sustainable livestock production.
Sheep on just grass
Northumberland sheep farmer Duncan Nellis is now running his sheep enterprises entirely on grass, with no concentrate feeds at all. He used to have traditional Mules which could consume up to 1kg of concentrate before they lambed.
He now runs a closed flock of 1600 Lleyn ewes, which earned him a gross margin of £94/ewe last year. Lambs can grow up to 360g/day, with an average finishing time of 73 days – sold at a target deadweight at 19kg.
Putting grass at the heart of the system has facilitated these results. Mr Nellis says he now want to make the optimum use of grass, keeping it leafy and nutritious for as long as possible for the ewes and lambs to eat.
Grazing is controlled with the use of mobile electric fencing and integrated with 130 suckler cows. He is also very close to having the ewes all-grass wintered with no silage or cake.
At the end of last January the grass analysed at 19.3% protein and 11.2MJ of ME. “Feeding 1400 ewes out of a bag on a diet of that quality would be pretty expensive,” remarked Mr Nellis. “Once we get into spring grass we know it’s absolute rocket fuel.”
Irish dairy farming
The second article looks at work carried out by research body Teagasc, which seeks a sustainable template for the Irish dairy Industry. It is not surprising that grass plays a major part in this.
Reseeding old, worn out pastures (measured as yielding as low as 6t DM/ha) and a changed mindset regarding grassland’s potential role in milk production, have boosted grass yields from 10tDM/ha to 13t DM/ha at one college farm dairy there, allowed stocking rate to increase from 2 to 3 cows/ha, and seen the herd out grazing for ten months rather than just seven.
These measures, together with a tight 12-week spring block calving, have raised milk solids production from 860kg/ha to 1,250kg/ha and profits from €1,350/ha to €2900/ha over eight years.
College farm manager Donal Patton is proud of the progress made so far. He is aiming to grow 15t grass DM/ha to produce 450kg milk solids/cow on 400kg of cake a year. He said that while the herd was often perceived to be low input, low output, the reality is that their output/ha is double the national average with less inputs.
Silage for finishing beef
Finally there was a great piece about how suckler producer James Evans and beef finisher Adam Quinney are working in the Midlands together for mutual benefit. Adam is providing specialist ‘feedlot’ facilities for James to finish his own animals as he lacks cattle housing on his own farm.
Grass is now the core component of the finishing diet – taking over from maize which was deemed too risky to grow on heavy soils in catchy summers. Grass silage makes up one third of the TMR ration.
By selling his animals finished rather than as stores, James reckoned he earned £150/head more.
Is the message getting through?
So at long last it seems that the messages about using grass as a prime – if not the prime food for ruminant livestock, is getting through.
At the very least, when managed well, it is the cheapest source of natural, high quality feed – and there are lots of other advantages too (see the new Pasture-Fed Livestock Association website – coming soon!)
In praise of mentoring
Also a big thumbs up to journalist statesman David Richardson in the same issue of Farmers Weekly for championing the need for more farming mentors.
The Grazing Partners pilot project run by the British Grassland Society over the past three years, highlighted the rewards for those who support others with their time and expertise, as well as those who receive it.