Farming & Food
Grass provides the perfect diet for cattle and sheep. It is all they need to produce nutritious, healthy meat for people to cook and eat.
But grass can be tricky to manage. Its one aim in life is to grow, produce a seed head and then die. Only skilled grassland farmers can manage it to produce high quality animal food throughout the year – grazed out in the fields or given as conserved winter-feed, either dried as hay or pickled as silage.
The people I write about in these blogs are some of the best and most innovative farmers and chefs in the world. They look after their soils, their land and their animals and take great care to source and prepare the best meat possible. We should be proud of them all.
Volatile cereal prices and uncertainties over future global wheat supplies are key reasons why livestock farmers should include more grass in their feeding plans this spring, according to independent grassland expert Charlie Morgan.
Speaking at Duchy College in Cornwall last week at a meeting supported by Dow AgroSciences, he said that grass has all the nutrients ruminants need to produce milk and to grow.
I spent an exciting if chilly day on an arable and beef farm in Hertfordshire yesterday, where Nuffield Scholar Tom Chapman is implementing novel grazing practices seen on his travels in Canada.
High density stock grazing – aka mob-grazing – where large numbers of cattle graze small areas of grass for a short time, encourages healthy trampling (ie not poaching). This ensures that any uneaten grass left when the animals vacate the paddock is in contact with the soil. This makes it easier for earthworms to drag plant material down below the surface, and soil microbes to start breaking it down into useful organic matter.
Short supply and increased Europe-wide demand means UK farmers will be paying up to 50% more for their grass seed in 2012, compared to this time last year.
But this should not put them off reseeding or renovating pastures that are under-performing, says Tim Kerridge of DLF Trifolium, the UK’s largest seed supplier. He believes the investment is still definitely worthwhile.
“A £20 rise in the cost of an acre of grass seed adds just 82 pence to the cost of producing one tonne of grass dry matter,” Mr Kerridge explains.
Successful organic dairy company Yeo Valley is burning home-grown Elephant Grass (miscanthus) to heat their farm office buildings this winter.
Elephant Grass is a tall, coarse plant, originally from Africa that will grow for about ten months of the year in Britain. It can be grown for biofuel
One of the things that puts farmers off relying more on grass is the fact they don’t know exactly how much the animals are eating.
Irish dairy researchers at Moorepark (Teagasc) have come up with a nifty calculator to help estimate the quantity of grass utilised annually on the farm.
The amount of grass grown and eaten has a direct effect on profitability – 44% of the variation in net profit per hectare between dairy farms in Ireland is directly related to the quantity of grass utilised per hectare.
What would the moors and green rolling hills of England look like without any grass or animals to eat it?
Very different to today that’s for sure – confirmed by some forward thinking research carried out by Land Use Consultants (LUC) for EBLEX.
They have used ‘crystal balls’ to see what could happen to some of England’s most cherished landscapes if beef cattle and sheep disappeared.