Getting on a Level with Grazing Grass

DENMARK - Farmers can receive a text message with a forecast for the condition of their grass as an aid in planning grazing, mowing and feeding.
calendar icon 27 June 2008
clock icon 4 minute read

No matter how quiet you are, you cannot hear the grass grow. However, farmers can do something almost as special in the pasture. They can peek into the crystal ball and get an inkling of how their grass will behave a few days ahead. This can be done with the aid of an IT-tool developed in close collaboration between scientists from the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences at the University of Aarhus and advisers from the Danish Agricultural Advisory Service.

The ”crystal ball”, which can be found on the website , is based on piles of research data and information from Danish farms over a period of 10 years coupled with weather data, thorough analyses of the data and conversion of all of this into a practical IT-tool.

Pasture control

The farmer can receive a text message about the likely conditions of his pastures a few days in the future.

All of it is based on the fact that the weather affects the quality and quantity of grass – and that grass quality and quantity are important for the farmer’s planning of cow feeding, grazing of the pasture, and when to mow the grass for silage.

More grass in the pasture means more feed units down the hatch of the grazing cows – and that means feed saved in the barn. However, if there is too little grass, it could mean that the farmer must either increase the grazing areas, move the cows to another pasture, or supplement with extra concentrate.

If the grass contains too much sugar compared to protein, then concentrate feeding in the barn must be adjusted so the cows do not end up with diarrhoea or feed imbalance such as rumen acidosis. On the other hand, if the ratio of protein to sugar is high, then the cows will excrete more nitrogen, which is not particularly environmentally friendly.

With the grass forecasts based on weather forecasts, the farmer can see a few days into the future how the grass will most likely be and act thereon.

Mowing forecast

Besides adjusting feeding and grazing using the grass forecasts, the IT-tool can also offer an answer as to when would be a good time to cut grass for silage. This is done in the part of the program that is called ”Tørringspotentiale” (”Drying potential”) which the scientists and advisers are presently developing. Prior to ensiling, the grass must be dried to about 30-35 percent dry matter. This typically takes a couple of days. How long it actually takes depends on the weather, which means the relative humidity, precipitation, wind and sunshine. The drying-potential-tool helps the farmer find a suitable time for cutting the grass by giving him an idea of whether the days to come are good days for drying the grass or not.

Even better with own figures

The latest development is the construction by scientists and advisers of a forecasting tool for not only the first cut but also the second and third cut. In order to be of proper value to the farmer, the farmer must register data from previous cuts, that is the date and yield of the cut.

It is very important to include the yield because it affects ensuing growth. Being treated to a close shave stresses the grass plants. They need to adjust to the new situation and form new green leaves for photosynthesis so that growth once more is well on its way.

The forecasts are based on average non-drought affected pastures consisting of perennial ryegrass and white clover, so all in all the farmer benefits most from the program if he registers data from his own pastures, including analyses of the feed value of the grass.

The program cannot take the individual pasture’s conditions such as mineral deficiency or soil type into account but can show growth tendencies dependent on weather forecasts.

It is possible for the farmer to receive his ”grass message” as a text message so that he can avoid having to go into his office and get the computer up and running.

The whole program development has been carried out in close collaboration with the Danish Agricultural Advisory Service. Development of the forecasts for the second and third cut is being done in collaboration with eight local advisers.

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