Make the Most of Early Season Grass

UK - Make the most of early season grass now or risk losing it, says DairyCo’s Chris Duller.
calendar icon 22 February 2012
clock icon 2 minute read

“Up until the recent cold snap there has been steady grass growth this winter, meaning that many fields that were last grazed in October are now carrying fairly decent grass covers of around 2400kgDM/ha. The simple message is ‘use it or lose it’.

“If it’s not grazed off over the next few weeks the result will be increasing amount of dead material in the base of the sward and poorer grazing quality when cows do finally get out to graze,” warns Mr Duller.

“Research has shown that cows can eat between 2 and 3kgDM of grass per hour – as long as they haven’t got a belly full of silage! So turning out for 3 or 4 hours a day will get you intakes around 6kgDM; of high quality, low cost forage."

Early season ryegrass is frequently better quality than many silages being fed, with an ME over 12 and proteins of 20% plus. Grazed grass will cost about 1/3 that of silage and about 1/6 that of concentrate, so make the most of it.

Ground conditions for some will be unsuitable for early turnout - and heavier farms may have little choice other than to watch covers build and quality drop, however for those on lighter soils and with decent tracks and gateways, the next few weeks should be a good opportunity to get cows out and reduce your feed, bedding and slurry handling costs. Currently the savings to be made are around £1.30/cow/day.

“High stocking rates and long grazing times will increase soil damage and grass wastage,” says Mr Duller, “so think about maybe splitting the herd so that maybe 50 or 60 are going out for a few hours a day.

“For fields that are carrying good grass I would be tempted to hold back on the fertiliser for now – for those of 2200kgDM or less target 30kgN/ha (24units/acre), ideally as urea and apply about 2 weeks ahead of when you expect to graze.”

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