Welsh Winner for Grassland Management Competition

Welsh Winner for Grassland Management Competition

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

NGMC 09The winner of the 2009 BGS National Grassland Management Competition, sponsored by GrowHow and DLF-Trifolium is Dylan Jones from North Wales.

Dylan farms 156ha (384 acres) with family labour alone and is a member of the South Caernarfon Grassland Society. His aim with the dairy herd is to produce high yields from forage. Cow performance figures currently show an average of 8591 litres with 3177 litres from forage. 

Maximising grassland quality and utilisation across the different soil types is a major challenge for the farm, but Dylan considers it vital to get the best out of the pedigree livestock, and to maximise profitability.

The low lying wet land provides good palatable night grazing for the dairy herd during May, but a spell of wet weather would stop that very quickly, so a plan B is always needed at short notice. The grazing on this block becomes unpalatable at the end of May, so the dairy cows are replaced by the in-calf heifers for the rest of the grazing season. However, a summer drought on the rest of the farm may see the dairy cows return to this area, because grass growth comes into its own during such periods.

The rest of the farm is kept in high quality grass/clover leys. The reseeding policy has seen a big change in the last two years, with a move away from growing maize to growing whole-crop wheat, and purchasing a tined harrow/seeder combination. Maize was not a reliable crop on the farm, and its late harvest reduced flexibility in reseeding. The whole-crop is undersown with Italian ryegrass, with red clover seed oversown after harvest. This provides clean autumn grazing , and early grazing in January for the ewes and lambs, and March grazing for the dairy cows.

Dairy cows are strip grazed during the day till after first cut to maximise intake without waste. They are then blocked grazed on the many small fields on the farm. First cut silage is taken early, before May 15th, to ensure a second cut on the light land. Really high quality, 30+% dry matter silage is the aim, with plenty of clover to get a 16% protein silage.

Head judge, BGS past President, Richard Ratcliffe says Dylan has made several innovative changes in the last two years to improve profitability including new cow tracks, a switch to whole-crop silage from maize and the use of an umbilical slurry system. "The interaction of grazing the cows, youngstock and sheep was very well thought out and effective in maximising the overall performance from all the grassland."

The winner has been selected from a final three in the competition, having been selected from six regional winners, selected from dozens of local grassland societies. The other two farms in this closely fought final were:

Angie Goody, Isle of Man

Angie has farmed on the Isle of Man since 2001, with 81ha (200 acres) in total, including 7ha (17acres) of cereals and 3ha (7 acres) of pea-barley whole-crop - all fed to the beef and sheep. The aim is to get 90% of the feedstuff from the grassland on the farm.

With concentrates on the Isle of Man being far more expensive that mainland UK, there is a focus on minimising use. A programme of reseeding, liming, red clover, whole-crop and out-wintering have seen purchased feed costs reduce by £16,000.

Out-wintering has proved a big success, concentrates compared with the previous in-wintering system, and having healthier animals with less work.

Red clover has become the mainstay of silage leys and white clover is encouraged by rotational grazing of the 50-cow suckler beef herd and 180-ewe sheep flock. Sucklers typically graze a field for two weeks, before it gets a four week break, says Angie.

Angie and family also run a horse paddock maintenance enterprise and holiday lets.

 Peter Merron, Co. Down

Peter farms 131ha (324 acres) of long term grass leys for his 250-cow dairy herd. Peter measures his grass weekly; this along with predicted rainfall and fertilizer levels helps decision making for grass allocation and concentrate usage. Cows average 6175 litres from just 880kg of concentrate, with 4200 litres coming from forage and about 4000 of that from grazing. 

Peter says his spring grazing plan starts in October, when swards start to be closed off. The herd calves in spring with turnout by day and night in early February.

With only grass grown for the herd, every effort is made to maximise its production and utilisation. With the farm changing to a grazing based system in 1999, the system is now well bedded into the farm policy, yet Peter is still very keen to keep up to date with the latest techniques through his membership of his grass group.

Reseeding is carried out whenever needed, using the latest high sugar varieties of grass and clover, and also the new ryegrass varieties from New Zealand, which claim a higher winter growth rate.

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