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An on farm event organised for Ripon Dairy Discussion group in
early May saw over 30 dairy farmers see what leading grassland
expert Kate Burnby had to say about utilising grass for grazing
FAR LEFT A plate meter in action.
LEFT New Zealander Kate Burnby
(right) is a keen advocate of
maximising the time cows spend out
at grass.
energy density diets.
The fi nal section of the
presentation focussed on pasture
tools. Stocking rates should be
considered and access to acreage
eemed as an interactive and practical session, Kate, who came to
monitored, especially in early season to maximise
the UK in 1996 from New Zealand, drew on her experience as a
grass use. Infrastructure is a prerequisite in
vet and consultant to pose the initial quandary: Why graze- why not?
terms of tracks, fences and access to water, all
In her opening comments, Kate drew comparisons between the UK
of which are needed to minimise poaching and
and the warm temperate climate experienced in New Zealand and
extend grazing seasons. Soil fertility, which
Australia. She then expanded to say that parts of the west coast of
is directly affected by compaction, must be
England and western Ireland had the capabilities to yield up to 19
monitored and addressed. The use of grass and
tonnes of dry matter grass per hectare per year (this would maybe
clover supplements is a further tool to managing
be 14 to 15 tonnes in the east), and with between 1500 and 2000
grasslands. Genetics have a role to play, and
sunshine hours per year, and a 900 mm rainfall the scope to grow grass
not all Holstein strains were considered ideal for
certainly exists. Whether it is caused by climate change or not, the UK
maximising grassland utilisation.
soil temperature has also risen by around 20% over the last 10 years as
Finally, measurement was considered crucial.
well, suggesting greater grass growth in winter.
Pasture budgeting with the setting of pre and
The next issue was that the important and signifi cant costs of milk
post grazing targets was also considered of
production were primarily purchased feed, machinery, energy, labour,
paramount importance. This message was simply
housing, and slurry handling - all of which were a direct result of
stressed by the antidote that ‘you can’t manage
housing stock, thereby Kate said it is far cheaper to take the cow to
what you don’t measure’. Kate Burnby was an
the grass, depleting if not eliminating these costs of production.
advocate of investing in a plate meter, which was
The speaker accepted that UK production systems tended not
later demonstrated in the fi eld. The device should
to rely solely on grazed grass, but the speaker was then keen to
be stored with the operating handle nearest the
discuss the role of grass in the overall profi tability equation. While
fl oor to avoid damaging and bending the shaft
there is no relation between profi t and purchased feed, there is
which will hamper accurate data collection. The
distinct correlation between increased profi ts and increased pasture
device should not be oiled because of its effect
utilisation, up to around 80% where the returns tail off. The take
on calibration. A complex formula is used to
home message was therefore to acknowledge the role of purchased
multiple the 25cm
area covered by the plate
feed as a supplement rather than a substitute to pasture. Going
by the average compressed height of the sward
on from this, there is a direct relationship between cost of milk
measured, to calculate the kilos of dry matter
production per litre and grazed grass content in the diet, as the
contained within the fi eld.
former increases the later declines.
Rounding off, maximising intakes and the use of
According to this grassland expert, not only should pasture be
grass, swards should not be able to exceed 12 cm
utilised, but obviously the quality of the pasture should be maximised.
and leaf density will impinge growth, while leaf
The energy content of grass can be in the region of 12- 2.5 ME,
growth is greater from 6-12 cm when the greatest
although there is a trade off between maximising cow intakes and
area of leaf is available for photosynthesis. With
leaving residuals for the next grazing cycle. Traditionally residuals of
the attendees milking cows in a range of systems
5 cm were deemed ideal, but this has been reduced to 4 cm without
with different levels of reliance on grazed grass,
impinging on re-growth, while below 4 cm and the pasture can be
questions were answered by New Zealander who
affected. While a 10 ME diet will provide maintenance, 11 ME will
extols the virtues of maximising the time cows
generate milk production while stepping up to 12 ME will double the
spend out at grass.
milk production potential, explaining the trends and rewards of high
Sarah Liddle
e3-09 Practical tips for grassland management.indd 2 27/05/2009 16:59:53
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