Managing and building forage stocks - CAFRE

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Significant rainfall has occurred in most of areas in the East and South of Northern Ireland affected by drought conditions, writes Martin Mulholland, Senior Dairying Technologist, CAFRE.

At this stage of the season, there are still three months of potential grass growth remaining in these areas. Management considerations and options for increasing grass and forage stocks are listed below:

• It is important to ensure that grazing swards have been adequately fertilised with 30 to 40 kg N/ha within the last month to provide the nutrients for grass growth.

• Grass swards need time to re-grow. Maintain a rotation length of a least three weeks and plan to extend the rotation length further through August, if rainfall and subsequent grass growth rates allow.

• Continue to buffer feed stock with forage or concentrates to allow a grass wedge to build up on grazing platforms.

• Carefully assess grass silage swards. Many swards under drought stress have turned reproductive, putting up stemmy seed heads. Are these swards actively growing? It may be best to harvest these swards early as lower quality silage for youngstock and dry cows.

Cutting swards which have gone to seed should stimulate fresh grass growth.

Apply 80 kg of N per hectare from slurry and fertiliser to the re-growth for a 3rd or 4th cut.

• Forage crops (e.g. rape, hybrid rape, stubble turnips etc.) can possibly be sown to provide feed for grazing youngstock and dry cows over the winter. These crops are best suited to freely draining soil types and need to be sown by the first week of September.

• Fast growing grasses such as Westerwolds, sown in early August have the potential to produce a silage crop in October and again in Spring 2019.

This is an option after a spring cereal crop or winter wholecrop has been harvested.

The advantage of Westerwolds over rape and stubble turnips is that the crop can be harvested and transported rather than grazed.

• Livestock farms with low stocking rates have the potential to generate extra income by increasing fertiliser use to grow an extra cut of silage that can be sold as a cash crop to farmers with insufficient silage to last the winter.

Planning for the coming winter:

• Assess forage stocks on the farm using the CAFRE Forage Stocks Calculator: https://eservices.ruralni.gov.uk/apps/beef/Beef_Silage_Volume.asp

• If fodder stocks are insufficient, cull or sell surplus stock early.

• Assess the value of purchased standing cereal crops against alternatives such as silage replacement concentrate rations.

• Analyse silage before buying and before feeding.

• Ensure any silage replacer rations purchased are good value for money using the CAFRE Relative Feed Value Calculator: https://eservices.ruralni.gov.uk/apps/dairy/Dairy_Relative_Feed.asp