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Importance of Planning Winter Feed Highlighted on Peeblesshire Monitor Farm

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Winter feed was the hot topic at the latest meeting of the Peebleshire monitor farm, hosted by monitor farmers, Ed and Kate Rowell.

The couple farm the 1,800 acre (729 ha) Hundleshope Farm, located a few miles south of Peebles. Hundleshope is one of the network of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) monitor farms throughout Scotland.

The Rowells run a herd of 62 spring calving suckler cows, with progeny sold at approximately a year old. In-calf females and replacement heifers are outwintered, with the weaned calves housed until sale. A total of around 150 head of cattle over-winter at Hundleshope.

Much of the farm is classified as hill (1,450 acres), the domain of 350 Scottish Blackface ewes which receive no supplementary feed other than high energy blocks. A breeding flock of 450 Scotch Mule and Texel crosses, plus 170 hoggs, graze the lower ground.

The grain and straw from approximately 30 acres of home-grown spring barley, is all used on-farm.

This year a total of 888 bales of silage were made, including a first cut of 105 bales which analysed as follows: Dry Matter – 428/kg, Metabolisable Energy – 11.9ML/kgDM and Crude Protein – 136/kgDM. A sample won second prize in both the recent AgriScot and Scottish Winter Fair silage competitions.

“This silage was made from one year old Italian Ryegrass, and was cut early in comparison to previous years,” commented Kate Rowell. “It had been grazed by sheep until 23rd/24th of May and was cut on 20th June. We deliberately tried to make some better silage for our ewes this year, and plan to keep it until the end of February/early March to feed to the ewes as they come close to lambing, to help ensure they have good quality colostrum and plenty of milk.”

The Rowells had each of their silage cuts analysed. The community group suggested that they also weigh a bale from each silage cut, to give accurate guidance on silage quantity as well as feed value. This combined information will be useful when calculating winter rations for their different categories of stock, to ensure they perform to target.

An idea about how long the silage will last will also help the Rowells make an informed decision as to whether or not they will need to buy additional feed, particularly if the winter proves to be longer or harsher than anticipated.

Rhidian Jones, a Beef and Sheep Specialist with SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College), urged the Rowells to make the most of their late season grass, which at the meeting was being grazed by ewes recently introduced to tups.

“To help you calculate how much dry matter the ewes need, the first step is to body condition score them. They need to be three to three and a half for tupping, with a target of two to two and a half at lambing,” explained Mr Jones. “But if you’re lambing Mule ewes in March, don’t let them go below two and a half so they’ve got a bit of condition to utilise before the grass comes away.

“For maintenance, a ewe needs one kilo of dry matter per day so during tupping, to help ensure a good crop of lambs next spring, allow for around an extra 1.2 kilos of dry matter per day to aid conception and help ensure embryo implantation.”

To demonstrate the assessment of dry matter, plus the calculation of how long the available grazing would provide sufficient nutrition for the ewes, Mr Jones used a group of 200 of the Rowell’s ewes as an example. The ewes had a body condition score of 3 to 3.5, and were running with tups on 11 ha.

Mr Jones levelled the grass with a folder and measured the levelled grass height with a sward stick. The sward stick has grass height measurements on the side, co-related to kgs of dry matter per ha, with different calculations for different seasons - spring, late spring, summer, autumn and winter.

Mr Jones emphasised that when assessing pasture dry matter, for accuracy of assessment, the grass needs to be measured in a variety of locations within the planned grazing area.

At the meeting, the Rowells’ grass measured approximately 3 cms, giving an estimated kgs of dry matter per ha of 1,200, making the total dry matter over the 11 ha – 13,200 kgs. (A late spring grass height of 3 cms would have yielded a calculation of approximately 1,800 kgs of dry matter per ha).

“This total of 1,200 needs to be reduced by a third, as the sheep will not graze off the entire sward cover,” commented Mr Jones. “So with 8.8 tonnes of consumable dry matter for 200 ewes, you have 44 kgs per head. Allowing for 1.2 kgs of dry matter per day in simple terms gives you 36 days of grazing.

“However, as the grazing period continues, the accessibility of the grass reduces, so it’s important that you continue to measure the dry matter during the anticipated grazing period, to ensure the ewes don’t run short of adequate feed.”

The next Peebles monitor farm meeting will be in the New Year.

For further information please contact either of the joint facilitators: Jennifer Brown. tel: 01835 823322 email: jennifer.brown@sac.co.uk or Chris McDonald tel: 0131 535 3436 email: Chris.mcdonald@sac.co.uk

For general information on monitor farms, plus detailed reports of meetings, visit www.qmscotland.co.uk/monitorfarms

Caption: Rhidian Jones, SRUC Sheep and Beef Specialist with his Grass Plate Meter.