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Maximising Profits from Pasture on Sutherland Monitor Farm

The steps needed to maximise profit from pasture were highlighted to farmers and crofters attending the recent Sutherland Monitor Farm meeting.

Jason Ballantyne and his wife Vic, in partnership with Jason’s dad Murdo, run the 125-hectare Clynelish farm where they have adopted a strategy of almost 100% forage-based diets for their sheep and cattle enterprises.

The family run 80 outwintered suckler cows with calves sold store at 10 months of age. There is also a flock of 900 breeding ewes of which about half are Lairg type Cheviots and the other half Lleyn cross. The ewes currently lamb outdoors at the end of April.

Trevor Cook, a grazing consultant and qualified vet from New Zealand, was the guest speaker at the meeting and emphasised that the use of rotational grazing could result in up to 50%

more usable yield from pasture. With grass being the cheapest feed option for livestock, increasing the amount of grass available can help reduce costs and increase output.

Mr Cook said the two key aspects to consider are grass growth (pasture supply) and livestock needs (pasture demand).  Controlling grazing will help match supply and demand as closely as possible. 

“The aim is to ensure that grass, rather than supplementary feeds, makes up as much of the diet as possible.  These principles apply no matter where in the world you are farming,” said Mr Cook.

“Knowing how much feed you have, and how much feed you need will help you plan your grazing and achieve as much production as possible from the grass you have available.” 

Mr Cook also explained to the group the need to consider supply in terms of pasture cover at the start, required pasture cover at end and the expected pasture growth rate.  

Demand, or the amount of feed animals need to eat, will depend on their stage of production, but can easily be calculated as a percentage of their liveweight. 

“For example, when ewes are being rotationally grazed during winter there will be little grass growth, but ewe demand during mid pregnancy is also low.  Doing a quick calculation will allow what grass is available to be rationed, and will highlight when supplements such as hay or silage will need to be fed,” said Mr Cook.

He also highlighted the need to regularly check this calculation by monitoring pasture covers and to assess the feed available ahead as well as monitoring animal body condition.

Mr Cook also discussed the grazing management regime required by the Ballantynes to ensure great grass swards for 2018 and suggested Jason and Victoria get a plate meter for measuring their grass so they can more accurately monitor sward height.

Clynelish Farm is one of nine monitor farms established in Scotland as part of a joint initiative by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds with funding from the Scottish Government. The aim of the monitor farm programme is to help improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Scottish farm businesses.

For more information about the monitor farm programme visit www.monitorfarms.co.uk