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QMS Sward Stick to Monitor Optimal Grass production

With more and more livestock farmers becoming aware of the potential to improve their profitability through better grass management, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) has produced a new tool to help farmers monitor grass growth.

The new QMS sward stick, which is available to farmers free of charge, is aimed at making the job of measuring grass in the pursuit of optimum production as straightforward as possible.

Michael Blanche, who is a member of the QMS Industry Development team and also farms in Perthshire, worked on the development of the new sward stick.

A self-confessed grass obsessive, Mr Blanche has used the latest data from New Zealand and combined it with his Scottish experience of measuring grass with sward sticks to come up with the new version, which is in two parts, both fitting in a back pocket.

He explained: "At its most basic, it is a tool which enables farmers to ensure grass is at its optimum grazing length for sheep (4cm to 8cm) and cattle (4cm to 10cm.)

“However, the kilograms of dry matter per hectare (kgDM/Ha) scale can provide significantly more information – including how quantities vary over the season,  growth rate, average covers in a rotation and the ability to do feed budgets for your grass.

"This opens the door to much greater precision in grazing management, giving the potential to increase stocking rates or reduce inputs, improving kg/ha of liveweight produced and profitability."

The latest scale to come from New Zealand separates the kgDM/ha measurement into five different times of the year because the moisture content of grass differs throughout the season. Mr Blanche pointed out: "Cattle and sheep don’t eat centimetres, they eat kilogrammes of dry matter."

The stick comes in two parts, including a small plastic board which slightly compresses the grass and helps provide a more consistent, accurate measurement.

Grass is a resource which, said Mr Blanche, is too often not utilised to its full potential on livestock farms. He pointed out that it can be the best and cheapest feed or expensive and poor quality, depending on how it is managed.

"The best grazing managers know how to retain quality and keep it a cheap feed and they measure their grass," he said.

There is strong data showing that with grass-based systems the closer a business can get its stock demand from grass in line with the amount of grass it can grow, the more profitable that business will be.

Mr Blanche believes that the sward stick is the first step to understanding how grass grows and what is available for the stock.

There are some good internet-based programs, he said, which can analyse the data collected from the sward stick but even just measuring for growth and recording it on a spreadsheet is a useful management tool.

The new sward stick makes measuring easy and quick and Michael recommends that it is done every week or two weeks during the growing season.

QMS runs a number of grazing groups throughout the country where there are useful discussions about measuring and how margins from grass can be driven forward with the information gathered. Information about joining a Grazing Group can be found at www.qmscotland.co.uk

The sticks themselves will be available to collect free-of-charge from the QMS stands at Highland Sheep on 9th June and the Royal Highland Show on June 18th to 21st.

Farmers can also order the sward sticks direct from QMS by emailing info@qmscotland.co.uk or calling 0131 472 4040.