A small investment in grassland management can yield a very large return.  That was the key take home message at the “Grazing for Growth” Beef farm walk at John Egerton’s organised by AFBI, CAFRE and AgriSearch.

At the first stop Elizabeth Earle from AgriSearch discussed the findings of the “Beef from Grass” project which forms part of the GrassCheck programme.  In 2018 John grew an average of 13.3t DM/ha of grass on his farm with a utilisation rate of 88%.  This is achieved by ensuring that cattle enter and leave the paddock at the right covers.  With a pre-grazing target of between 2,700-3,000kgDM/ha and a target post-grazing residual of 1,500-1,700 kgDM/ha.

One of the most powerful pieces of information which comes from regular grass measurement is getting a handle on how much grass each field is growing.  On John’s farm individual paddocks vary in yield from 8.8 – 13.7 t DM/ha.  Armed with this information farmers can then take appropriate action to improve lower yielding paddocks (e.g. improving soil nutrient status, reseeding etc.).

Speakers at the “Grazing for Growth” beef farm walk:  (from left) Barry McIlnerney (AFBI, Stormont), Francis Lively (AFBI, Hillsborough), Elizabeth Earle (AgriSearch), Suzanne Higgins (AFBI, Newforge), John Egerton (Host Farmer) and Francis Breen (CAFRE).
Speakers at the “Grazing for Growth” beef farm walk: (from left) Barry McIlnerney (AFBI, Stormont), Francis Lively (AFBI, Hillsborough), Elizabeth Earle (AgriSearch), Suzanne Higgins (AFBI, Newforge), John Egerton (Host Farmer) and Francis Breen (CAFRE).

At the second stop Suzanne Higgins from AFBI, Newforge highlighted the importance of getting soil nutrient status right.  Across Northern Ireland many beef farms are under supplying their fields with Potash (K).  This can reduce yields by up to 30%.  Sulphur deficiency is also wide spread across Northern Ireland and can also reduce yields by 30%.  Sulphur containing fertiliser should be applied routinely to all grazing and silage fields, particularly for first cut.

Soil pH is also a constraining factor on many fields in Northern Ireland.  34% of NI grassland requires lime and could be losing 2t DM/ha/year. Correcting pH is potentially worth a 5-fold return on the investment in lime.

At the third stop Francis Breen from CAFRE highlighted the huge reward that come from growing and utilising more grass.  John Egerton is achieving around 500 kilograms of weight gain per acre compared to the Northern Ireland average of 232kg per acre.  This more than doubles the beef income from that block of ground (worth over £500 per acre extra per year). 

Francis Breen highlighted the importance of grazing grass at the three-leaf stage and how grass measurement and a simple grazing wedge could help with the management process.  He also highlighted the importance of infrastructure and highlighted how John Egerton had set up a simple low-cost paddock system that was very easy to operate.

At the final stop Francis Lively from AFBI, Hillsborough highlighted the variation in grass quality throughout the season.  Lush, green grass is a highly nutritious feedstuff which can support high levels of performance throughout the grazing season.  However, good grass management is critical to ensure that quality is maintained. 

Francis Lively also discussed the results of recent beef grazing trials at AFBI Hillsborough.  These demonstrate the considerable benefits that can be achieved through extended grazing. Cattle turned out early in spring had heavier liveweights at housing and produced heavier carcasses at slaughter relative to cattle turned out later.   

Another trial looked at the effect of extended grazing in the autumn on sucker weanlings.  There was no difference in liveweight at turnout the following spring and the daily feed cost of the extended grazing group was 62p a head cheaper than the housed group.

A copy of the farm walk handout can be downloaded from the AFBI and AgriSearch websites (from 2nd May) and videos of the talks given on the day can be viewed via the GrassCheck Facebook page.