Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Advice on managing grass and forage stocks

Liz Genever, AHDB Beef & Lamb Senior Scientist, looks at the current weather conditions and suggests ways in which farmers can tackle some of the difficult decisions that will need to made over the coming weeks and months.



The extreme weather we have experienced this year has made for a challenging 2018 so far. The very dry weather over the past few weeks has meant grass growth has been way below average for the time of year, with AHDB’s Forage for Knowledge weekly grass monitoring reporting growth of
21.2kg DM/ha across contributor farms at the end of July, compared to 59.5kg DM/ha recorded at the end of July 2017.

The lack of grass growth has meant farmers are having to feed animals with winter feed stock which will affect supplies later in the year. This issue is further compounded because the bad weather earlier in the spring has impacted silage yields, with most farmers able to get an ok first cut, some may have got a second cut but that’s about it. Farmers should look at options for late silage, including the use of additives and testing nitrogen levels in standing crops so they can get a decent third cut. More information on making grass silage can be found in the BRP manual Making Grass silage for Better Returns.

Farmers should consider creating their winter feed budget now so they can get a handle on how much feed they will need in the coming months going in to the winter period, how much they will have and plan strategies to cope with the deficit.

The BRP manual Planning grazing strategies for Better Returns includes calculations for assessing available forage stocks and is a good place to start when assessing what is available on farm. There is also a feed budget calculator, available online, to help you plan the feed you have and will need.

Once you have identified the deficit you can plan on how to manage it. It may be that top-up purchases are required and you may have to feed more supplements than usual. It is a good idea to look at your flock or herd closely and identify the most productive animals. Consider selling or culling unproductive stock so that the limited resources can be allocated to the best-performing animals.

Livestock performance may have suffered too, so keep an eye on body condition score of ewes in the lead up to tupping, as well as cows, and consider weaning thin cows early. For more information on BCS see Managing ewes for Better Returns and Optimising suckler herd fertility for Better Returns.


If you usually house stock in winter, consider whether outwintering on a forage crop or sacrifice fields is in an option. This will depend on conditions on your farm as crops will need to sown in the next few weeks if being used for winter feed. The BRP manual Using Brassicas for Better Returns can help you plan the use of brassicas.

If this is not an option, look at different options for bedding in preparation for a straw shortage and also be prepared that if straw is in short supply, it may not be an option to bulk out a total mixed ration (TMR). Make sure ventilation is optimum and that drainage in yards is adequate to reduce the need for straw. We have videos on assessing calf buildings and assessing ventilation that can help you identify where imporvements can be made. Further information can be found in the BRP+ documents Better calf housing and BRP+ Better cattle housing design.

Contingency plans will have financial implications, whether it’s buying in extra feed or having to sell animals early which may mean not getting as good a price as you might expect. The key is to start planning now and finding the option that best-suits your business.

AHDB has a created a drought hub where farmers can find the latest guidance on managing the effects of heat stress and drought, including the latest insight from the market intelligence team.