Grazing Round the Calendar
In seeking to raise the efficiency of milk production by lowering the cost per gallon the tendency is usually to attempt an increase in the yield per cow, often with consequent harm to the health of the cow and the calf she carries during lactation.
A glance at the herd averages of some of the progressively managed dairy herds of the country shows that a reasonable yield limit is being reached if the health of our future cow population is to be valued. But even in the best of herds there is tremendous scope for reduction of the two items which head the costs of every herd, feeding stuffs and labour.
On the average dairy farm feeding stuffs account for about 50 per cent, and labour 25 per cent, of the total cost of producing each gallon of milk. Before the war the cost per gallon of feeding stuffs was much higher, and labour slightly lower, because of the lower labour demands of purchased feeding stuffs.
But whether we feed home-grown food or purchased compounds, we can reckon that feeding stuffs and labour together take up 75 per cent or more of the cost of milk production. And most of the cash expended on these two items is spent in the winter months. During the grazing season these costs dwindle till the dream of every dairy farmer must be continuous summer or, at any rate, continuous grass.
Although it may not be possible to have continuous grass in most parts of the country it is possible, even on heavy land, to have continuous grazing except for the four to six weeks of the wettest part of winter and when snow is on the ground. What is more, the grazing can be of a quality almost equal to grass for ten months of the year or even more on dry light-land farms.
The basis of an all-the-year grazing programme is the ley. The Aberystwyth strains have made it possible to have growth of one or more varieties of grass or clover, in southern England anyhow, from the middle of February to the middle of December, providing the leys are managed so that the right grasses are dominant at the right time.
I have tried several mixtures, with and without the leafy strains and deep-rooting herbs, and while good seasonal grazing can be obtained without them, it is not possible to have a bulky growth of early and late grazing, or a thick well-laid sward to ensure future fertility and strong growth in future years, without a large proportion of herbs and pedigree leafy grasses.
The mixture I have found best suited to dairy grazing contains a basis of S.23 perennial ryegrass, S.26 and S.143 cocksfoot, and S.100 white clover, with the use of Italian ryegrass under certain conditions and where direct re-seeding is necessary on land where it is not possible to take a nurse crop. With the addition of a proportion of New Zealand or commercial perennial ryegrass the dairy farmer has a mixture that will do all he asks of it, provided he asks in an intelligent manner and manages each grass with a knowledge of its capabilities. The addition of the widest possible variety of deep-rooting herbs completes the ideal mixture, of which the mixture in Chapter 5, Goosegreen Herbal Ley Mixture is the one I have found most successful.
The success of the mixture, in my experience, depends on the proportion of cocksfoot to perennial ryegrass being high enough to prevent the aggressive ryegrass from reducing the cocksfoot to a state of tuftiness. In order to assure the success of the cocksfoot, it should be sown at a rate of not less than 8 lb. an acre and, with perennial ryegrass not exceeding 10 lb. an acre (8 lb. is enough on good land), the result will be an even sward which can be easily managed.
If I sow under winter corn in early April, by the time the corn is harvested I have a good growth of grass which will stand hard grazing right into December. But in recent years I have tended more and more to sow in September on the disced stubble. By this method there is more certainty of moisture immediately after seeding. Most farmers have preferred sheep to graze the ley in the early stages, but I am convinced that the use of sheep is the most certain means of delayed growth in the early spring. The sheep eats too close into the crown of the young plants and makes recovery after the winter rather a struggle for the grasses, which one would expect to see flourishing as soon as spring growing weather comes.
This first grazing then, on my farm, goes either to the dairy herd or to young cattle, depending on the length of growth available.
This, then, starts the autumn grazing season for the dairy herd, when the ley has been spring sown. From the stubble grazing they will go back to the ley in its first full year, which has provided the bulk of grazing throughout the summer.
This I have had divided into three equal parts for rotational grazing. The section which provides the late grazing has been allowed to grow away so that cocksfoot and perennial ryegrass are predominant. If this section is not grazed too bare in the winter the tall grasses are well away again in February and March, when they provide the first grass-grazing of the spring by mid-March. Hard grazing now will correct the balance which was upset in the late summer, when the tall bulky grasses gained predominance.
In the short period when it is too cold to expect any growth on the leys, I plan to have a catch crop of rape and turnips, on to which the cows can be turned for a controlled period each day. If it is too wet for grazing of any kind, the next best thing is first-quality silage made from second-year ley or young oats and vetches, supplemented by thousand-headed kale, which is leafier and higher in protein content than the marrow-stem kale. The kale can usually be grazed with practically no waste if the grazing periods are controlled.
I make a point of having at least one field of September-sown winter oats or wheat in one of the driest fields on the farm, which, without any top dressing if previous management has fixed adequate atmospheric nitrogen, should give grass equivalent grazing by the third week in February.
The earlier the oats or wheat is drilled in the summer the earlier it will be ready for grazing, and in a dry late autumn will often give good grazing at a lean time, as well as again in the spring, with nothing but benefit to the subsequent corn crop. One year my cows were grazing Picton oats, sown the third week in September, by the third week in February.
The lodging of cereal crops has become one of the most difficult problems on the farm. Yet though our average yield is far higher than the rest of the county (wheat 30 to 40 cwt. an acre, oats also 30 to 40 cwt. an acre), we never have a laid crop. Grazing is a sure preventive where otherwise organic methods are practised. Of course, a straw weakened by excessive nitrogenous manuring will probably lodge anyhow.
Early-sown winter oats and vetches, and late spring-sown oats and vetches, in addition to the lucerne, provide a high-quality reserve of grazing for almost any time of the year, should anything go wrong with the management of the ley or corn grazing. In addition, these vetch crops are a first-rate source of silage and 'in-between' grazing for the emergencies which are bound to arise.
To summarize, my grazing programme is as follows:
Grazing Crop Sown Early December New leys April or September Late December and January Turnip greens and rape, kale Kale, March-June;
Turnip and rape, July-September
February and Early March Winter oats and wheat September March 2nd year leys -- after shut for hay On section managed for top grass predominance in previous summer April-September 1st and 3rd year leys. (Oats and vetches or lucerne in reserve for drought or bad ley management) Rotationally limited (September or April and May) September Stubble grazing (Italian rye and trefoil) April-May October 1st and 3rd year leys and lucerne Rotationally controlled November New leys or stubbles April
This programme, linked with a cropping rotation that provides a maximum of home-grown feeding stuffs, has reduced my labour and feeding stuffs cost to a low level. And made me a far happier man than I was when I had two men carrying food to the cows most of the day for three or four months of the year.
Next: 8. The Ley on the Fertility Farm -- Costs and Returns
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