For the Future of Farming

Improving grass leys key to improving future farm performance

Afbeelding: _RPR3096 250px

For one young Devon based tenant dairy farmer, improving the performance of grass leys is an objective as he looks to improve the performance of his herd and maximise the amount of milk produced from forage.

Chris Creeper took on the tenancy of Waterford Farm, Axminster, in March 2015 and is milking 70 pedigree Jersey, Ayrshire and Holstein cows along with 25 replacements on 90 acres. Yields are averaging 6,800 litres, with 4.49% fat and 3.34% protein and Chris is determined to produce as much milk as possible from grass.

The need to reseed!

“When I first came to the farm, I did a lot of soil sampling and assessed all of the grass leys and quickly noted that a lot of them needed to be improved if I was going to produce enough quality grass for my cows,” explained Chris.  “I identified one 13 acre block to target initially, with the idea of sowing a fast growing, medium term ley, that would provide a quick boost to grass production.”

Reseeding and improving the farm’s leys was viewed by Chris as a beneficial, short term commitment to take and one that would reap rewards in a relatively short time frame.

“As a tenant farmer I was limited in terms of how I could make short term improvements to the farm in a cost effective way,” explains Chris. “In my eyes, targeting improvement in grass quality on farm is a good choice as it will provide me with extra, high quality grass to help boost cow performance.

“I only have a fairly limited acreage and our rent will stay the same over the next few years, so it makes sense to get as much out of every acre as possible, rather than just let land tick along, not performing at it’s true potential.”

Reseeding the whole farm

Chris is on a seven-year business tenancy and reseeding all of the farm’s leys is something that he is confident he can achieve within this relatively short time frame.

“The aim is to reseed the whole farm, with the hope of tackling 25-30 acres a year, sowing longer term varieties of grass seed,” continued Chris. “Once the whole farm has been reseeded, we will look to really push the leys and graze as hard as we can. I want to get the most from our grass and produce as much milk as possible from forage”

If the old permanent pastures on the farm were left as they were, Chris is adamant that they wouldn’t provide the levels of grass that he needs to support cows on his system. Cows have around 1,200kg concentrate over a lactation and Chris is confident that he can reduce this as new leys are sown.

“The old pastures, in their current state, simply wouldn’t produce the amount of grass I need in the long term,” continued Chris. “I would have to buy in so much extra feed to maintain cow health and milk yields that it wouldn’t be a viable option.”

Seed variety

Afbeelding: brown and white dairy grazing

As well as requiring fast growing and high yielding grass, Chris also needs the grass grown to have high sugar and digestibility content , to help support his feeding system.

“In the winter I don’t feed any TMR or maize, I just feed out block cut grass silage into ring feeders and then top up with concentrates in the parlour,” explained Chris. “As such, I need to be growing high sugar, highly digestible grasses to ensure that the silage and grazing has a high enough energy content to help support good levels of milk production.”

For the initial 13 acres of grassland that was identified for reseeding, Chris considered a number of options before selecting a high performance, medium term cut and graze grass seed mix.

“I talked to ForFarmers Sales Manager, Ben Trott who does the nutrition on the farm and Forage Specialist, Louise Woolacott,” continued Chris. “After consulting with them, I decided to try the ForFarmers TOPGRASS Intogen seed mix and I reseeded the ley in late April.”

Boost in grass production

Contractors took their first cut from the newly reseeded ley in June 2016 and Chris has been happy with the improvements to the ley’s performance. This initial success has helped confirm that wide spread reseeding is the correct longer-term strategy for him to take at Waterford.

“The grass got established quickly which was good as it meant that the early growth suppressed most of the weeds,” explained Chris. “Compared to the other older leys that hadn’t been reseeded, we got very good yields from this 13 acre block and even when the grass was down after cutting, after only two days, the regrowth was starting to come up through the cut grass.”

“As a farmer, you are always looking to make the most of inputs and make sure that everything works as efficiently as possible,” continued Chris. “It was therefore good to see that the reseeded ley also responded much better to fertiliser inputs compared to the older leys on farm.” 

Future plans

Chris is still in the early days of his farm tenancy and is gradually forming a good understanding of the farm’s potential. Over the coming years he hopes to expand his herd, but only when he is in a strong position to do so and can ensure continued, efficient milk production from grass.

“I am keen to increase stocking rates and increase milk production in the future, but only when the leys are in a suitable position to help support this,” explained Chris. “I want to take the farm to its true potential, but I won’t rush".